Tokyo Day 4 – Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza, Shabu Shabu and things come undone
This turned out pretty long, maybe longer than you would care to read, but that is what happens when you write without any time pressure in the train to the airport and in the plane.
Better grab a coffee and drug the children down ;)
This morning I was supposed to wake up fairly early to get to Tsukiji Fish Market and hope for good luck in seeing some of the fish auction going on in one of the world’s biggest fish markets. I am saying hope, because by a few accounts and the website for the place, it seems that due to unruly, disrespectful tourists, the visitors have started to be a nuisance for the actual business going on there, so they have put a bunch of restrictions and I am not even sure if I would be able to get in.
Either way, I decided to have a quick shut eye for a second and overslept. I am not sure I was even mad at myself, just disappointed somewhat. I was going anyway, the place is buzzing until lunch time.
As soon as I put my feet on the ground the pain hits me. Ouch!…Ouch! The little buggers are not happy and I think the last thing they want is to be walking around, but I didnt ask them. I was hoping that once I am on my way, the pain will go away, kind of like muscle pain. So I push on.
Get on the train in the direction I think is right. Most of the trains here go in a loop. At the next stop I check to see that I am going the right way – not! I am going the wrong way around the loop. I step off and wait for the next train in the opposite direction. There is a seat and I plop myself down and start reading the Lonely Planet book for whats up in the Markets.
Few stops later I look up and do a quick check with my map…*#$&%*$! Somehow I actually did end up in the wrong direction. There must be some kink in the line or something that I wasnt aware of and my initial way was the right one. By now its about the same distance to the Market either way,so I stay put. Wasted about 15 minutes.
I get there and funny enough the smell of seafood can be felt from the moment the doors open.
There are no signs or directions. I have no clue which way to go, so I just picked a way and went there. There is some hussle there, I better go that way.
I get to the outer markets, which sell food and veggies and whatnots. Its a pretty happening place. You can feel the madness. The closer I get to the big market, the crazier it gets. There are carts and cars and trucks coming in from every each way, yes, even from the top. I do my best to avoid becoming a pregnant splash of guts on the wet floor.
I am heading to the busiest part, in hope that is where the main part is. I reach the outer fish market, which is the open market part. Its crammed, its wet, its absolutely mind boggling and huge. As far as your eyes can see – people and Styrofoam filled boxes of all kinds of seafood. The workers are running around either on foot or their carts. I just try to be out of the way, but walk around and take in the atmosphere.
I reach the very back of the place and its quieter and a bigger space. I assume that is where the early actions have happened and now the people outside are sorting out the deals and putting them up on trucks to go to their final destination.
There is a tiny area marked as “Visitors” and the rest has big signs of “No Admittance”. If that is all they are allowing, I am not too bummed I couldnt make it. It seems like it would have been a not very satisfying visit. Hey, a girl is allowed to console herself with whatever reasons.
I wobble back, as my feet have not adjusted yet, against my expectations. Shuffle through the fish market and then decide to check out the outer ones and see if I can find a good sushi place to have breakfast.
I read the good ones have lines in front. I find two, but I just dont feel like waiting, as it seems like it will take awhile. So I push on.
Get to the station somehow and feel unsatisfied that I didnt eat any sushi. So drop my bag and decide to read through the guide and see if I can figure out how to get to any of the places they recommend. There are two around. One of them I have no hope in finding easy, the map they offer in their is an abomination and should not be called that at all.
The other one seems like it might be doable and a friendly man sees my confusion and offers to help. He is not sure, but gives me some direction and I drag myself that way. Walk for a few blocks and I dont feel like I have a grasp of the place at all…my feet are still killing me and I just dont feel like wobbling around to find stuff without actually knowing that I am on the right way.
I decide to just drop it and get on the train back to civilization, Ginza, and try to take it easy for the rest of the day.
I get back to the station and get to the machine to buy my ticket. Grab my coins from my pocket and I only have 120 Yen. Ok, reach to the other pocket with the bills. Oh…NO! Where are they?! I remember they were in my other pants from yesterday, sitting patiently in my hotel room. Panic raises in my tummy. The thoughts are running through my head – I have no other cash, the cheapest ticket is 170 Yen and it will not get me to the station I need to go, but to who knows what suburb and then how do I find ATM or Exchange (they are not everywhere)…I drag myself to the ide and drop my bag next to the wall. Feel week and in pain. Pull my wallet just in case, but I only have my 100 dollar US cash (as emergency) and a 5 pound note Mr.Blab had given me, which was a left over from his trip to the UK. My brain is in overdrive, my body is giving up.
I spot a Japanese looking young guy, but with a camera and just go for it. “Speak English?” he does some. I simply explain my dilemma and ask if he can possibly spare 100 Yen, I would have tried to use charm, but its hard when you feel like crap and you are 6 months pregnant. I am relying on compassion. He happily pulls out his two 100 Yen coins (about 2 dollars) and offers them both to me. My heart sings and I give him my 5 pound note in return – he is not sure, but I just grin widely and just give it to him. At this point I would have done anything to be out of the place.
So back on my way. Now I have to replenish my cash and find an Exchange. I am stopping at Roppongi, which is a pretty touristy, westernized place, so I hope the search will not be long.
I direct my uncooperating body to the information booth few blocks from the station and ask the lady behind the counter for the location of the Exchange. She whips out a map and starts talking something about so many buildings down that way and then some building this way and then up on the 6th floor…my brain now refuses to compute. No. I dont want to go all that way…that cant be the closest place…I then ask if there is an ATM around instead. She blabs something who knows what about types of cards and then I ask where is it and she says just around the corner. Halleluja! I can walk that far.
Wobble…wobble…ouch…wobble. Plop my backpack next to the ATM and hope for the best. Money pop out and I am good again. I can commute and hydrate myself again.
Now I need to get to Ginza, so I reach for my trusty map, but its not there. You must be kidding! I go through my bag and nothing. Its gone. But I just had it…run around back to the Information desk and ATM…gone. I want to cry now. It was not just a map, it was the best map ever – great visuals, close ups of the main suburbs, great easy to understand subway map. I didnt buy it, Mr.Blab gave it to me from his trip over here. It was my well folded and used, familiar map! If I had someone with me, I probably would have collapsed in a heap and cried like a baby. Thrown a tantrum, if you wish. But when you are alone and cant rely on someone, you cant do that. So I spotted a Starbucks and decided to rest for a bit with a cup of coffee and something sweet. Collect my thoughts and just get a grip on this shitty so far day.
Pull out one of my backup maps and handle it with distrust. It seems so foreign and hard to figure out. But one has to do what needs to be done. Coffee is nice, the scone too. Breathe!
Ginza is the place where rich people come. The place for fancy shop money spending. Very famous and a definite stop for the tourists. I am not here for that, I am here to go to the big toy store and get goodies for my girls. Of course the place is not close to the station.
It was fun to walk through (even though painful). For anyone familiar with Japanese culture a little bit, the place had all the curtsy stuff one would expect – stuffed character toys, typically Japanese bits and pieces, like a mechanical bug robot and dog robots, as many dangly bits (thing to attach to mobile phones/bags/whatever you chose to) as you can imagine, games, puzzles, Hello Kitty stuff of course and so on and so on. Four floors of kid’s paradise and I did manage to spend a buck. Finally I felt like I accompished something for the day. It was my last chance to get presents for the kids, so it was great to find some things and know I have a good amount to send back home.
A fancy traditional shop. Those ‘flip flops’ were in the thousands of dollars!
I spotted one of the Calpis vending machines and I had to get me some more of this drink. I am addicted. They had “The Premium Calpis” so I went posh in honor of Ginza.
It was still lovely, but I think I preferred the peach one a bit more. Truly a wonderfully refreshing drink – tastes kind of like a very mild yogurt with a very subtle flavor. It is not heavy like normal soft drinks at all, or at least thats how they seem to me.
Before collapsing in a heap at the hotel for awhile, I stop by at a sushi train place close by to grab that sushi I have been dreaming of since the morning. They rarely have everything on the train. Most of the stuff people order. I used a friendly man as my voice and I just pointed at the stuff I wanted and he shouted to the chef for me – eg. “Hai! Bla bla bla bla! Bla SAMON bla bla bla!” and my lovely salmon arrives. And so on. I ate a few of my now favorite crab salad ones in between the weird fish I tried. I have rarely tried any sushi I dont like and that hasnt changed.
I had to sort out the postage of the gifts for the loved one, so even though I just want to lay down and forget about anything, I take off with the bags to find the nearest post office. Thankfully its not too far. Nobody speaks English, but when people are willing, communication is possible in all cases. And the people were lovely, so we figured each other out and they helped me with the information I needed. The choice was $40 and takes 4 weeks or $80 and takes a week. I cant decide, I think my brain refuses to work at this point, so I carry my bags and a huge flat box for packing back to the hotel to search a quick advice from Mr.Blab. We agree to go with the fast option, but by now its past 5pm, so the post is closed. So I pack the box to be ready for the morning.
For dinner I decide it might be a good day to indulge and accomplish something else for the horrid morning I had – its my way of excusing the money spent and feel good about it. There is supposed to be a place not to far from the hotel that serves shabu shabu. That was on my list of ‘to try foods’ and that is exactly what I was going to do. Nursed my legs for a bit, put on sandals, despite them showing off my fresh callouses, but at this point vanity was way beyond my worries, as comfort was beating it down to a pulp.
The helpful person from the hotel helps me with the directions, as I dont know if i mentioned it before, and even if I did, it needs to be mentioned again – the Lonely Planet maps suck! I was not going to rely on it for a second. He is not sure where the place is so he goes off somewhere and finds out. Marks it on the hotel map and I am off again.
Even though I didnt plan on walking more than necessary, Shinjuku at night has its pulling powers and I was sucked in to a slow walk around the place. Just love it – all its lights, sounds of people shouting to get in their place, strangely dressed youth, signs that come out of places you wouldnt even think of, smells from the side alleys or those wonderfully mysterious small eateries that promise finger licking meals and most likely deliver without a doubt in my mind… love it, all of it.
I find my way to the restaurant and step in, being welcomed by an elderly lady in a kimono. Friendly and speaking English she shows me to my place on the counter, in front of chef. I order my meal and wait in anticipation. Chef peaks through and we smiles at me and admires my camera.
The ingredients for my feast arrive and the set up is being prepared by a lovely young lady. Doesnt the meat look delicious?! Yum, yum, get in my tum.
The girl starts the pot and drops the veggies in. Then I am supposed to swish my meat around for a few seconds in the broth until it loses the pink and eat it with one of the sauces provided – spicy soy based sauce and a sweet sesame one.
The girl comes every once in awhile to skim the fat from the bullion. When I finish the meat, she pours the soup in a bowl with a few bits and pieces in it and now I enjoy that. It tastes lovely and a bit spicy. Not sure quite what it is, but when I get to the end I see the remnants of black pepper. Yes, thats what it was. Not just black, but I would guess a mixture of some kind. Strangely satisfying after the mild tastes of the rest of the meal.
Green tea as it should be – rich and green – to finish the meal.
Got to the hotel and ran around doing some laundry to the third floor. Yes, I cant escape that chore anywhere unfortunately. Thankfully most of my clothes are dark, so one load was enough to prepare me for the next stop on my journey.
Chatted to Mr.Blab who is surviving alone with the kids and doesnt sound out of his mind yet. I hope he makes it. He is a good man, send him some props.
Nursed my battle feet with a good hot and cold shower treatment and a long massage with moisturiser and packed my bags in anticipation for the next leg of this trip.
If you read all that, you get a special surprise medal ;)