Tsukiji, say what?

One of the best things I’ve done in Tokyo thus far is visit the Tsukiji fish market.   Officially called the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, Tsukiji (pronounced “skee-gee”) is where 2,000 tons of seafood come into Japan every day.  Did you get that?  Every day!  With the auctions beginning at 5:00 am, I dragged my feet a bit in getting around to visit here — I thought, if this place requires me getting up so dang early, it better be worth it.  Since I had a friend visiting who was up at the crack of dawn with a bit of jet-lag, it seemed as good a time as any.  With iced coffee and onigiri in hand, we set off soon after the subway started running.

A gigantic warehouse complex packed full of tiny stalls where wholesale vendors peddle their goods, the market is not for the faint of heart.  We picked our way through the skinny walkways, trying to avoid the remains of who-knows-what at our feet.  The place was busy and packed so full of people doing their daily business that it felt like a place we really shouldn’t be.  But one of the great things about visiting Tsukiji is that you get to see the real deal.  No one asked us to leave, and a few men in rubber boots even nodded or smiled at us as we passed.  Fish flop at every corner, or are gutted and sitting on styrofoam platters.  Every sort of sea creature is for sale, some still alive, all packed on ice or in huge plastic tubs.  One live shrimp jumped out of its bucket as we walked by, and at one point I’m pretty sure I was fish-slapped by a stray in a passing tank.  Water mixed with fish guts sloshed around the floor.

The market was almost chaotic, but perfectly orchestrated.  By far the loudest place I’ve found in Tokyo, people shout and little three-wheeled motorized carts speed by (seriously, they are fast), but everyone is respectful and no one crashes and everything moves together in unison.  It was really amazing and beautiful to watch, despite the glassy eyeballs staring up at me from the styrofoam.

Then we found the tuna.  Tuna is a big deal in Japan, and once I saw them at Tsukiji I understood why.  I was mesmerized by them.  They are as big as me and flash frozen, so the giant fish literally look like ghosts.  They’re stacked on palettes, driven around by carts, sent through table saws, and hacked up for sale.  Their insides have a deep red color unlike any other fish in the market (they’re warm blooded!), and create a dramatic contrast to the other fish in mostly whites and grays.  A slab of tuna looks like a juicy t-bone steak, and could cost you $50 or more.  I watched the bright white and red tuna parts being carted around the market and was incredibly moved.  I actually felt haunted by them.

After learning that bluefin tuna is seriously endangered, Dan and I have tried to stop eating it, a difficult undertaking while living in Japan.  I’m still not quite sure what I was feeling at Tsukiji, I suppose simultaneous awe and heartbreak.  It is a very weird feeling, and I remain conflicted.  Tsukiji is an amazing place to experience, but part of what makes it so is exactly the thing it hurts.

In case any readers wander upon this post and want to visit Tsukiji, the closest subway station is Tsukiji-Shijo on the Odeo line, though it seems the Tsukiji stop on the Hibiya line works as well.  If you want to make it in time for the fish auctions at 5 am, you’ll have to take a taxi or walk.

Also, if you’d like more information on the peril of the bluefin tuna, there’s a hefty yet worthwhile article here.

Shopping Spree

While shopping for refrigerators today, we got a little sidetracked. Electronics stores in this city are a whirlwind of loudspeakers, blinkie lights, and 3D screens. And that was just the rice cookers.

p.s. 3D anime is just as confusing.

Home Sweet Home

Here it is, the long-anticipated apartment tour!  OK, maybe only long-anticipated by my mother, but nonetheless, it’s finally here for the taking.  And talk about a blank slate!

It may not look like much, but I’m pretty happy with our 39 square meters (for you kids in the USA, that’s about 420 square feet).  Come on in, let me show you around!

Tokyo apartment entry

As you come in the front door, you’ll notice the little Japanese-style entry way.  The recessed floor here is called a genkan (げんかん).   Shoes off, please!  We’re digging the slipper-clad lifestyle in these parts.  You’ll also notice all the closet space:

apartment entry closet

Some of this space is used to stash shoes and umbrellas, removed while in the genkan.  Since this is most of the storage space for the apartment, I’ll be using this area as a linen closet as well.  While standing in the entry, let’s do a 180-degree turn to find ourselves peering into the bathroom:

apartment bathroom

This bathroom feels gigantic.  It is both Japanese and Western styled; I like to think it is the best of both worlds.

apartment bathroom details

The cabinets and walls are pretty plain, but a nice sink and Japanese super toilet share the space.

apartment bathroom super toilet

Yup, there’s our auto flush toilet.  You can see it also has a computer console — maybe someday we’ll be brave enough to figure out what all those buttons do.

apartment bathroom shower room

Past the sink and toilet is the Japanese-style shower room.  I love the shower room.  In a Japanese home, it is customary to soap up and rinse off before you get in your tub of hot water, so the entire room is waterproof.  For me, it is more like a giant, heated shower.  You can also hang clothes to dry and run a heater, auto fill the tub (a nice little voice tells you what is happening, though I can’t yet understand her), and spray down the whole room for cleaning.  Brilliant, right?  I don’t plan on taking too many baths and am a little sad that the tub is taking up valuable square meters better served by a sofa (ok, maybe not in that exact location), but overall I can’t complain about the shower room.  Like it, like it, love love love!

apartment hall

After you step out of the entry, you get a brief view of the rest of the apartment.  To the left, the bedroom, to the right, the living room.

apartment bedroom

Attached to the bedroom there is a little balcony.  Many people in Tokyo hang their clothes and bedding out to air on nice days.  This balcony is a little on the small side, so it might be better served by some potted herbs.

apartment bedroom closets

A reverse view of the bedroom reveals the closets.  Take a look at those beauties!  We won’t yet talk about who gets the big one…

apartment living room

Now we head back into the living room.  I love the built-in bookshelves.  Also, you can almost make out our view through the window.  Not quite as awesome as our last place on the 11th floor, but not too shabby either.  At night, we can still see Tokyo Tower in all its gaudy glory.

apartment kitchen

A reverse view of this room give us a glimpse of the kitchen (you can also see the door that separates the entry from the rest of the apartment).

apartment kitchen close up

Perhaps a little boring, but nothing I can’t fix with some home-stitched linens.  And now, a view of my one disappointment…

apartment kitchen range

Look at that tiny little range!  Two burners, and no oven.  Not even a fish broiler.  There go my dreams of opening a sidewalk pie stand.  Sorry, Tokyo, your loss.

apartment kitchen refrigertor

A peek at my other kitchen challenge — in Japan, an “unfurnished” apartment really means unfurnished, no appliances included.  In this photo you can see the cubbyhole where our fridge will go, someday.

So there you go — our new tiny home in the biggest city in the world.  And really, right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Just think of the time I’ll save cleaning…

We’re Back!

Apologies for our long absence.  Whew!

Life without Internet has been pretty tough — I’ve had to survive the past two weeks with only quick peeks at my email using a Blackberry.  Egads!  I feel like a clumsy giant typing on that tiny keyboard.

In all seriousness, we vow to be back in full force very soon.  Just a few more days and our Tokyo Internet connection will be up and running, and I’ll soon be able to resume my musings of mystery food, our first trek into the Japanese countryside, and perhaps — if you are lucky — a sneak peek at our karaoke adventure.  So stay tuned, I have a lot to share!