Saturday, 18 July 2009

Holly's weekend of adventure - Day 1

Wow I achieved a lot today! And took a ridiculous number of photos to document it - I actually am turning Japanese...

Set my alarm for 3.45am (!) and headed to straight to Tsukiji Market. This is the world's largest fish and seafood market and has a massive fruit & veg market on-site too. I spent the whole time I was there trying to avoid being run over - all the produce is moved around the tiny spaces between stalls by men driving these weird carts, that are a cross between a forklift truck and a dodgem.

The famous frozen tuna auction started at 5.30 but the hall it's held in filled up with traders and wholesalers from about 5.00. The traders are trying to show off their fish and cut knicks in the tail to allow the wholesalers to inspect the underlying flesh. Men in blue boiler suits paced around inspecting the fish and occassionally stabbed into the flesh with big hooks to test it in some way or another.

The auction itself kicked off with the ringing off bells to signal the start and, after that, I had absolutely no idea what happened! The auctioneer shouted a jumble of numbers in no particular order and the odd person made a very discrete hand signal. How they kept track of who was bidding and for how much I'll never know...

After the auction, I spent about an hour wandering around the fish and seafood bit (I don't even think I managed to see it all!), testing my new camera out in the warren of stalls and piled up polystyrene boxes. The variety of seafood for sale was staggering - most of the shellfish I had never seen before and some things I couldn't even work out if they were a fish, shellfish, animal, vegetable or just some lumpy rock! I did spot quite a few things that I have so far consumed in sushi... Everything seemed to be available in three forms: alive, dead or frozen. Quite a lot of the alive stock was actively trying to escape! The one type of fish that dominates, though, is tuna. It's everywhere.

There are huge electric saws for cutting the frozen stuff and then the guys that deal with the fresh version basically use Samurai swords to cut it up.

There is also someone who is employed with the sole purpose of feeding massive blocks of ice into a machine that chips it.

After pacing around the fish, I made my way over to check out the vegetables and stumbled upon the vegetable auction. This was even more confusing than the tuna one! There were about 6 different items being auctioned off simultaneously and the patter and signalling was even more obscure.

Obviously, I had to try some of what is on offer, so I headed over to Daiwa Sushi for breakfast. Included in the market complex are a number of sushi joints that specialise in the tuna that comes straight from the auctions. For my breakfast (it was now 8.30) I tred 4 different types of nigiri - tuna, fatty tuna belly (apparently a delicacy), yellow tail (?!) and prawn.

It was the best sushi I've ever had! I then headed back home to shower the fish-smell off and take a nap. Post-nap, I headed up to Asakusa to do some temple-hopping.

The whole area is a fantastic combination of gorgeous temples and shrines with stunning gardens and streets filled with shops and stalls that sell local food, clothes and trinkets. There is lots of reasonably priced traditional Japanese yukatas and geta for sale, as well as fans, parasols and lanterns.

I'm going to have to go back and get myself properly kitted out! It was really good to see lots of locals walking around in their yukatas - the women all looked so beautiful.

I even walked past two dogs who were dressed in full Japanese gear! Kawaii!

For tea, I popped into a wee restaurant on one of the side streets and devoured some tore karaage (fried chicken bits), edamame beans and cucumber with dip.

I headed to Ueno to go to the big park there that has some great temples. When I got out the station, I walked straight into the middle of a parade and couldn't cross the road to get to the park! Eventually, they let people cross when there was a big enough gap, but in the meantime I got to watch local dance and music groups strut their stuff. It was glad to stumble upon what was quite a big event. It did mean that by the time I walked to the temples, they were all closed, but Ueno park in the twilight was very picturesque anyway and the temples looked good from the outside! I'll have to go back and explore some more.

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