Tokyo (part 2)
The first day in Tokyo was very rainy and even though I saw a lot, I still had a lot more to do. On this last day before taking off to Australia I managed to once again see a lot and this time I was luckier with the weather. It was an awesome day with fish, temples and a zoo! This is the second half of my Tokyo story!
I wake up way too early again today. The jetlag won’t really go away. I don’t really feel like getting up, though, so I snooze a little before getting out of bed. Yesterday I decided to not get up in the middle of the night to go to the tuna auction. Even though it is a major tourist attraction that is said to be really cool, it usually gets super busy and people que up from around three in the morning so they can get in at six. In total 60 people are allowed in, divided over two twenty-minute shifts with only 30 people. I don’t want to get up risking not being able to get in, nor do I want to wait outside for three hours outside. Around 8:30 I get out of bed and start my day. I need to check out at my hotel, because later today I’m flying to Australia. I throw my backpack, including its yellow case (that I nicknamed “the banana”) into the storage room and take the metro. The first stop for today is a sumo center a little further down town. I wasn’t smart enough to call ahead or check the schedule if there was a training and of course I am in bad luck. There is no training when I get there, nor the rest of the week due to a major tournament in the weekend prior. I peek through the windows to get some sort of idea of what it looks like, but it is not too interesting. So, I make my way to the place I have been looking forward to go to the most: the fish market.
The metro line has no stop close by, so I need to walk a small distance. Luckily for me, all rain from yesterday has disappeared and the sun is shining, making it nice and warm. My shoes, however, are still soaked to the bottom. It makes me appreciate the fact I brought my pair of converse chucks, they saved the day. The fish market is popular among tourists, but not in the annoying way like yesterday’s Asakusa temples. The area is full of life even though it’s just past ten in the morning. I walk straight past all market stalls that are set up in the touristy area and walk towards the wholesale market. When I enter the huge hall that looks like a factory floor, it’s like walking into another world. Tons of carts fly by around me, rushing from one side of the hall to the other. Each cart carries several styrofoam boxes of different sizes. Sometimes water flows over the edges of the upper boxes. That’s only half an hour after the market opens for tourists, but the first tradesmen have already started to pack up. They use large hoses to clean their stalls and water flows freely over the floor of the hall. I have to hop from one dry spot to another, carefully avoiding the little soapy rivers meandering around, so I don’t get my converse shoes wet either. Trashcans hold the remains of fish. Fins, tails, heads, eyes, organs, skins and stuff that is unrecognizable. Some parts clearly show what kind of fish it was, in other cases the meat has been so chopped up that there is no way to detect the species of fish. At two different places I am lucky enough to see the remains of a large tuna fish. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t get excited about the remains of a dead fish, but the size of the head indicates the size of the tuna, and that’s seriously impressive. It also makes it less bad that I missed the auction. Apart from tuna, the market holds a lot of different fish and sea creatures. There are sardines (I have only ever seen them in a can, so it was weird seeing them swim about in a plastic container waiting for someone to buy them), hundreds of other types of fish, the smaller ones still alive, live prawns, crabs, snails, spiky fish, lobsters and worms. It seems that the only condition for what you can sell at the market is that it is lives in the sea.
After a quick walk through the wholesale market and some sneaky pictures, I hastily move myself out of the building. I had the feeling you are constantly in someone’s way, especially with all the carts rushing about and the salesmen trying to sell their stuff to clients. The smell of fish has been getting into my clothes, that’s how intense the scent is inside of the hall. I walk back from the wholesale part to the regular market. In one of the building I find a stall that sells freshly made sushi that is ready to eat. I buy myself some sushi with salmon and tuna. Though I don’t usually like tuna, I just had to try it because Tokyo is famous for it. It turned out to be a very good decision. At the roof top terrace, I let the pieces of rice and fish melt on my tongue while enjoying the view and the good weather.
The alleys that border the huge factory halls of the wholesale market are also filled with stalls and little shops. This is way more touristy and salesmen try to sell ready-to-eat fishy snacks. They are not at all like the pieces of fried fish we would eat at the beach back in Europe, but rather fried fins and tails, dried prawns sand octopuses and a whole lot of unidentifiable things that smell like fish. I thoroughly enjoy the tourists that curiously look at the exotic food and challenge their friends to eat it. Not far from me a group of Dutch sunburned men declare loudly they have never seen something like this as they order some wasabi ice-cream. I watch them take a first bite only to set their mouths on fire. The smaller restaurants that are also located in the streets sell fish soups and are filled with locals. I slowly get from one end of the markets to the other, rejecting the countless sticks with fried fish that are being stuck in my face by old lady’s trying to make a sale. They get so close that they almost touch my mouth, and I wonder if it’s their strategy to make me pay once it has touched me due to hygienic reasons.
At the end of the alleys I find a Buddhist temple that I haven’t read anything about. This temple looks very different from the ones I have seen before. Instead of looking like a temple from an anime or samurai movie, this temple is completely white. A sad singing existing of long and low sounds lures me inside the temple. I see a monk sitting on his knees. He is clearly the one singing. He hits a copper bowl that produces a bell note every once in a while, in between his lamentation. Behind him sits a couple, dressed in black. They hold booklets and appear to read along with the monk’s singing. On the left side there is an old sign saying “please keep quiet for the memorial ceremony”. The woman’s shoulders shake heavily as she rests her head on the shoulder of the man besides her, while she tries to keep reading. I give some obnoxious tourists who came to toss a coin and “pray” an angry look as they came in laughing and talking loudly. I nod at the sign, pointing it out to them mentally. Luckily, they get the point and they shut up. I am hooked to the monks’ monody and stay to watch the ceremony from a corner of the temple for a while. When the monk stops singing and collects the books from the couple, it is as if I am released from a Siren’s singing at sea.
It is still early, around lunchtime. I have to be back at the hostel at four so I can collect my stuff but until then I have nothing to do. I decide to pop into the Hard Rock Café so I don’t have to do that on my way to the airport and get my 22nd t-shirt for my collection. From there the Tokyo zoo is close and I still have enough time for a visit. People that know me well know that I absolutely adore animals so killing time in a zoo is only time well spent for me. The park isn’t big but they got a panda bear couple who had a cup a while ago. In two hours I stroll through every nook and corner of the zoo. My converse chucks are burned into my feet and my heavy legs carry me back to the hotel where I get “the banana” and then depart to the airplane. Good bye Tokyo, Australia awaits.
Want to see more pictures? Check them out here.