Monday, September 25, 2006

In Tokyo

I'm in my second full day in Tokyo. So far it's been great, but is has also, as I feared, been quite isolating. I'm in that no man's land where the Japanese recognize that I'm not Japanese and don't talk to me, and the (very few) American tourists don't think that I can speak English. As a result, I've been spending my days having very abbreviated conversations with shopkeepers and hotel staff. Whenever I hear someone speaking English I have the urge to join in the conversation. I've been carrying my TimeOut Tokyo guide conspicuously in the hope that someone will strike up a conversation with me.

I went to the Tsukiji fish market this morning, which has got to be one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had. I didn't get there early enough to see the wholesale tuna auction (that starts around 5am), but I did get to see the retailers and restauranteurs come to buy. The fish market is huge and overwhelming. The aisles are narrow and I had to get out of the way of the minitrucks carrying fish and other sea creatures. I walked in fear that I would be splashed with fish guts. Aside from fish (dead and alive), there were shrimp, squid, wormy-looking things and a whole array or unrecognizable stuff. The whole place smelled of the sea and cigarettes. It was slightly nauseating. There were very few women and even fewer tourists. I was fascinated and mesmerized by the entire place.

I'm off to the Asakusa Kannon Temple now, which is the city's oldest temple. There are a bunch of other yummy sites in the area, including a shop that sells all that fake looking food.


Octopus Grigori said...

Awesome! Looking forward to seeing the photos of the fish market.

JEM said...

That's great, chanchow! Isn't it weird to be in Asia and be the one person that NOBODY will talk to because they all think you are the "other"? I saw the fish market on the travel channel the other day and was going to tell you but figured you already were overloaded with suggestions. But here's one in case you run out of things to do/eat -- "fugu" Fugu -- Known as blowfish, puffer fish, or globefish in English, fugu is one of the most exotic and adventurous foods in Japan -- if it's not prepared properly, it means almost certain death for the consumer! In the past decade or so, some 50 people in Japan have died from fugu poisoning, usually because they tried preparing it at home. The ovaries and intestines of the fugu are deadly and must be entirely removed without being punctured. So why eat fugu if it can kill you? Well, for one thing, it's delicious, and for another, fugu chefs are strictly licensed by the government and greatly skilled in preparing fugu dishes. You can order fugu raw (fugu-sashi), sliced paper-thin and dipped into soy sauce with bitter orange and chives; in a stew (fugu-chiri) cooked with vegetables at your table; or in a rice porridge (fugu-zosui). The season for fresh fugu is October or November through March, but some restaurants serve it throughout the year.

I saw on TV this one restaurant in Tokyo that's suppose to prepare really good fugu and there are only a number of restaurants that are licensed to prepare it. So go to it, take pictures and let me live vicariously through you!

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to see the Tsukiji fish market. Thanks for letting me live vicariously.


junebee said...

I saw on FoodTV where Tony Bourdain went to a fish market in Japan. It must have been that one.

My husband (Chinese) was in a restaurant last night. There were some stranded Japanese tourists, whose tour guide had left them there and was late picking them up. The waitress asked my husband to speak to them, so he went over and began speaking in Mandarin. The Japanese did not understand a word because the waitress failed to ask my husband if he could speak Japanese. The tourists probably wondered why this Chinese guy came up to them all of a sudden and began talking to them.

chanchow said...

JEM: Now that you mention it, I'm certain I saw fugu at the market!

NR and Junebee: I hope to catch a segment of the fish market on the food channels. I'd especially like to see footage of the tuna auction. Next time I'm in Tokyo, I'm going to set my alarm clock to get there bright and early.