FISHMADNESS

fish madness

Ah, jetlag. Last night, we decided to see about getting dinner in the neighborhood, and wandered around a little following the salarymen around to see where they ate. Tokyo’s density of restaurants, even in a relatively non-central neighborhood like Jimbocho, makes this astonishingly easy: so far any not-strictly-residential district we’ve been in has tended to average a minimum of six restaurants per block. After just a few minutes, we found a tiny little place that, as far as we could determine from the display outside, served nothing but gyoza. And I, for one, love gyoza. So we dropped inside, and after a bit of pointing ended up with a plate of about 20 steaming hot fried pork dumplings, redolent of scallions. They lasted about five minutes under our assault, and cost about $5. First meal in Japan: resounding success.

Afterward, we spent a little time poking around Jimbocho, which as a neighborhood seems to primarily specialize in used bookstores, record stores, musical instrument shops and the occasional porn store. I dropped into a “Taito Inn,” a video arcade owned by Taito (the Space Invaders people), but after a few minutes decided that I didn’t need the humiliation of having my ass handed to me by a seven-year-old in a fighting game I’d never seen before.

After about 45 minutes of walking, we were both pretty thoroughly wrecked, and it was an easy call to go back to the hotel and fall dead asleep. The plan for the next day was to wake up really early and head to Tsukiji fish market in time for the morning auction. We completely failed to figure out the alarm clock, but figured that since we were retiring at the late, late hour of 7pm, it probably wasn’t going to be a problem.

Sure enough, we both popped awake at about 2am, and managed to doze semisuccessfully for only about another hour before giving in to the inevitable. We showered, dressed for incipient rains of fish guts, and strolled out into the early morning rain (oops, Tokyo has weather) to hit the subway. The nearest entrance to the hotel was closed, which was a little panic-inducing, but the one across the street was open, and it turned out that the automatic ticket machines spoke fluent english and would give change for pretty much any size bills. Once we got down to the tracks, it became apparent that either the station had just opened, or we’d hit a relatively dead time for the Tokyo Metro; we were the only people in the station, and it was 25 minutes until the next train:



Connecting to the Oedo line to Tsujiki, a few more souls started to trickle in at various stops, including a young man in what is, so far, the single best t-shirt I’ve seen in Tokyo so far:

I
FUCK


Getting off at the station, we walked across the street, and straight into…



Tsukiji is a madhouse. A madhouse of fish. It’s a huge semi-open warehouse, easily the size of a New York City block, divided up into rows and rows of stalls, with large aisles between in which drive homicidal diesel-powered go-carts laden down with the day’s catch at tourist-crushing speed. If you can survive the walk to the back, you’ll find signs pointing to a visitor’s observation station in the auction room, which is chilled to about 45f so that the massive, flash-frozen fish on the floor don’t spoil or (quickly) defrost.





The way it works: a batch of fish are laid out in neat rows on the floor. Buyers circulate among them, inspecting the meat. After they’ve had a while to poke and prod the fish, a man rings a bell and all hell breaks loose: the density of people around that section of the floor suddenly quintuples, and after the bell stops ringing the auctioneer (usually the same guy as the bell-ringer) starts barking. In about five minutes the entire lot of fish is sold, and someone starts ringing a bell on the other side of the room. It’s beautifully berserk.







After about half an hour in the auction room, we escaped to wander the stalls:





This man was disassembling a newly bought tuna loin with a sword that was as long as he was tall:





At this point, it was about 7:30, and we were hungry. Very, very hungry. Luckily, we were surrounded by fresh fish. And where there’s fish, there’s sushi. Really, really good sushi. We picked a place at random, and the fish was good enough to immediately shoot it into the top-five sushi I’ve ever had in my life:





After breakfast, we wandered outside of the fish market, which is surrounded by… another market. Some stalls sold fish, others sold produce, non-fish meats, plateware and kitchen equipment:







Our original plan had been to get back to the hotel before rush hour even began, but we lingered a little too long in the outer market, and ended up on the subway at about 8:15am. Luckily we were skirting the major business districts, so the trains we took were merely “Manhattan at rush hour” crowded, and not “crowbars, body lube and can openers” crowded.

Tokyo, so far, is a trainspotters’ delight. The interlocking train systems are a little confusing, but they’re fast, they’re clean, they’re everywhere, and the ticketing systems are largely self-explanatory: the worst that’s happened to us so far is that we’ve misjudged the fare a few times and ended up having to use the far adjustment machines at the disembarking station.

Now: wait out the rest of rush hour at the hotel, check email and walk to the imperial gardens.

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