Japan loves seafood. It’s famous for sushi, but that is just the beginning. Walking through the markets, eating at almost any restaurant, shopping at the grocery, and even the convenience stores, the heavy role seafood plays in Japanese life is abundantly clear. All over the world, people want what Japan is catching. Tons of it passes through Tsukiji Market in Tokyo each day – 1,628 tonnes to be exact.
Tsukiji Market is the biggest and oldest fish market in the world. On average, almost fifteen million US Dollars’ worth of fish passes through every day! Everything from seaweed, to tiny sardines, to single Bluefin tunas selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars is marketed, sold, and shipped out to customers in Japan and around the world. And fish comes in, too; we saw boxes of Norwegian salmon waiting to head out to discerning fish lovers somewhere in Asia.
The market is located right in Tokyo (for now: plans are in place to move it out of the city) and it is a sight to behold. Each morning at 0500 a tuna auction takes place. Tourists are allowed in to observe on a first-come-first-served basis, and it often fills up well before the start time. Forgoing a 0300 wakeup, we took the train with the morning office crowd and paid the market a visit after the famous auction.
Tourist access to the market is, with good reason, strictly controlled. We arrived before access opened to the inner market, where all the action is. So, we wandered the stalls of the outer market which sells kitchen supplies and sushi, taking in all they had on offer. As is often the case, had we been on a simple vacation, I would have come away with a few new trinkets like painted chopsticks and bowls. Perhaps luckily for our wallets, our bags are heavy enough as it is!
There are several sushi restaurants in the outer market offering the freshest catch. Lines stretched out the doors of a few restaurants lucky enough to be featured in blogs or magazines. I had read that in this case, really all the restaurants are very good. So, we found one that took credit cards and went in for breakfast.
The restaurant was nearly empty, and the chef warmly welcomed us. We each selected a set meal and traditional drinks. Everything was incredibly fresh and flavorful. It was by far the best sushi we had in Japan and an excellent meal! One of the unexpected highlights was a crab miso soup. Miso soup traditionally comes from Japan’s Northern island, Hokkaido, and this one was flavored with a crab from the same place. The chef checked in to see how we liked everything and proudly beamed when we pronounced it delicious.
Filled up, we walked through the inner market. Many stalls were already packed up for the day, but some were still selling or cleaning up. We noticed large saws for cutting big fish, holding tanks with creatures squirming, and mountains of discarded Styrofoam boxes. The operation is obviously impressive in its scale. Even at the “late” hour, forklifts and mini trucks were beeping and zooming down the alleyways and large trucks were lining up to depart with their haul. A rat scurried by and I felt a shiver run up my spine. It must be a constant battle to keep them at bay.
The sheer size of Tsukiji Market makes it famous, along with a few cameos in movies and television, but to see any market like this is always interesting. Enormous, raw (a happy pun), and real places like this, that seem like a world unto themselves, make modern life possible. It’s amazing to think we only glimpsed this thing that we rely on every day.
Behind the scenes are operations like this all over the world that we don’t even think about when we sit down at a restaurant. It’s wild to think about fish crisscrossing the globe, but this is just one of the many facets of international industry and our world. There will be another market for meat, for clothes, for goodness knows what. I wonder what we would all eat if we saw the process from catching/farming to killing to transporting to our plates more often. I know I would be skinnier. Yet, we don’t see it very often, and we are both still omnivores.
Imperial Palace Gardens
After the buzz of the market, we decided to explore somewhere with a different vibe: The Imperial Palace Gardens. In just a few train stops we were stepping out into a refined modern neighborhood of skyscrapers. Nestled against them is The Imperial Palace and Gardens. The palace is only open at certain times of the year, but you can wander the gardens anytime.
A moat protects the palace and gardens. We crossed one of the bridges to the enormous open gate and strolled inside. Many office workers were taking a walk on their lunch break, enjoying the fresh air. Wide paths wind around old trees, ancient protective walls, historic buildings, and open green fields.
If someone was only making a short stop in Tokyo, these gardens would be a great way to get a feel for the flora of Japan as lots of the indigenous species are on display throughout the grounds. Miniature groves of bamboo and Japanese maple stand tucked into the corners. They are also the perfect spot for a picnic with a view of the city, or not – there are plenty of spots to hide away.
We enjoyed looking at the old walls and buildings and just being outside in green spaces. Walking along, we spotted a bubbling stream and a stone path and followed it to a tiny shaded pool. The air was heavy and cool and we lingered watching the water and enjoying the respite from the heat, one oasis within another.
We emerged into the sunlight, to join the rest of the tourists back on the main path leading to the prettiest part of the park. Here, flowering vines and bushes adorned trellises and the banks of a pond filled with colorful koi fish. On the opposite bank, a waterfall cascaded down the rocks and filled the pond. It was exactly how I would picture a royal Japanese garden.
The paths meandered around the pond, over bridges of stone and bamboo, and around benches situated to enjoy the view. A few sculptures dotted the grass, but mostly plants ruled. We always tend to seek out the green spaces in cities, and this one proved to be a lovely natural sanctuary in the heart of Tokyo.
We zigzagged our way to another stone gate to cross the moat back into the bustling city. The gates dwarfed us with their imposing height and breadth. Beautifully constructed of wood and metal (a combination that is back in style), they stand in stark contrast to the glass city beyond them. With a few last glances into the moat, we passed through them and emerged into modern Tokyo.
We walked down a wide avenue lined with glass skyscrapers and tree-lined sidewalks, quite different than our quirky Shinjuku neighborhood. It didn’t take long to reach Tokyo Station for our train home. Once again, we joined the masses of people filling the platforms and zoomed off toward our studio.
Check out our video of all our time in Tokyo!
© Cheers Life Partners 2017