I always forget what a pain in the ass it is to blog while I’m traveling. We are generally on the go all day – when we get back to the hotel room, all I want to do is crack a beer and relax. But since my posts also serve as something of a diary of our adventures, I feel obligated to write… Plus, I don’t want to disappoint my three readers… Of course, it doesn’t help that my writing style tends toward the flowery and is pretty much the polar opposite of concise. Anyhoo, here goes…
Our tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market was amazing. We met up with our guide, Naoto Nakamura, at just before 4AM around the corner from the market. Their were five other Americans taking the tour with us – and they were all very nice. Nakamura-san spent a number of years in fish business, so he really knows his way around the market. If we’d tried to do this on our own, I doubt we’d have seen nearly as much of the market. One of the highlights was seeing a bunch of the highly-skilled fish sellers preparing the 600-pound tuna they’d purchased. It was incredible to watch. Also saw bits of the tuna auction itself, with the workers wheeling off old-fashioned carts laden with a giant tuna or three after they’d been purchased.
Once the tour finished, Nakamura-san took us to one of the many tiny sushi joints in the market. I think it was one of the “famous” ones, i.e. where people (Japanese and foreigners) line up for sushi. Since it was only 6AM, we had a short wait to get a a couple of the ten seats the counter. We went with the sushi set – the easy way out, since we don’t speak Japanese. The sushi guys were super-friendly and very good at telling us what to do and eat. The set was good – though it included uni (sea urchin gonads) which I’d never tried and was frankly a little freaked out by. But, when in Rome… It tasted fine – though the texture did make me gag a bit. But I was able to help Chris out by eating his. He, by the way, was pretty impressive – he’s rather freaked out by raw fish, but he ate just about everything he was served (though the salmon roe turned out to be pushing the envelope just a bit too far…). The shrimp and tuna nigiri were all pretty amazing. I have to confess though, I think I’m just not a huge sushi lover – I like it, but I don’t think it’ll ever make me wax rhapsodic…
From there we headed back to the hotel via subway – easy as pie to navigate, I’m happy to say. Back at the hotel, Chris had a bit of lie-down before we headed back out to explore Shinjuku before our scheduled walking tour of the neighborhood that I’d booked through the Tokyo Tourism Centre. We showed up at the appointed hour, reservation email in hand – and which I realized instructed a re-confirmation the day before the tour. And I hadn’t done this – so no tour. They were very kind and apologetic, but it was my own fault and I felt like an idiot – it was very disappointing… But we did head up to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – it’s on the 45th floor, it’s free and offers and expansive view of the city.
More wandering through Shinjuku… We decided to check out Tokyu Hands, which is sort of a Japanese version of Target – though that description really doesn’t do it justice. We thought we’d just take a quick peak, but wound up spending three hours there as we explored all eight floors. Chris bought a body slimmer and a tongue scraper; I bought some special hanging clothespins (to hang my Bluettes at home) and a wallet; and I think we physically handled about 60% of the store’s inventory.
After that we spent an hour in the food halls in the basement of Takeshimaya department store. And yes, we saw $150 cantaloupes and grapes the size of ping-pong balls.
Then back to the hotel before heading to dinner at Yuian, a place I’d read about on Chowhound. It is on the 52nd floor of the Sumitomo Building, so the view was spectacular. Regrettably, our waiter was incompetent. He was very nice, but I think it may have been his first day. He didn’t take our order until we’d been there 45 minutes. The food, once it did arrive was just OK. Both of us wound up with “do-it-yourself’ dishes – mini-hibachi with steak for Chris, shabu-shabu for me. The whole experience was really disappointing…
Next, off to Ni-Chome, Tokyo’s little gay section. Though we never found it. Got completely lost, I got really crabby, we finally gave up and went back to the hotel, and hit the hay, each of us really pissed off at the other… Fun!
Wednesday morning we ironed out our differences and got another early start. Chris finally heeded the siren call of Krispy Kreme, followed by a chai latte at Starbuck’s. We kind of hated ourselves for going to either establishment – but considering both of them were jammed with Japanese, I think we were actually being pretty authentical.
First stop, Ginza. Saw a couple of the luxe retailers with their schmancy buildings (Dior was our favorite). Of course, it also didn’t take us long to say to ourselves, “Oh my god, we can’t afford this shit…” So we headed back to the subway (though Chris did buy a pair of sneakers at a nice, though compared to Mikimoto and Gucci, decidedly lower-end shop) for Roppongi.
Apparently, Roppongi isn’t what it used to be – a somewhat seedy spot that catered to tourists with overpriced lousy restaurants and hostess bars. We went to Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Marketplace – two gigantic developments encompassing malls, offices and residences. And it was as high end (if not more so) than Ginza. We had tacos for lunch (they were delicious) and then rode up to the top of the Mori Building – home to an observation deck and a small but lovely museum featuring contemporary art.
And now we’re back at the hotel, just about done with our bottle of wine. Back to Ginza tonight for dinner at Birdland, which specializes in chicken yakitori – and I think might serve chicken sashimi (no, I’m not lying). And adventurous as I try to be, I will not be trying it… Sayonara!