Monday, March 26, 2007

And that's a wrap

Well, as I've gotten a good night's rest and my family is about to land in Ottawa, I think it's time to get the final blog of this great trip sorted out and out there. Quite the busy two weeks we've had, and I am glad to report that the trip was a resounding success. Everyone had a great time and I'm sure we will all look back fondly on our time together running around Japan. It was really great for Yoshiko to get to meet and spend time with my father and brothers, and they got along swimmingly.

Before moving on to our final two days in Tokyo, I'd like to make an addendum to my previous post. While in Harajuku, we met and spoke with an interesting gentleman who was writing poems about the dancing dude. He struck up a conversation with me and Christian and moved on to my parents. I guess he could be characterized as upper class homeless, with printing resources and an email address. After looking up his name online, I now understand why he gave me a book of his writings about Afghanistan. It seems he's spent a good chunk of his life abroad, actually living in Afghanistan during the Soviet War. Very interesting fellow and I gladly bought one of his little books of Haiku. His name is Hideo Asano and it seems like many bloggers have run in to him in various parts of Tokyo and written about their encounter. Do take the time to listen to him if you have the luck of running in to him.

So, on to the final 2 days. On Sunday morning, we awoke to a relatively strong rain falling outside. Seeing as this had been forecast, it was not a surprise and merely put off our plans for an hour or so as we waited for it to slow down a bit. We ended up making a run out to a 100Yen shop for umbrellas, grabbing some breakfast at a bakery and eating on the platform at Okachimachi station. After watching a series of Yamanote line trains run by, which supplied an audience to our breakfast, we hopped on one and headed to Akihabara, the Electronics Mecca of Tokyo, and I guess the world. After bumming around a few of the stores and enjoying some geeky conversation amongst ourselves, we decided to check out the massive new Yodobashi Camera store East of the station.


This place has pretty much anything and everything one might want, though my brothers were a bit dismayed at the prices on things. I guess things here tend to stay cutting edge, with only the newest models available. I imagine that protectionist policies also stop many items from being imported from Taiwan and Korea and such, leaving prices high and limiting competition to retailers and not manufacturers so much. Prices back home at Future Shop are much better. For example, I saw my camera, which I bought not long after it came out selling at a significantly higher price than I paid 8 months ago. Anywho, an interesting place to visit nonetheless and I did purchase a quick release head for my tripod.

Finding that the rain had stopped, we headed out to the music instrument area around Ochanomizu station and the kids enjoyed poking around the multi-floor displays of guitars and other music related products. The most expensive thing we saw was a guitar going for about 100,000$! Amazing! We then decided to walk back to the station and explore the neighbourhoods on the way. Spotted this old brick wall and grabbed a shot of it.


Right by our hotel, we discovered this temple which was surrounded by stands of ema, wooden slats used to write your wishes on and hang at temples.


I have never seen so many of these in one place... anyone have any idea what's up with that?


After a quick rest at the hotel, which allowed me to research a place for dinner, we left again and dropped in to Kurofunetei where we enjoyed their amazing Hayashi Rice, the sauce of which is simmered for a week... yum! A quick peek at their web site just now reveals that John Lennon ate there some time ago, cool! With plans to wake up early to visit Tsukiji Fish Market the next morning, we turned in early, though 5:30 came up pretty quickly nonetheless.

Despite this early morning expedition occurring at the end of a very long and tiring trip, I do not regret making it. Tsukiji is an AMAZING place to visit. The sheer scale and chaos of the whole thing had us standing around in awe as carts zoomed by in every direction carrying all sorts of critters from 10,000$ Tuna to eel and shellfish I'd never even heard of. For me, this was definitely a highlight of this trip, and I may try to make it back there some time before I leave Japan. We took the Hibiya line, where I went into tour guide mode once more and rattled off some of the facts from the Tokyo Gas Attack back in 1995. The Hibiya line was one of the ones targeted, and our little track between Ueno and Tsukiji turned out to be one of the deadliest with 8 deaths.

After exiting Tsukiji station and getting our bearing, we waded into the huge market and were immediately engulfed in workers doing their thing. Some were on motorized carts, others were pulling hand carts.


The market is a wonder of organisation with over 2000 tons of seafood passing through every day with over 60,000 workers keeping things rolling from the early hours of the morning into early afternoon. Of course, ice is a hugely popular commodity here, and we saw many ice supply stations around.


The most interesting part of the market for me was the tuna operations. Early on in the morning, an auction is held for the tuna on hand some going as high as 10,000$ and being shipped everywhere in the world. Tuna which is meant for the outer market then makes it's way through where it is prepared and packaged accordingly. At any given time, you are likely to see trolleys of frozen tuna being zoomed around in any part of the market. Very cool. Here is my favourite part of the tuna, its chin, on sale for a wholesale price of a whopping 200Yen (2$)...


Here is a worker checking his paperwork while surrounded by solid tunas.


The size of the market is hard to convey in photos, unless you were to rent a helicopter and take an aerial shot. It is just huge.


Here are some halved tunas, still in the central area, which was recently made off-limits to marauding tourists, waiting to be shipped out.


Not everything here is frozen, and thanks to the freshness and cleaning that goes on here, there is no nasty funky smell floating around. Here are some fresh tuna, waiting to be sashimied no doubt.


Of course, not everything here involves tuna. There are over 400 different kinds of seafood which are sold here, including these huge scallops. Mmmmm, scallops...



Back to the tuna though... while the frozen tuna are sectioned by electric saw, the fresh ones are done by hand. Here is a video of a team working at quartering frozen tuna.


Here is a team working on quartering this big boy by hand.


After making the initial cut, they pull out this long sword and pull out a quarter of the meat.


The frozen ones are handled a little less delicately. Here a worker is hacking away at a carcass with an axe... notice how the fish is bigger than the guy holding it up... and that's without the head and tail!


I guess these guys will stay frozen for a while longer, the worker was putting blocks of dry ice on them.


Things both inside and outside of the building were quite frenzied and I must tip my hat off to the drivers of these trolleys for their driving skills. They somehow manage to skirt their way through groups of people, vehicles, carts, fish piles, boxes and other assorted obstacles and we didn't see one collision or anything close to it. They do quite well working their way around dumb tourists and photographers like us too... lol


There are traffic jams on occasion though, as we witnessed when a car needed some assistance parking.


To cap off our Tsukiji experience, we opted for a sushi breakfast at one of the on-site eateries which serve THE freshest fish anywhere.


We opted for a custom order, with Luc finally getting to try the Awabi he had his heart set on. Here are our sushi chefs doing their thing.


Here is our platter. Shrimp and Salmon on top, Tuna and Awabi in the middle and Eel along the bottom.


This wasn't just any tuna, it was Otoro... fatty tuna which simply melts in your mouth. Quite nice.


And having never tried eel, I opted to go the sushi route and it was REALLY good!


Here is Luc enjoying his Awabi, one of his stated goals for this trip.


And an unshaven Micheru gobbling down a chunk of tuna.


While Sebastien had a few and Christian tried pieces of sushi, I don't think they've quite developed a taste for raw fish yet... lol We left the fish behind and went back to the hotel to pack our bags and check out. After meeting up again with the whole original crew, with Yoshiko back in Tokyo for the final sendoff, we headed for a final walk into Ueno park to see how the cherry trees had progressed. While they weren't quite at their prime, everyone was glad to get to see some of the trees blooming.


A lovely end to a great trip.


We finally made our way to Narita with the group where we picked up my extra bags which I was sending along and said our goodbyes. This one will be a short one though, as Yoshiko and I will be in Canada in just a little over 3 weeks! Will go by very quickly!

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