Friday, June 12, 2009

An Enigma and a Tuna

Japan Day 4

In 1936 in a discussion about Russia Winston Churchill said that it was "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". I think today the same could be said about Japan.

Just about every time I think I have garnered some nugget of pure wisdom about the place and its people, I come to realize I have oversimplified both. Japan is the proverbial onion, best peeled a layer at a time.

The fact is that this is a place of immense and rich culture. Its largest City Tokyo is unbelievably densely populated. It took about three days of walking around before I saw examples of graffiti. Its culture stresses conformity, yet its children seem to be pushing the limits of non-conformity in dress and behavior. It has incredible examples of technological splendor, yet a simple custom of washing ones hands before entering a temple is observed by old and young.

Its layers extend to every facet of life. From the entrance to my hotel I can see three different trains. Above me the monorail that goes to the nearby islands, then just above street level is the JR Line and an occasional Shinkanssen Bullet train (the sleek high speed trains that traverse the country at breathtaking speed). Below me are two Metro subway lines. Although it is one of the world's most populous cities, people walk, ride bikes, and really use the clean, cheap, efficient subways. Hence, streets are nowhere near as choked as I would have expected.

Compared to our visit twenty four years ago there are stunning examples of corporate wealth virtually everywhere. Yet, this trip we found many examples of homelessness. In our past visit Japan was poorer, but devoid of homelessness.

Metro Tokyo has over 12,000,000 people (for comparison purposes, thats a little more than a third of the population of the whole state of California - packed into one city!) and there is almost no litter. It is a bitter pill for me to swallow since I routinely pick up a full bag (sometimes two) of litter on my daily morning walks with Rocket and Daisy in Phoenix.

I'm happy to say that one thing has not changed. The Japanese are still generous with their smiles and unfailingly polite. They may be tigers in industry, but they are genuinely kind to lost tourists. They also respond almost immediately at our feeble attempts to say thank you or good morning in Japanese.

So I post another batch of photos. For those who are vegan, beware, this post will most certainly ruin your day.

Herewith, the amazing Tsukiji Fish Market.

Since 1935 the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market (more commonly known as the Tsukiji Fish Market) has been operating every day except Sunday.

Fish sold from its 1700 stalls are served daily in 35,000 restaurants. It starts about 4:30 am with the tuna auction beginning at 5:00 am and the stakes are high. One tuna can easily fetch $10,000 in the bidding. The whole crazy place is winding down by 6:30 am. Nearby are workman cafes with the freshest sushi in the world served up cheap for breakfast. Amazingly, among the noise, glare, rush of LPG powered carts and slicing of fish with 4' long swords, they tolerate an occasional tourist. Rainboots are recommended as the water from melting ice is everywhere. If you get in the way they let you know very directly with a nudge here and a nudge there. If you go, please be courteous, if tourists become too much of a nuisance they have every right to prohibit them, and that would be a darned shame as this is truly an amazing spectacle.

Square Footage is Precious
Stalls After Stall Line the Semi-circular Building

The Glare is Blinding

Thousands of Giant Tuna are Auctioned Every Morning

Tuna is King Here

450 Varieties of Seafood Are Sold

Many of the Tuna's Are More than 6' in Length

When Most of Tokyo is just Opening its Eyes
The Market is Packed Up and Winding Down

So if you visit Tokyo use jet lag to your advantage and experience the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is like Seattle's Pike Place Market on steroids.

Tomorrow Akihabara (Electric City!)

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

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