Because all the world is a stage….
Reviewed by Jennifer Herlein
Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of Chicago so on our second day here, our bodies are a bit out of whack. I woke up at 3:30am and Scott was up slightly thereafter. The general consensus is that given the jetlag, the first day in Tokyo is a good time to hit the Tsujiki Fish Market. Things get started early there and the 120 spots for reservations to view the live tuna auction are given out at 5am on a first come, first served basis. We hop in a cab at 4:30am and as soon as we get out at the fish market, an official-looking man in blue carrying a big stick (for bashing tuna? for keeping tardy tourists at bay?) tells us that the auction is full and that we should come back at 9am when the seafood market is open to the public. After a little forehead slapping and wondering why we didn’t make more of an effort to leave a half hour earlier, we get a lay of the land and assess our options. The market is crazy busy – trucks, vans, strange-looking motorized carts and hundreds of people are moving around at lightening pace in every direction. Live fish, dead fish, tentacled creatures and more are visible on the backs of the carts in styrofoam containers. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
If I had to find a positive in being too late to see the tuna auction, I’d say it was being among the first in line for a sushi breakfast at Daiwa Sushi. There are two counters, each of which seat 10 people for sushi that’s fresh off the boat. There are usually lines that can take hours but at this early time of day, we only have to wait 10 minutes or so. The chef’s recommended set includes miso soup, 6 pieces of maki (3 tuna and 3 roe) and 8 pieces of nigiri for ¥3300 ($40). I try my best to respect the custom of eating the nigiri in one bite but they’re so big and at 6am, I’m just too exhausted to chew for that long. Bits of rice drop off on the counter and on my shirt but I do my best to ignore it and carry on out of laziness and respect for the dozens of people who are now in line waiting for seats.
Post-sushi breakfast, we see loads of people with disposable “Eclipse” sunglasses. Noticing our confusion (which has actually been the norm since we landed in Japan) a shop owner explains in broken English and gestures that the solar eclipse is expected at 7:35am, which is in about a half hour. He and his mother share their glasses with us and then a market worker comes up to offer his welding mask, which is also a great way to look at the eclipse. This instigates a lot of laughter and some Japanese tourists run over to get a photo of Scott wearing the welding mask. I’m not sure if they think it’s funny for the same reason that I do (the idea of Scott using a welding torch is pretty far-fetched!) or not. At any rate, thanks to the kindness of strangers, we get a fabulous, unobstructed view of the eclipse.
We meander through the vegetable market and the gigantic seafood market and decide to take the Tokyo Cruise up the Sumida River to Asakusa since one of its piers isn’t too far from the market. We cut through the Hama Rikyu Onshi-Teien (Detached Palace Garden), which oddly enough has more interesting stray cats than gardens, and wait for the boat along with about 40 elderly Japanese women and 2 caucasian couples. The cruise is relaxing and a great way to see the 12 bridges along the river and the diverse architecture on both sides without being on our feet. I’ve long been a fan of passive tourism and this fits the bill perfectly.
We disembark and decide it’s time to figure out how to get to the Ghibli Museum in the suburb of Mitaka. Tickets to this museum are hard to come by and buying them (through the JTB USA in Chicago) was one of the first things I did after booking our flight. We surprised ourselves by successfully buying a subway pass (we only needed the assistance of three staff people – an improvement!) and navigating the train system. The feel good mood was enhanced at Mitaka when we were greeted at the platform by a woman calling out the train station’s name in a super happy tone while exhuberant electronic music plays in the background. If only I could be greeted like that on my morning commute on the CTA – Grand! Grand! Grand! But alas…
The museum is filled with as much cuteness as you’d expect – human-sized cat buses, a statue of the Castle in the Sky robot and an adorable short film with Totoro. It doesn’t take long to get through it and after enjoying a beer in the garden, we get our weary bodies back on the train and head for the hotel, getting back about 14 hours after we’d left it that morning.
After a little R & R in our room, we decide to give Suzuran another go. This time, we use some common sense and ask the concierge to confirm it’s open and write down in Japanese and phonetically, “I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish.” A concept that is quite bizarre to the Japanese, I might add. This works fabulously! The head chef at the 15-seat Suzuran gets a kick out of it and serves us some amazing tsukemen ramen (which means that the soup and noodles are served separately).