Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tokyo Diary - Part IV

Day 4:

After two failed endeavours due to inclement weather on the two previous days, we were resolved to make it on this day to that one place, which should be in the bucket list of all those who travel to Tokyo. Tsukiji Fish Market, apparently one of the largest  wholesale fish markets of the world, is indeed worth a visit, and especially for two Bengalis from Kolkata (though not very high on fish usually, and thus much of a disgrace to the clan and respective families and yet...) set to make proud their tribe by digging into (and mostly with their eyes and nose, except for the sushi breakfast) anything and everything that was on offer. And they say, "If it is in the sea, it is there in Tsukiji".

We had much deliberation on the previous night on whether to attempt for the famous Tuna Auction. For that we needed to be there by 4:00 am to reserve our place among the first 120, who are allowed to the visitor's arena ( in two batches of 60 each) during the auction, that would start at 5:00 am. However, finally we decided to give it a miss and start a bit late and catch on the action post the auction. The foremost reason for giving the Tuna auction a miss was transportation. At 4:00 am or earlier, we only had the option of taking a cab to reach the place. We really didn't want to blow a fortune on a cab ride for 20 minutes of an 'auction treat' which again depended on sheer chance since the 120 bookings fill up in no time. People, in fact, put up in manga cafes and capsule hotels or just hang around in late night karaoke bars close-by, just so they can reach way ahead to queue up and grab a place amongst the lucky 120. Undoubtedly, it is during this wee hours that all the action takes place, when catches from all across find their way into this wholesale market for live auction.  However, once the bidding is over and the prizes taken, restaurants, in this case, the wholesalers set up shop for trading the other catches from the sea. With over 1500 stalls and 450 different types of seafood found in the market, this place is an amazing revelation for everybody worth their fish and also for those who aren't that 'fishy'. 

At 6:00 am in the morning, we thus headed for the Tsukiji experience. Walking down from the Tsukiji subway station on the Hibiya line, towards the market, we came across the Tsukiji Honganji shrine - a venerable temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Budhhism. Apparently, the original shrine was built in Asakusa in 1617, but was destroyed in a fire soon after. It was then built in its present place, but was again leveled in the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. The present structure was built in 1934, and is quite unique in architecture compared to the other Japanese shrines, with distinctive Indian influence.

The very approach road to the market is an inevitable indication to where the road leads.

 As we crossed the main gate, we found on our left what seemed an off-limits zone with stacks of polystyrene boxes, which we learnt later is where all the packing is done. 

On our right was the Tsukiji outer market - a warren of narrow streets packed with stalls selling vegetables and fruits, to seafood, to specialty items like fresh wasabi roots, bonito flakes or better known there as Katsuobushi, cake rolls to Japanese ceramic bowls and sashimi knives, interspersed by small sushi restaurants. Redundant to say, I lost myself again into the lanes, hopping from one shop to another, submitting to my inquisitive self and inquiring about various stuffs, that I could not make out of what use they can be. I realised that if I had to prepare an authentic Japanese dinner, then nothing better than this place to find my ingredients - though certain things, especially the vegetables, seemed quite pricey to my Indian sensibility. 

We ambled along the few blocks, as the busy market employees hurried past, or eased their way around on the turret trucks.

 Since the seafood wholesale market is closed to the public till 9:00 am, we thought we might as well tick off the next must-do thing from our list  - the sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Market. There were number of sushi restaurants lined up and all of them had a thing in common - compact counter-sitting. The queues were long, often winding to the next lane. The shops usually open doors at 5:00 am and people line up since then, as the waiting time is quite long. Though late, we hovered around to decide on the place where we wanted to have that much-awaited and anticipated sushi experience. Finally we zeroed in on Daiwa Sushi, for its friendly English-speaking staff, who was managing the queue and helping out people like us to figure out the menu and the offers. It is only later that I learnt that Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi are the two best sushi restaurants in Tsukiji, to try out. Lucky us, indeed, we patiently waited our turn occasionally sneaking through the red curtains to catch a shot of the activities inside. Finally, as our turn arrived we were ushered into the tiny setting, with barely any elbow room for a dozen people, with almost no place for our camera bags. It was also not appropriate to spend our time clicking pictures of each piece being served, when you could see impatient customers waiting in a long queue outside, and peeping in hope that we finish off ASAP and make space for them. There were options for a la carte, or omakase, that is the chef's choice. The omakase at 3500 yen offered seven pieces of  nigiri and a roll, miso soup and green tea. The flavours depended on the catch of the day and typically included ebi (shrimp), tamago (sweet egg), toro (fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin) ikuro (salmon roe), maguro (tuna), aji  (mackerel) and unagi  (sea eel). We decided on an omakase selection and also go a la carte, so that we could order more of whichever we liked. Indeed, they just tasted out-of-this-world, fresh and melting into our mouths. For two souls, as mentioned already, not very high on fish, it was indeed an incredible experience as we ordered more and more (as if, there was no second chance to taste such heavenly delights) and finally we had to check ourselves before the bill went out of our hands..and pockets. The chef spoke smattering English, and engaged in conversation with us as he deftly timed each piece to our pace. And then we finally led ourselves through the back exit, thoroughly satiated and super ecstatic, so much so that the dent in the pocket didn't bother us at all for once. After all, we had at least for once behaved as a true-blue Bengali worth his fish. Interestingly, I later also learnt that the Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi are run by a father-son duo.

Loaded and happy, we then made our way, dodging the turret trucks, to the inner wholesale seafood market. 

One really needs to see it to believe it, indeed. The array of seafood on offer almost made me go bonkers with curiosity, also the sizes of certain fishes were something I had not seen definitely, neither imagined. One needs to be very careful to not come in the way of the business while going click happy as well as be cautious not to slide over blood and water.

The action starts winding down by 10:00am. After a thorough photography and viewing session we were finally on our way out. Close to the market, we came across the Namiyoke Inari Shrine, which has been the unofficial guardian of the fish market. 

Paying a visit there to thank for our wonderful experience, we now set ourselves for further explorations through the rest of the day.

Exulting over our morning sojourn, we somewhat slackly headed then for building tycoon Minoro Mori's ambitious "city within a city" - the Roppongi Hills. Surrounding the centrepiece of  54-storey Mori tower, the mega complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, hotel, art museum, observation deck and much more.

The Mori Tower
  Even as we alighted from the subway and walked towards the exit, we were welcomed to Roppongi Hills by the array of the ongoing Tokyo Film Festival posters. 

The first thing to strike is Louise Bourgeois's giant spider sculpture, Maman on the open expanse. 

The Mori Tower, other than housing leading IT firms, has an observation deck on the 52nd -floor, called the Tokyo City View. Tickets to the observation deck also includes admission to the Mori Art Museum. 

The Tokyo Tower From Roppongi Hills
There are large open spaces, and the lovely Mori Garden - a typical elaborate Japanese garden, which apparently was part of a lost mansion that housed members of the feudal Mori clan. 

Hanging around the various shopping options for sometime and then treating ourselves to a lovely lunch in one of the cafes, we headed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices Building.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices Building
An Installation inside the TMGO building
The TMGO has two observation decks at the 45th floor, and entry is free. On a clear day, Yokohama and Mt Fuji are distinctly visible from the South tower, though we had to satisfy ourselves only with the silhouette, but one that could be made out actually, and not in imagination. We enjoyed the 360 degree view of Tokyo and just for information, the South Tower is a better option than the North one, which mostly has residential view. 

We decided to comeback later to capture some clicks when the city is draped in its neon hues. We ambled by the Park Hyatt Tokyo, tempted to check out the swanky bar where Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson had their first rendezvous, deciding to keep it for the 'next time' when 'indulgence' would be our motto. 

As the evening set in, we took the JR Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Shimbashi Station, where we changed for the Yurikamome to head for Odaiba (the station is called Daiba) - a popular shopping and entertainment district on a man-made island on the Tokyo Bay. The chief attraction for us was the lovely ride over the Rainbow Bridge on the Tokyo Bay, and the views of Tokyo and the Bridge from Odaiba. There are numerous shopping malls, the iconic Fuji TV building, museums, and other entertainment places to explore. However, we enjoyed the chill of the bay, strolling around and enjoying the beautiful views on offer. 

This replica was gifted by the French to the Japanese, when they celebrated the The French Year of Japan in 1998-99 

The 377 ft giant Ferris Wheel, called the Daikanransha, at Pallette Town in Odaiba, is also one of the world's tallest 
After a sumptuous tempura dinner, we decided to head back home and give in to the demands of our tired feet with a hot foot bath back in the hotel.   


  1. I remembered it was raining heavily when I went to Tsukiji Market. It did not dampen our mood much though. Heard the market is moving to a new location by end of the year. Many people are against it. I am also not in favor.

    1. Yes Paolo, even I had heard of the new location, and counted myself to be lucky enough to manage a tour of the original one. I guess, when they first built the market, they did not foresee it to be such a major tourist attraction, which accounts for their lack of infrastructure to support the huge tourist influx everyday. But, no doubt, there must be so much of sentiment attached for the Tokyoites, to disagree to shift to a new location. Every place creates its own charm, and we get used to it.

  2. Hi dwaita, thanks for including my blog in your blog lists. I have included yours in my Link Exchange page:-)!