From way back, I had expected to experience jet lag on the first morning. I even planned around it strategically by arranging the trip to the fish market, which starts its daily business before dawn, on the first day. There’d be neither painful attempt to wake up early, nor would early bird sleeplessness be too much of a problem.
Or would it? It’s 1 freaking am and I’m more awake than I ever would be in the office. It’s not even funny… what kind of transpacific trip wakes one up before 3am???
So I ended up staying awake for a whole hour, and slept half on half off for three more hours, and gave up. Hong was jet lagged too but not nearly as ridiculously as me. Finally the appropriate time came and we strolled in the rain to the first stop – Tsukiji fish market. Finding the entrance to this “market” was a piece of cake, but navigating in it while dodging intense motor carts was unexpectedly stressful. We ended up lost in the sea of wholesale merchants before 9am, when tourists were prohibited. Hong didn’t enjoy the splashing water and the pushy seafood dealers, but I was amazed by the gallery of marine creatures big and small, life and frozen, whole and diced.
(none of the pictured above was from the actual wholesale market)
Fresh sushi breakfast was intended as a bonus trip while visiting the fish market, and somehow turned into the primary justification for our being there. Daiwa, the bigger of the two that every Tokyo tourism site recommends, is barely larger than the bathrooms we have at home. We got there early enough to entirely avoid the notorious hour+ wait in line, and secured the last two seats right in front of the chef that commanded some English. We felt fat squeezing by the row of other customers, and there was absolutely no room for our bags around the seats. Ordering was still done in the point-and-smile fashion, and the food was prepared directly from counter to the chef’s bare hands to the wooden platform a foot in front of us. He frequently had to lean over to see how much room was left to decide whether to continue making the next piece. The food here tasted entirely different from what they call sushi in America. The fish was so fresh and tender that it was falling apart just sitting there: the o-toro was the most delicious piece of fat on earth, this unagi-like (but not eel) thing melted in the mouth with an explosion of flavors, and the raw shrimp sushi provided a never-before-experienced blend of chewiness and soft texture. The presentation was honestly not as fancy as what we had in mind, but the experience made a rare ocassion when I’d call a $70 (for two) breakfast worthwhile.
Our second stop was Sensoji, a Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) temple in Asakusa. In this most ancient shopping district of Tokyo, the streets in front of the temple are still crowded on a Monday morning – businesses prosper not so much from pilgrims but from massive tourists. It wasn’t unlikely that more foreigners hung out here than Japanese. I wouldn’t call either the temple or the shopping very impressive, especially compared to similar stuff in Taiwan, but it was quite fun.
As much as we make fun of Americans who “need” home foods while traveling, we opted for McDonald’s by our third meal… it was all good though as we experienced flavors and drinks not available in the US.
After a long nap, we headed out for Ginza, Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive. It turned out to be the least interesting part of the day because, well, an LV in Tokyo isn’t unlike an LV in LA which isn’t unlike an LV in New York. The more different part of it was perhaps watching super-wealthy or otherwise connected women dressed in kimonos and over-the-top dresses on their way to dinner parties. At a minimum, they looked so much nicer than the Jewish grandmas on Fifth Avenue.
The disappointing Nissan Gallery showcased no GTR or Z but only Leaf – an electric car.
Cosplay is a key part of modern Japanese culture, especially to those even marginally interested in anime or manga. A derivation of it are theme restaurants. I made it a priority to try at least one theme restaurant in Tokyo, and after some research the Alice in Wonderland caught my eyes over everything else. Checking it off the list early, we went there for dinner.
Last night, I called to make a reservation. We later learned that despite the localness (the restaurant was within a 20-minute walk), the hotel charged us for the call. I was quite proud of myself for having had a whole business conversation with someone in Japan, and it was also priceless to hear the 8-bit video game-like music when I was put on hold.
It was awesome. The place was basically a toned-down and more fun version of Ninja New York. Alice in the Wonderland is among my favorite stories of all times, so I was thrilled to see pages from the book covering the walls, waitresses dressed like Alice (with a sexier twist, what a surprise), and above all the character-shaped dishes. We’ve got pictures of everything except the Alices, because we didn’t want to appear like perverts over some ugly Japanese girls. It was embarrassing enough to not understand a word of explanation (among very many) from them. The bill came out roughly double what we expected… that’s right, there’s an inheritent risk in pointing to a menu that you can’t read and nodding with a smile when you can’t distinguish a question from a statement…