Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Japan! Take Two: Tokyo - Raw Fish and Duck Hunting

So, onto part 3 of our adventures in Japan in the summer of 2011 (click here for the first part and the second part). This was our third day in Tokyo and our last as we would be heading down to Kyoto later on in the afternoon of this day. Our first stop was a visit to the famous Tsukuji wholesale fish market to take a look around and try some ultra fresh sushi.

This is Tsukiji Market. It is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and is located in central Tokyo.  (Photo care of Wikipedia) 

The market opens at 3 a.m. most mornings when fish and seafood is delivered from all over the world. The produce is then prepared and valued ready for the auctions which usually start just after 5 a.m. By 7 a.m. the auctions are finished and many of the market shops start closing around 11 a.m. so it's not a place for people like me who hate early morning starts! 

Vendors begin selling their fish really early in the morning at the Tsukiji fish market. (Photo care of Wikipedia) 

The market is a popular place for tourists to visit but it became a bit too popular in recent years. Too many tourists were crowding into the auction areas and causing problems, including touching incredibly expensive tuna. The tuna auction is now only open to the first 140 people on a first come first served basis. We couldn't face the idea of getting up really early, having to catch an expensive cab (as the subway wouldn't be running that early i.e. before 5 a.m.) and speeding over there just to find out we were tourists #141 and #142! So we enjoyed a lie in, got up at a normal time and checked out the rest of the market, though we were much too late for the tuna auction by then. 

End of the fresh tuna auction at Tsukiji (Photo care of Wikipedia)  

We started by looking around the small restaurants and shops on the edge of the market. There were a lot of people queuing up at the best little sushi restaurants, standing sweltering in the late morning heat. We were keen to get in on the action but were a little overwhelmed at first as all the menus were in Japanese and we couldn't work out how to order or what was even on offer. After a bit of indecision, we pulled ourselves together and chose a likely looking place with a long counter with just a few stools drawn up to it to sit on. There, we had the best tasting sushi either of us has ever eaten. Rowan was ecstatic!

There were many stalls at he market selling expensive knife sets like this one.

There was a huge amount of traffic in and around the market which made it quite a dangerous place to visit. It included little palette trucks like this, big arctic trucks,cars, motorbikes, all sorts and all moving fast. You had to always be on your guard. 

A picture menu at one of the little sushi restaurants in the market.

A friendly chef standing by his menu.

One particular restaurant was extremely popular and had a huge queue of people prepared to roast in the summer heat while they waited.

The knotted hankie round the head look was very popular among the market workers.

Worker cycling by the little stalls and restaurants.

A woman beckoning people into one of the restaurants.

We chose a quieter restaurant next to the really popular one - we just couldn't bear to wait out in the heat. The restaurant  was a very simple affair. A few customer stools  were pulled up around an L-shaped counter behind which stood the chef, preparing the sushi while you watched.

The sushi menu. We were very grateful it had pictures too!

We started off by ordering a couple of pieces of best quality fatty tuna belly. Behind them, you can see some pieces of ginger which is used to cleanse your palette between courses.

Next we had a mixed selection of salmon and tuna. The salmon was particularly good, even better than the tuna which was surprising.

Much of the market was closing up when we finally got to look around after stuffing our faces with sushi but it was still interesting. The main market is housed in a huge warehouse. Workers were mostly cleaning up, throwing away the fish heads and guts and packing away their stalls. I still managed to get some decent pictures despite the constant danger from the warehouse traffic.

Worker surrounded by boxes in the warehouse.

Inside the market warehouse. The workers were all busy cleaning up by the time we looked round.

Workers were busy sloshing down the floor with buckets of water to clean up all the fish guts and dirt.

Fish heads!

Preparing some fish.

More prep.

Some kind of delicious looking slurry bucket! Don't think it was for sale!

Packing up for the day.

Never seen so many men cleaning and doing the washing up at once!

Workers relaxing with a game at the end of their shift.

View of the warehouse. It was huge.

We saw very few actual fish at the market as we were late getting there. These were some of them.


Sharpening knives.


More scrubbin'!

Lobsters on ice.

Sweeping up all the mess after the auction.

By the time we left Tsukuji, it was unbelievably hot. We decided to visit the nearby Hamarikyu Teien Gardens. It was a beautiful place with a great view of Tokyo Bay. We were given free audio guides in English to tell us about the gardens' history by a nice old Japanese man who wnated to make sure we could fully appreciate them. Unfortunately, we didn't make it all the way around as the intense, humid heat made it difficult to appreciate them or to think about anything except for the next chance of air con  and ice cream! 

Entrance to the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens.

Tall Tokyo buildings around the gardens.

People were hiding under their umbrellas to escape form the sun.

Beautiful butterfly in the flower garden in Hamarikyu.

According to good old Wikipedia, the Hamarikyu Gardens are surrounded by this sea water moat filled, by Tokyo Bay. With a view of the city skyscrapers behind.

More skyscrapers and a bridge in the far distance.

This is part of the Koshindo Duck Hunting Field in the Hamarikyu Gardens. The duck hunting pool system was insanely complex. Apparently, every Japanese feudal lord worth his salt used to have one on his lands. 

Domestic ducks were reared on the duck pond and used as decoys to lure wild ducks to the creek during a hunt. This strange structure is one of the observation sheds built at the end of the creek.

Once we'd given up on the gardens, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags. Then we trekked over to the train station for the next leg of our journey - the high speed "shinkansen " train to Kyoto. Watch this space for the next post that will cover our journey to Kyoto, Japan's cultural heart, a city that is home to thousands of temples and shrines as well as most of the country's remaining geisha.

On the way to the train station we saw this poster reminding people of proper manners on the subway.

Another (weirder) poster in the subway. Not quite sure what a scarecrow competition is when it's at home! 

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