My first taste of Asia was a revelation. My personal goal for our trip to Japan was to experience as many styles of Japanese cusine as I possibly could – put my money where my mouth was, literally. That we did. Our starting point was Tokyo, an uber-modern city of 13.6 million people; an ocean of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. But looking down from the 48th floor of one of those buildings, the city appears almost serene- Buddhist temples and green gardens float like quiet islands amongst the urban landscape.
Tokyo and Kyoto were interesting combinations of modern and ancient, tranquil and frenetic. The culture seemed at once demure (white gloved taxi drivers and earnest shopgirls with hemlines below the knee) while at the same time outrageous- visit the rollicking Roppongi district in Tokyo and check out the karaoke and crazy harajuku styles to see what I mean. But Japan, as a study in contrasts, was most delicously illustrated through the food. The styles of cuisine we encountered as we ate our way through our 3 week trip were diverse- from elegant and austere sashimi to raucous robatayaki.
Our first stop in Tokyo was the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the worlds largest and busiest wholesale fish markets. This bustling and chaotic market attracts thousands of visitors daily who come to witness the mind-blowing array of fish and sea life, as well as almost every other foodstuff imaginable. If you are able to drag yourself out of bed to queue up outside the market at 3:00am, you may be rewarded with entry to the famous tuna auction, where huge, whole tunas are bought and sold at breakneck pace. If you arrive at 3:10am and miss the auction (as we did), I suggest grabbing a sushi breakfast to start your day. Then make (and eat) your way through the winding alleyways of the outer market to see all the exotic wares on display. The “inner market” is an enormous wholesale market where the auctions and fish processing take place. The “outer market” is a fascinating mix of stalls selling everything imaginable from food to kitchen and restaurant supplies to handcrafted Japanese knives. You’ll find tiny sushi joints and steamy noddle shops everywhere, so pace yourself as you sample your way through the day.
Tsukiji Market comes to life
Behind a noodle shop
Open at 4:30am- looks like a good place for breakfast
If you visit Tsukiji: the market is located near Tsukijishijō Station in the city center. It opens at 3am on most mornings (except Sundays and holidays). If you want to watch the tuna auction, you must arrive by 3am and queue up to gain entry. The first 120 people will be allowed in, but be prepared to stand and wait for the auction to begin (dress warmly as you’ll be in a refrigerated room, just like the tuna 🙂 And bring cash, most places don’t accept credit cards. In 2016, the market is scheduled to be moved to Toyosu in another part of the city in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo olympics.