Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Fortnight in Japan - Day 3 in Tokyo

One thing we knew we had to do in Tokyo was to visit the Tsukiji Market, where much of Tokyo (and other places in Japan) gets their sushi and sashimi fish. Because of the holidays that were going on during the time we were in Tokyo, the only day that the market was open during our stay was on Monday the 4th, so there was no doubt about our plans for that day! Brian already wrote a bit about it and described our big adventure there, when we stalked, uh... met Alton Brown and had a great sushi meal, so I'll just add a few more photos and descriptions.

Tsukiji is basically divided into the warehouse part, where things get offloaded from trucks, the wholesale market, where unimaginable amounts of fish and seafood get bought and sold every day, and the retail/restaurant part, where visitors like us stand in line for an hour to eat. The warehouse part is crazy busy, with little trucks and forklifts zipping around without much concern for dumb, awestruck camera-toting tourists. You really had to watch yourself, or this would be the last thing you'd see:

Vehicles rushing around Tsukiji Market

Lineups for all the sushi restaurants were really long the whole time we were there. The restaurant we went to had a relatively short line when we got there, but it also grew pretty long:

Brian being patient on the outside, seething with sushi-lust on the inside

And finally, the wholesale market was seemingly endless rows of stalls selling much of the same:
Terrific tuna

Fantastic fish

Awesome octopus

A little ways away from the fish market is a more general market where other types of food are served and sold, along with other things. While Brian was in line at the restaurant, I happened upon this scene, and I stood there gawking and taking pictures for a few minutes:

Big whole tunas on the ground

After the fish market, we walked around the outer markets a bit, and they were incredibly crowded. We got jostled and pushed, and once again I regretted being so short! Next, we walked to the Shiodome neighborhood, a modern business-y area filled with skyscrapers. We checked out the Advertising Design Museum of Tokyo, housed in the Caretta Shiodome building (it was ok, not too exciting but it did have some fun retro ads). In the same building, we took the elevator up to the 46th floor (which has a bunch of restaurants), and got some nice, free views of the city.

The three bluish low buildings in the middle of the photo are part of
Tsukiji Market

Next, we decided to visit Odaiba, a small island SE of the city that is served by a monorail. Sights, which include a manmade beachfront and souped-up boardwalk, are clustered around monorail stops. It all felt cute and contrived, which led me to keep calling it a "weekend leisure destination" even though many people work and live there.

First stop for us: Tokyo Big Sight, a big convention centre with a giant saw out front, and inverted pyramids in its design. When we got there, we were very curious as to why there were streams of girls and women coming out of it. A little further investigation revealed that there was a manga (Japanese comic) convention being held there, which apparently is very popular among females.

Tokyo Big Sight

On to a complex named Palette Town, next door to the Toyota Design Centre, where they have every Toyota model on display (and available for testdrives), most of which are not available in the US. They were demo'ing some of the robots they have developed to help people with disabilities (this seems to be quite a priority for their R&D department), but we couldn't take part since you needed an International Driver's License. Boooo!

Cutting-edge technology by Toyota, to help those who
aren't very mobile.

In the same complex was a huge arcade filled with lots of pachinko* machines and all sorts of arcade and simulation games, even large mechanical animals that you could ride around. We played a game of "double table tennis" which consisted of us running around in a big circle banging on buttons. Fun!

Stick a hundred yen coin in this guy and you could be in your very own rodeo.

Double Table Tennis... we definitely need one of these in our apartment

Further along the monorail line was the MeSci science museum, that looked neat but had a line that snaked around too many corners, so we passed. The Fuji TV building is a futuristic, grid-like building with a large ball floating in the middle of it. Think Rambaldi's Device from Alias (though disappointingly, it isn't red).

Fuji-TV building in Odaiba

Lastly, we walked through Deck's Beach, the fake beach and boardwalk that reminded me of Santa Monica pier, but with a huge shopping complex attached.

Back in Tokyo, we metroed over to Harajuku (yes, where Gwen Stefani got the idea). Right off of the station we hit Takeshita-dori, which was crazy-full of young adults hopped up on shopping fumes. Some of the girls were dressed up in the lolita costumes that were sold in many shops along the street, but mostly women were just really dressed up. Casual wear is definitely in the minority around Tokyo (my sensible shoes making my tourist status all the more painfully obvious!)

Elbow to elbow with Tokyo's youth culture

After we slogged our way through Takeshita-dori, we checked out Design Festa Gallery, an eclectic contemporary arthouse recommended by the Rough Guide. It was interesting, with every (small) room displaying a different artist's work, and some of the artists even being in the room with you. Cool, but not what I would normally think of as the Rough Guide's normal cup of tea.

The exterior of the Design Festa Gallery

As it started getting dark, we continued down Omotesando-dori, a street known for high-end stores and boutiques. Really in search of our next meal, we found Maisen, a restaurant that is famous for its katsu (katsu=fried breaded pork cutlet). The prices on the menu outside (which was all in Japanese) were a fair bit higher than your usual katsu-and-rice dish, but we didn't know why. Tired and hungry, we decided to follow the old, sometimes-true adage, "if it costs more it must be better" and head on in. Once seated, the english menu told us why things were a bit more expensive; they use Kurobuta, or "black" pork instead of regular old pork. At 3 times the price of the regular pork (and being deep fried, anyway), we weren't really game, so we just had regular tonkatsu-don, along with another set menu with several dishes. Yum!

Katsu-don with egg @ Maisen

I should note here that during our whole trip, meals were a highlight. Not only because we love food (and it was all good), but because it gave us a chance to rest our feet! We were going so hard all the time that sitting for a while, eating yummy food and gulping down ice water was really very enjoyable.

After our katsu dinner, we kept walking down Omotesando and came upon the beautiful Swiss-designed Prada building, all glass and steel diamonds:

Prada Building. So cool on on the outside,
who needs the 'stuff' inside?

We also checked out the gaudy Cartier building beside it, and a few others around.

Maki Fumihiko's Spiral building, on Aoyama-dori.
They sure like their cones here

After that, it was time to head back to homebase for some zs with another terrific day in Tokyo under our belts.

*a difficult to grasp gambling/plinko/loud/flashy game that has the same kind of hold on people as slot machines. They are all over Tokyo, except since gambling is illegal, you win small silver balls instead of money. You can turn those balls in for 'prizes,' or go next door and collect money from a supposedly independent establishment, while everyone around pretends not to notice.


Amy said...

do you happen to know what the difference is between katsu, tonkatsu and tonkatsu-don? i've only had tonkatsu, which i love and have even made at home a few times.

Miche said...

I think katsu is just a general term for "fried cutlet thing" but pork is the default so it is probably interchangeable with tonkatsu (which is specifically pork). The -don designation means "over rice" and (so you can also get for example, tempura-don). Brian thinks that katsu-don is pretty much always served with an egg. Whatever it's called, it's all delicious!!

Amy said...

i forgot to tell you... we tried the "fancy" tankatsu one night in tokyo! we ordered both to see if we could really tell the difference and even danny could! we gave him a little of each without telling him what we were doing, and when i tried to give him more of the regular stuff he said no and asked for the good stuff. it was definitely better, but as you said, it's deep fried so why spend the extra money.