Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo: Raw fish for breakfast

For a city of around 13.5 million people, I was surprised how quiet Tokyo was when I landed.  Admittedly, it was very early, around 4.45 am, however I soon discovered that nothing much seemed to happen before 9.00 am or even later.

My first stop was to the Tsukiji fish market.  The largest wholesale fish market in the world, the truly committed need to get there by 3.00 am to get a coveted ticket to the tuna auction.  There are two auctions, and only 60 places per auction allocated.  I had already booked a sleep-in on my second day in Tokyo, so I wasn’t waking up at that hour twice in a row!  However to my surprise when I turned up at 6.00 am, having put my luggage in storage and navigated my way from the airport, I was told that the market itself was not open to the general public until 9.00 am.  I guess that they do the real fish business without any tourists in the way. But what to do to fill in the next few hours?

Tokyo, Japan

 

I had a day pass on the trains, so decided to make the most of it, and headed to Tokyo station. I had bought a JR pass, which gives 7 days travel on Japan Rail trains, and now I needed to exchange the voucher for the real thing and book seats for my upcoming trips. The office didn’t open until 7.30 am, so I wandered about the empty streets looking for somewhere to sit down and get a cup of tea.  It was surprisingly difficult.  I wandered in to one of the hotels near the station, and even their restaurant was closed until 7.30 am.  However they pointed me in the right direction and after a good cup of tea I was soon feeling ready to conquer the city!

Tokyo, Japan

By 8.00 am I had my JR pass, my tickets for the upcoming days, subway maps….I was ready to go!  I firstly made my way towards the Imperial Palace gardens to squeeze in a quick visit before heading back to Tsukiji, but they too were closed until 9.00 am.  So it was straight back to Tsukiji where I happily filled in some time wandering around the outer markets.  There were loads of restaurants, so what else to do but stop in for a fresh fish breakfast?  I reasoned it could hardly be fresher.  It was certainly delicious, if a little surprising to my palate at that hour of the day!

Tokyo, Japan

Fresh fish for breakfast. Why not?

Finally then it was time to visit the markets themselves.  It was fascinating, a hive of activity with everything imaginable (and fishy) available, and super fresh.  By that I mean sometimes still alive!

I was staying in the Asakusa area in the northern part of the city. The hotel itself was almost directly opposite the Kaminarimon gates, which is the outer gate of the Sensoji Temple.  Between the Kaminarimon gate and the temple itself is a long laneway called “shopping street”, densely packed with souvenir shops and crammed full with people.  Sensoji Temple is the oldest in Tokyo, completed in 645, and one of the most popular in Tokyo.  It is very atmospheric.

Tokyo, Japan

Kaminarimon Gate

Tokyo, Japan

Nakamise-dori, or “Shopping Street”

The hotel was perfectly placed to explore the northern part of Tokyo, and I took myself on a walking adventure to the Tokyo SkyTree.  The total height is 634 metres, however I made it as high as the viewing platform at 350 metres.  There were wonderful views over Tokyo.  As far as the eye could see in every direction the city sprawled, with waterways snaking throughout and some green spots dotted between the buildings.

Tokyo, Japan

Views over Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

Looking up at the Tokyo SkyTree

I’d had a big day, starting well before the sun came up.  I felt like I deserved a beer, so I stopped off at a bar underneath the Asahi headquarters which seemed only fitting.  There are two main buildings side by side, the taller one representing a jug of beer with a white foam topping, and the shorter black building in the shape of a beer glass with a Philipp Stark-designed golden flame on top.  Designer flame or not, it is generally agreed that this more resembles a giant “golden turd”, however then again I’m not much of a beer drinker.

Tokyo, Japan

The Asahi brewery

It was a wonderful city to wander about in, with so much to see and do.  The public transport system is highly efficient and very easy to navigate. One of my favourite discoveries was the huge Ueno Park.  It’s a massive public park space and includes temples, museums, and even a zoo.  I could imagine how beautiful it would be in cherry blossom season, as there are over 1000 cherry trees lining the central pathway.

However my two nights flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was on my way to Kyoto.  I’d had a great start to the holiday!

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