Have You Fed The Fish?

IMG_7336

“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last day in Tokyo 😦 I headed out in the early morning to the Tsukiji fish market, following a recommendation from my lonely planet guide book. It was incredibly easy to find, all I needed to do was follow the locals with their large empty baskets, bikes and lorries! It is absolutely gargantuan, undoubtedly the largest fish market I’ve ever seen (and by quite a considerable amount). There were the most bizarre sea creatures for sale in the dingy light including sea cucumbers, urchins and many things that I couldn’t recognise. Men were carving up enormous tuna steaks with what looked like swords and live fish and shell fish scuttled about in every direction. Many stalls had sashimi for sale at quite a price: could only be fresher if the fish was actually eaten whilst alive. Not really my cup of tea!

IMG_7231

IMG_7223

IMG_7212

IMG_7217

IMG_7225

IMG_7192

IMG_7198

IMG_7181

IMG_7187

Striking buckets full of huge tuna heads, can’t quite get the full scale here.

IMG_7189

IMG_7184

After stopping at a bakery, to munch on a rather more appealing steamed chocolate bun made into a bear face, we headed out to Shinjuku in an attempt to find a novelty goods store (mainly thinking of Karl Pilkington’s ‘crisp picker’). We tried out ‘Tokyu Hands’ which, similar to ‘the Loft’ which I tried out in Shibuya, is like a department store which starts to hint at the crazy novelties that we were after. Llama mascara, anyone?

IMG_6223

IMG_6224

Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one's upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one’s upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Mount Fuji fancy dress...

Mount Fuji fancy dress…

Final stop of the trip was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It didn’t disappoint. Stacked full of the later blooming kind of blossom, it was simply breathtaking. The highlight has to be the traditional Japanese style part of the garden, with a couple of tea houses:

IMG_7329

IMG_7324

 

 

Trimming the shaped trees

Trimming the shaped trees

IMG_7289

IMG_7331

IMG_7280

IMG_7265

IMG_7313

IMG_7266

IMG_7300

IMG_7295

IMG_7250

IMG_7255

IMG_7340

IMG_7332

IMG_7254

IMG_7276

 

 

Man staring in disbelief at a cat...quite amusing.

Man staring in disbelief at a cat…quite amusing.

IMG_7236

IMG_7237

 

After a fantastic last day I’m now sat wasting time in Beijing airport…home soon!

 

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport - finally found some edamame beans.

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport – finally found some edamame beans.

Advertisements

Bring it on Down

IMG_7068

“I’m on a diet, so I had only five extra helpings.”

– Gagamaru, Sumo Champion 2010.

It seems bizarre to invent a sport that requires its competitors to become clinically obese to stand a chance against their opponents. One of the professionals in this stable was a whopping 192kg.  It was, however, fascinating to watch. Our guide was a lady called Noriko, who takes tourists to watch Sumos in their early morning practices in Ryogoku. There are fairly strict rules that you have to follow in order to watch the practice including complete silence and not moving off the cushion on the floor for the full three hours: Fair bit of pins and needles engendered, as you can imagine. It was incredible how elaborate and ritualistic the practices are, starting with training of the lowest ranking members of the ‘stable’ then working up to the professionals, in white Mawashi (pants).

IMG_6996

IMG_7106

IMG_7025

Cleaning up the sand ring in between sessions

Cleaning up the sand ring in between sessions

IMG_6930

Surprisingly flexible!

Surprisingly flexible!

IMG_7117

IMG_7066

 IMG_6967

Being back in the Ryogoku area, where we stayed the first time we were in Tokyo, we couldn’t resist visiting our favourite bakery down the road. Was just as fresh and delicious as I remembered. Here’s a bean cake and raisin bun.IMG_7128

With only a couple of days left we then decided to whiz off to Asakusa, one of the top tourist areas of the city with the ‘sky tree’ tower attraction and Sensoki temple. It was however absolutely rammed full of people and not nearly as spectacular as the Kyoto temples, in my opinion.

IMG_7133

IMG_7139

IMG_7142

IMG_7158

Here you can see the sky tower and some bizarre piece of architecture which sort of resembles a gold-plated dog turd...

Here you can see the sky tower and some bizarre piece of architecture which sort of resembles a gold-plated dog turd…

 To cap off our busy day we headed to the Roppongi district of the city, where we had a long awaited reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro. If you haven’t heard of Jiro before, he is an 88 year old sushi master, who’s spent his life perfecting the art of sushi, now running a three Michelin star restaurant underground in Ginza. Unfortunately, after many failed attempts, it became apparent that booking reservations for Jiro Ono’s own restaurant is next to impossible unless you’re local. (Much Thanks to Sheena for all her help with the attempted booking!). We instead made a reservation for his son, Takashi’s two Michelin star branch of the restaurant in Roppongi. Here’s a link to an advert for the film made about Jiro’s life’s work: ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi‘.

We arrived a little early for our reservation time and were the only people in the restaurant. Takashi then proceeded to cut, shape, paint with soy sauce and present to us 19 courses of individual pieces of sushi. These ranged from ‘needle fish’ to sea urchin. My favourites were the medium fatty tuna and, much to my surprise, the giant clam which I was fully expecting to hate. It was bizarre how things which I would normally not even dream about eating were made perfectly palatable, such as roe and sea eel. With only two (and eventually another two) people joining us in the restaurant it felt like a private interview with Takashi who prepared the course, watched us eat it then prepared the next pieces. The sushi is served at the perfect temperature for each individual fish and you’re not supposed to add any soy or ginger. I made the heinous mistake of trying to add a little ginger to the octopus, being pretty squeamish about eating it, and Takashi actually said no and picked off the ginger himself. Overall, yes, It was incredibly good, and it did make me try things that I would otherwise never have tasted but in all honesty I really don’t think it’s worth the absolutely ridiculous price tag. On this occasion I was extraordinarily lucky enough to be treated to the meal, though, so obviously can’t complain! Would definitely NOT recommend this for a budget trip I’m afraid. Certainly a fascinating experience though. Only at the very end did Takashi break his rather stony, serious exterior and come out for a photo with us and to shake our hands.

A rather inconspicuous exterior in the middle of the otherwise highly ostentatious Roppongi hills shopping mall.

A rather inconspicuous exterior in the middle of the otherwise highly ostentatious Roppongi hills shopping mall.

IMG_7175

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

Whole shrimp

Whole shrimp

5 (6)

Salmon Roe

Salmon Roe

Medium fatty tuna

Medium fatty tuna

Man in Black

IMG_6085

 

We’ve finally arrived back in Tokyo where the fleeting peak of the blossom season has past. Huge flurries of snow-like petals sweep through the parks and streets. It’s transience merely heightens the appeal of the beautiful phenomenon; we were fortunate to hit it head-on on our arrival. There are, however, a few varieties of the sakura which are still resiliently holding onto their adornment which I came across whilst walking through the gardens above the imperial palace, exploring the area vaguely surrounding were we’re staying. (Much to my frustration I only had the poor quality camera with me out on this walk; it was simply stunning.)

IMG_6019

IMG_6011

IMG_6021

IMG_6015

IMG_6031

IMG_6013

IMG_6040

IMG_6014

IMG_6043

IMG_6044

IMG_6048

 

I walked for around three hours, enjoying en route some of the fantastic strawberries they sell in the grocery shops here. I don’t know where they get them from or what they grow them in but they’re some of the best strawberries I’ve ever had: really sweet and delicious.

IMG_6008

With only a very poor quality map in my pocket guide book, after three hours of exploration I tried to get back and eventually ended up very lost, particularly as none of the locals seemed to know what street they were on either (streets are very poorly labelled here, if at all). I asked a young lady for directions (when the street I was convinced was the one to the hotel turned out to be somewhere completely different) and she was, yet again, another example of the outstanding Japanese hospitality. She didn’t speak a word of english but through the little japanese I’ve managed to get to grips with she understood and helped me to find a police station to work out where we were. She then jumped in a taxi which she told me to get in to and took me to the hotel, paying herself despite my objection, and chatting en route about her friend in England. Amazing! If only people were that friendly in the rest of the world!

This morning we headed to meet a lady called Vanessa to do a few hours of ninja martial arts training. It just so happened that the well known Japanese ‘Fuji TV’ television channel wanted to do a report on this dojo (training house) so asked if they could document our private lesson. It was incredible, right from the moment when we walked through the door to a meditation session in the dojo. It was just the two of us with Vanessa, the translator, the master ninja, a trainee and the two members of the TV crew. Firstly we joined in with a meditation session and ‘cutting the air nine times’ ceremony before getting into the clan’s traditional outfits and being taught how to correctly use a wide variety of elaborate weapons. Firstly we threw stars and these sharp sticks (much like chop sticks but ever so slightly more dangerous being spiked and made of metal). Then we had a go with the blow darts, aiming to swing through a revolving door, pop a balloon at the other side of the room then retreat through the door before being hit by the plastic ninja stars the others would fling at us. Luckily I managed to have a bit of a knack for the dart gun and got it first time, saving myself the embarrassment caused by my inferior muscle power in later ‘earth’ tiger claw trials.

IMG_6060

IMG_6076

 

IMG_6134

IMG_6069

IMG_6178

IMG_6070

IMG_6088

IMG_6101
IMG_6062
IMG_6091

IMG_6129

IMG_6155

Here we were learning about ‘instinct’. We had to kneel facing away from the enemy and guess when they were swinging the weapon down to our heads, and raise up a guard. To be honest, I was going more by the swishing noise of the sword substitute. Wouldn’t have had that advantage with a samuri sword!

IMG_6917

Organised Chaos

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” – Carl Jung Apologies in advance for the incredibly extensive post today – everything’s just so novel that limiting it to include just a couple of highlights … Continue reading

Gone in the Morning/ Tokyo Midnight

IMG_5726

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

– Cesare Pavese

So I’m off again! The use of the student loan is now getting increasingly ridiculous  as I’ve actually started at UCL now…anyway, practicalities aside, I headed out from London Gatwick yesterday at around midday and after a couple of flights and brief stopover, a luxury I’m not really accustomed to, arrived in Tokyo, losing 8 hours in the process. The Air China flights were pretty interesting- first time I’ve encountered air hostesses who can’t speak any English. Ended up with some very bizarre food – classic example would be the ‘marinated egg’ I was treated to for breakfast: Imagine a dark brown coloured egg that’s incredibly chewy and you can’t really place what exactly it has been marinated in…maybe something sweet? If that’s not to your fancy then maybe the ‘pickled mustard tubers’ might hit the spot. Don’t even ask – I have no idea.

The elderly Japanese lady sitting next to me on the second of my flights immediately affirmed all that I’d heard about the Japanese being incredibly friendly. Without speaking a word of English she gave me half the brioche that she was eating then after I thanked her she gave me what I thought was a stringy cheese stick, only to find it was some form of processed meat on biting into it. Disgusting. But sweet of her all the same. The bowing/head bowing thing everyone does here is really charming, it’s nice to be able to communicate so much through a gesture without having to worry if I’m pronouncing the little Japanese that I know correctly. People were so keen to help, though, that it was almost comical. One lady noticed me looking at my map and swerved over to the other side of the road and jumped off her bike to help me. She didn’t even speak English – just very eager to help! When I then got lost following her hand drawn map another lady walked me half the way to my hotel – outstanding!

The jet lag resulted, rather inevitably, in me crashing pretty soon after navigating the metro to my hotel. First though I took a moment to explore the area. Found a very sweet little Japanese bakery and enjoyed the blossoms which just seem to be omnipresent. Can’t wait to get out to the parks tomorrow.

Japan Ryogoku Blossom

Ryogoku

Ryogoku, by the station

Blossom Ryogoku

Japanese Bakery Ryogoku

No English in the bakery so had to just pick something that looked vaguely vegetarian – luckily managed to get this delicious cheese loaf thing…

Ryogoku blossom