It all began when I met up with fellow TB member, Chun (freestyler_1), for some sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market.....
The day was overcast and humid. I sent a message to Chun to let him know that I was on my way to Tsukiji Fish Market. It was a quick 25-minute train ride from Minowa Station [H19] to Tsukiji Station [H10]. I arrived on time and got a message from Chun that he was running late. When it started raining, I went to a cafe across the street, had a light breakfast, observing people as they walk in the rain with their clear umbrellas. What a nice, relaxing way to start the day! Or so I thought.
Chun arrived and off we walked towards the main entrance of the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market. Tsukiji Fish Market is one the largest outdoor fresh fish and seafood market in Japan and the world! Along the way, food stalls lined the sidewalk.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Station - Hibiya Line entrance/exit
Fresh sushi. Ramen noodles. Soup and stews stands. Dried seafood of every variety. Oh, did I feel at home! Walking past them, it was hard not stop. And even then, it was harder to get past them as crowds of people blocked the sidewalk, waiting in line to buy food. Rain slowed down to a shower as Chun and I walked around the Tsukiji Market, dodging puddles from the rain and boxes, packages ready to be shipped to stores and restaurants all over Tokyo. I almost got hit by those loading pitchfork trucky things! Thankfully, Chun was observant enough to see them and warn me ahead of time. We continued on the side at the "outdoor market" where stores selling kitchen wares, fresh seafood and sushi restaurants lined up. There were plenty of people lining up for the sushi restaurants when we finally found one of the famous sushi places in Tsukiji - Sushi Dai.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - I almost hot hit by one of these loading things!
But the line was insanely long! We asked an employee whom I guess was relegated to crowd control how long the wait would be, only to be told that it is 3 hours. Ummm.... how long again? 3 hours? Ummm... Yeah, I don't think so. Most of the restaurants only seats no more than 12 people; thus, the long wait. So, Chun and I picked a restaurant close by that only seats about 10 people. We both ordered chirashi-sushi, a bowl of vinegared sushi rice covered with fish and other items. Mine consists of 3 different fish while Chun chose one with mostly tuna. It was prettily presented and very yummy! The fish were very fresh and had that slight sweetness to it.
After the meal, we continued to walk around the market to see what the stores were selling. I was 'oooh-ing' and 'aaah-ing' over the seafood and fish we passed by. I found some awesome scallops I was tempted to buy - for a second, anyway.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - seafood all wrapped up and ready to be delivered
On our walk back to the subway station, we decided to make a detour and found a bigger restaurant. This one has 2 floors and a bigger counter where we decided to seat. I ordered about 6 nigiri - otoro (fatty tuna), unagi (eel), hamachi (yellowtail), and anago (salt water eel/conger eel), and I think it was, shime-saba (marinated mackerel), to name a few. I ordered a couple more that I don't remember but I didn't like them. When we looked to our side, Chun and I saw someone that was eating something that looked really delicious so we ordered one, too! LoL. I forgot what it was called though, but we weren't mistaken - it really was very delicious! If only I remember what it was called. It was an hour or so later when Chun and I went on our separate ways. The rain had stopped and I was to meet my friend, Niji in Ueno, while Chun needed to return to his hotel, pick up his luggage and continue his vacation in Hokkaido.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market -
My friend, Niji, who had only been in Japan for 2 months and only in Tokyo a few times since she lives and works in Chiba, decided that we'd meet in Ueno Station. Bad idea. It took us 30 minutes to locate each other because of how big, busy, and packed Ueno Station was on a Saturday morning! Finally, we located each other by the JR main entrance and took the JR Yamanote Line for our first Tokyo sightseeing venture. A Japan Rail Pass is valid to use on the JR Yamanote Line train But my JR Pass isn't valid yet so I used my SUICA card which I bought for the purpose of my 2-day sightseeing in Tokyo. The JR Yamanote Line is a popular circular route with the tourists because it stops at most of the major tourist attractions and districts of Tokyo.
First stop: Akihabara. Just two stops south of Ueno Station, the infamous 'electronic town' of Tokyo and Japan was busy with people.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - fresh seafood!
Brimming with electronic shops, Akihabara is the place where otaku lifestyle, manga, gaming, and animation culture is centered in Tokyo. We walked around a bit, looked at the stores that sold cameras, video games, mobile phones, and the like. Although it was interesting, it didn't keep much of my attention, and soon enough, we started looking for a place to rest from the humidity, something to drink, and see those cosplay cafes I have heard so much about! Cosplay, or costume play, cafes are themed cafes where the staff are dressed based on the anime characters. One of the popular cafes are called 'maid cafes' where staff, all female, are dressed in a maid costume. It varies depending on the theme of the cafe. We looked around to see which one we wanted to go to and picked a smaller one - an animation cafe where two of the female staff spent most of the time by the computer drawing animation, while 3 other female staff were waitresses.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - ummm.. what are those?
All were dressed in a maid costume and all talked with a voice of a child. They looked to be in their early teens, but I knew better. I wanted to take a picture but they charged 1500yen for it! Okay, nevermind, then. When we entered, there were only 5 people in the cafe, 45 minutes later, it was packed! And the most uncomfortable thing about it was - everyone was male, except my friend and I! I've heard about how these 'maid cafes' are frequented by male costumers, but it was still really weird... and I was really creeped out! It would've still been interesting if we go to a cafe where all the staff were male though. Hmmm... Next time when I visit Japan then. ::grins:
Ginza. Back on the JR Yamanote Line, we proceeded south and exited on Yurakucho Station for Ginza. A premier shopping district in Tokyo and home of Tokyo's first department store, everything and everyone looked like they were ready for a fashion show and walk on the runway in Ginza.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - sushi chefs!
Most of the Japanese women were dressed nicely carrying their designer bags and fashion to the 9's. The buildings have modern designs. Gucci. Prada. Tiffany's & Co. Louis Vitton. De Beers. Chanel. Anything designer, European, and expensive boutiques are located here. Needless to say, we walked around, got bored quickly and moved to the next attraction we wanted to see.
Next Stop: Tokyo Tower. On the JR Yamanote Line, we disembarked on the Hamamatsucho Station and walked towards the Tokyo Tower. A festival was going on at the Zojo-ji Temple located next to the Tokyo Tower. Zojo-ji is one of the major temples for the Buddhist Jodo sect in Tokyo and in the region. Built in the late 14th century and moved to its current location in the late 16th century, it was the Tokugawa family temple with their mausoleum and their crest design still located all over the temple and area. There were music playing and just before the main gate, Sangdetsumon, a mini-festival was taking place where stalls from all over Japan displayed and sold food products.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - people in line
We opted to forgo the food and first check out Tokyo Tower first. Winding past the temple, through the cemetery, and up the hills, the 333 meters, self-supporting steel structure that resemble Paris' Eiffel Tower and represented Japan's rebirth as a major economic power in the late 1950's, towered over the hilly district of Roppongi and Tokyo.
We initially wanted to go up the observatory tower, but there was a long line neither of us wanted to wait. Instead, we took pictures and called it a day for Tokyo Tower - maybe next time. As we walked back down the hilly streets of Roppongi Hills, Niji and I continued to plan our day. We were to meet up with her friend, Terry, at Shinjuku Station afterwards, but first, a stop at the festival booths we saw across the street of the Zojo-ji Temple main gate.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - the sushi restaurant we chose... Dontaku
One that caught our eyes, nose, and well, pretty much of our senses were the scallops cooked in the open air on the shells. They smell divine and looked oh, so juicy!. For ¥200 each, Niji and I thought it was a good deal. I mean, they were huge scallops! Chucked off from their shells, and grilled on the shell, simmered on their own juices, the scallops were cooked with just a tinged of brown on either side. And it was all mouth-wateringl goodness! Oishii~! We found out from one of the vendors that they were from Hokkaido and the scallops where freshly caught there that morning.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - Chun's sushi bowl for about 1600yen
One taste was not enough for me and Niji, so we ordered another one for each of us, gaining a smile and a laugh from the vendors with our enthusiasm. With our thanks to the vendors, we checked out other booths. There was a man making fresh soba noodles, a booth with takoyaki - which I tried and it was good, too -, a booth with grilled fish mackerel, which although I was very tempted to try, decided to pass on it, and a booth selling miso paste. Niji tried it and she said it was good. They were selling 3 different kinds of miso. It ranged from a light-tan colored miso paste to a darker one. The guy explained to us the difference but I can't recall what they were anymore. And oh, one of the guys were cute, too! LoL. Niji and I both agreed on it. ^_^
Yes! Richard will definitely fit right in the maid cafe and get a kick out of it! Remember, 'alice' from the restaurant? LoL. I'd like to see his reaction when he enters a maid cafe.
Writing this blog has convinced me to go to Tokyo again for a 2 day layover in October. =D And just maybe, I'll organize a meet up then.
Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market - Sushi Restaurant #2 - more sushi! nigiri yumyum!
After such wonderful food from the festival, Niji and I walked the 15 minutes back to the Hamamatsucho Station satisfied and delighted with the festival we encountered. It reminded me of the summer street fairs we have in New York City almost every weekend when the weather gets warm.
The whole afternoon has been humid and I remarked on how warm it was for autumn. I packed sweaters and a jacket only not to wear it at all. It only took up more space in my luggage which I really detest. Apparently, it was very cold just the previous week so I guess they were having an 'Indian summer' - a term we used in NYC for a period of warm, sunny weather during autumn, before the temperature drops and winter begins, was said to be the traditional period of early Native Americans to harvest corn and squash.
We arrived in Shinjuku Station rather uneventfully. It was crowded - as usual - but even more so than Ueno Station.
Tokyo: Akihabara - Electronic Town
Shinjuku Station maybe be the largest train station in Tokyo. I maybe wrong, but it sure felt like it as we tried to find our way to the agreed meeting point. We were to meet Niji's friend at the west exit of the station, and so, we followed the directions of the signs carefully. We followed the 'west' sign... turned left just it was indicated... but the sign 'east' was the same direction as going to the 'west'. Hmm... isn't it supposed to be opposite direction? But okay, nevermind, just keep following the 'west' sign, we did. And then... the sign disappeared and next thing we knew, we were on the south exit. What?! Where's the 'west' sign go? We backtracked, saw that the direction we came from was indeed the direction to the 'west' exit, so we walked back again. Ummm... okay. Time to call Terry. He was at the 'west' exit waiting for us. We told him where we were - we think - at the west exit, just as the sign directed us to go, but no Terry.
Tokyo: Akihabara -
Hmmm... We walked around at the area we assumed to be the 'west' exit. Okay. No. We saw signs that said 'south' exit. We saw an entranced to the Mall just outside the 'west' or rather 'south' or whatever direction exit it was we exited from. After 20 minutes, we went back to where we exited, called Terry, hopeless and ready to give up, when voila! There was Terry! Yay! It was my first time meeting him but I was so happy that I gave him a hug. Phew! What an ordeal and was I relieved! We were indeed at the 'west' exit. There were just no signs to indicate that it was indeed the west exit.
We finally left the blasted Shinjuku Station to wander around the area. I needed to recharge my mobile phone first so we found an electronic store with a recharging station. For ¥300, my phone will be fully charge in 45 minutes, in a locked mini-compartment. With that solved, we continued on to window shop. Terry was looking for a birthday present for a friend so we accompanied him to several stores - mostly Western brand stores. It wasn't exciting since I'm not a big shopper, but it was interesting to see what they sell differently compared to their counterparts in NYC.
They were slightly more expensive, too, most likely because of the import tax imposed on them. By then, it was time to pick up my phone as we headed back to the blasted Shinjuku Station to get to Harajuku.
We arrived in Harajuku with the crowds. There were already some people walking in their costume play - some looked just like during the Village Halloween Parade in NYC and others are just bizzare. I saw men in dresses, girl's school uniforms and ones I can't and don't want to even explain. It was cool seeing them but I wasn't as shocked as I expected myself to be. Has NYC's skepticism finally overtaken me?
We walked the whole Takashi-dori in Harajuku,"dori" meaning street, is famous for shopping and a center for Japanese youth pop culture. Japanese fashion, or at least popular fashion, is definitely not my style - again, must be a NYC thing in me.
Most of their clothing sizes are definitely in geared only for Asians - sizes less than 2 to -2. LoL. Nonetheless, I had fun just browsing through the stores. If I needed a Halloween costume, this would be the best place for it. Terry led Niji and I to a purikura store and I was a bit hesitant. I remember doing this with my bestfriend when we were in junior high and although I know it is very popular in Asian countries, I was over that stage in my life. Ha! I sounded so old there. Anyway, I let Terry and Niji lead the way - both very excited and couldn't decide which booth we should go for. Finally, we chose one. Click! Click! Look there! Look over here! Which design to we choose? This one! That one! Several poses later, we went around the booth to add designs or rather 'drawings' to the photos. We chose 3 poses, and Terry being such a pro at these purikura finished 2 of the 3 photos, while Niji and I took forever figuring out which designs to add.
Tokyo: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple - Tokyo Tower from afar
(see the purikura photos).
We continued on walking, seeing interesting characters along the way. And at the end of Takashi-dori, we reached the area of Omotesando where trendy high-end, upscale fashion botiques and stores are located, spanning the Harajuku and Aoyama neighborhoods. Along the Omotesando Aveunue, the tree-line sidewalks were a pleasan contrast to the crowded sidewalks and traffic. We went to Omotesando Hills, a mall where almost of the stores are all European brands, but it was the building architecture that interested me. Designed by Tadao Ando, the triangular-shaped, glass-covered building had no stairs but the rather they have ramps, with plenty of natural light. Another mall that we ventured into was a 5-floor toy-oriented store. I found a Gremlin stuffed toy and Terry made me try on a headband with a little hat and ears on them.
Tokyo: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple - Sangedatsumon lamp
I didn't recognized the character who had it on, but, apparently, Terry did. There were toy memorabilia from Star Wars, Mario Bros, and other games. They also have a few game arcade machines. It was overwhelming and I'm not much of a toy person at all. It was approaching 1830pm, when we left the store to walk to Shibuya where we would meet Risa, a high school friend of my friend from NYC. But before that, Terry wanted to stop by at Condomania. Condomania is a theme-store that primarily sells condoms in all flavors, colors, and style, and sex paraphernalia. It was fun just looking through them. None of us bought anything though. Ha!
It was a long walk to Shibuya Station from Harajuku/Omotesando Hills where we were to meet Risa by the Hachiko Statue. The Hachiko Statue, is a dog statue and a popular landmark meeting spot in front of the Shibuya Station.
Tokyo: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple - Zojoji Temple
According to a famous story, the dog waited for his master every day in front of Shibuya Station, and continued to do so for years even after his master had passed away. We cross the infamous Shibuya Crossing, a large intersection from the Shibuya Station, to get the Hachiko Statue amidst the crowds. It was so packed with people I had to call Risa so I can locate her amongst the crowd. We met Risa, did the whole introduction routine and went to cross the Shibuya intersection again to locate a restaurant to eat. We decided on a Yakiniku restuarant just a couple of blocks from Shibuya Crossing.
Yakiniku, meaning "grilled meat", is a Korean origin, Japanese style of cooking bite-sized meat and vegetables with sauces on the side. We ordered bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice and vegetables cooked in a clay pot, several types of meat, and some salad, partnered with some Japanese beer.
Tokyo: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple -Zojoji Temple
We also had some citrus-type of sorbet for desert which was really good. Terry taught us how to make a duck from our towel, too! We have photos to prove it. I think the other patrons of the restaurants were amused on our shenanigans, especially the staff who was kind enough to take the photo for us. We were supposed to meet another friend of my friend, Izumi (my friend from NYC), but he was in Roppongi and none of us want to go to Roppongi with the limited transportation after midnight, so we decided to just meet next time we were available.
Karaoke was on our next agenda. After looking at several karaoke places, Terry finally decided on one. On the 3 floor, we found our room with a flat screen tv and a couple of remote controls for the karaoke. We ordered a pitcher of beer, and some tea for Niji, because she doesn't drink, and a plate of mixed appetizers to munch on while we were singing karaoke.
Tokyo: Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple - Zojoji Temple cemetery of the Tokugawa family
It was a very multilingual karaoke session with Terry and Niji singing a few Taiwanese/Mandarin songs, Risa and Niji with a few Japanese songs, I was designated to pick some Tagalog songs which I was quite surprised to see as aprt of their song lists, and all of us joined in with American songs from Justine Timberlake to Spice Girls, Bon Jovi to Aerosmith, Britney Spears and even Madonna thrown in.
By midnight, Risa had to leave. She had to work at 7am, and her last train leaves at 1230am. Tokyo, and most, if not all, trains, subways, and buses, closes before 1am with their last service between midnight and 1230am. We decided to stay on for another hour, singing some the Japanese songs from our favorite Japanese dramas that Niji and I remember, while we wait for Terry's friends to finish their late dinner. We were to meet them at the club at 2am.