A Travellerspoint blog

Day 8 - Tokyo

5am at Tsukiji Fish Market to the Kabuki-za theater

6 °C

(Todd) It's our first day in Tokyo, and we decided to wake up at 4am. Think we're crazy? Well, it's really the best time to see the world famous Tsukiji tuna auction and fish market.

We wake at the crack of dawn (well, actually before that) and catch a cab, since the trains don't run that early. When we get there, we start walking toward all the commotion. We had to dodge the oncomming workers who are all riding these forklift-like vehicles. Imagine a live version of the old video game Frogger. There are hundreds of them going every-which-way. Even the friendly guy who helped us find the auction couldn't avoid these workers. As he was showing us the way, his foot got run over and he limped the rest of the way until he pointed out the place to see the action, still smiling. The Japanese have a wonderful disposition.

While walking to the building he pointed out, we see people (I should say men) coming in and out of these warehouses. The doors all say authorized persons only. Finally we see a sign that says "Visitors."


When we walked inside, it was quite a sight; a "sea" of tuna. Over 1000 fish on display, all tuna, flash frozen and prepared for market. There are 100 men poking and smelling and even tasting the frozen tuna. Apparently, there is a dramatic difference in the quality of each fish and these buyers want the ones with the right fat ratio, toughness and color.

Then, at 5:20am, the auction begins. Much like Wall Street, there is a bell and lots of men waving and making hand signals trying to win bids on their top fish picks. The callers stand on buckets at the front of each section of fish. There were about 12 sections total.


Then, there was the guy in a purple shirt. He spoke a few words of English and was nice enough to give a few tourists a behind-the-scenes tour. He walked out of the tourist building and showed us another area with other types of fish, non-frozen tuna and half fish. He was trying to explain something to us, but I couldn't quite understand him.

After we had enough of the auction chatter, we took a walk along the endless rows of shops selling their goods. Many of whom are barking like a carnival game worker. There were shops working on their catch. Some were slicing, some were packaging and there were even a few guys working the fish in what looked like a wood shop (saws, drills, etc).

We bought a few trinkets and must have walked by ten sushi bars. Many of them are packed (remember, its only about 6:30am) So, I have to have a little sushi for breakfast. I walk into a sushi bar, and to my surprise, it's mostly people speaking English. I guess the tourists are the only ones crazy enough to wake up this early to eat a sushi breakfast. (Crazy Americans!) The tea warmed me up and the sushi looked different than I was used to. So I asked the chef; "Is this tuna? Kore wa Maguro desu?" He replied "Hai, Maguro." I guess when fish is that fresh, it has a slightly different color that I'm used to. But it was amazing! I will have a hard time eating sushi in Florida after that. Well, we leave, and keep walking by these sushi bars. I said to Sara, "One more quick snack." After my breakfast #2, we soon leave the market. Time for Sara's breakfast, who (in case you haven't read the rest of the blog)doesn't exactly like fish.

We walked around Tsukiji for a little longer before we toured the rest of the massive Tokyo metro.

This is one of the many specialty shops. It had thousands of camera parts and lenses

Later, we toured around Tokyo for a bit. We first stopped in the Ueno District. It's known for its museums and market. The market is at least 5 city blocks wide.


We had a few good finds. The best was probably this pottery shop that had all sorts of plates, bowls, silk screen wall hangings and good luck figurines. We each bought a few things and picked up a few snacks along the way. There were food vendors all around. We found one selling little cakes stuffed with maple filling for about 20 cents each and another selling skewers of melon and pineapple for 75 cents.


After that, we stopped in the Ginza district, which has similar shops to that of 5th Ave in NYC.


The prices were crazy, but we had fun looking. We looked at the Sony building and a few other places, but the highlight of the day so far was definitely Tsukiji.

Later that night, I really wanted to experience something uniquely Japanese. While planning for the trip, I read alot about several styles of thater that are uniquely Japanese: Noh, Bunkaru (puppet theater) and Kabuki (stylized dramas.) Perfect, I thought. Sara didn't share my enthusiasm, so I went to the theater while she explored Tokyo.

The most common style of theater is Kabuki and the #1 place to see it is in Tokyo. The Kabukiza Theater is the equivalent to Radio City Music Hall for Kabuki. It opened in the 1880's and had has performances ever since. It's totally different than American Broadway. In Kabuki, there are many costumes and a lot of makeup. All the actors are male, even if the roles are feminine. Also, the actual story is not the main attraction. The art is in the acting. They say if you take a photo of a Kabuki performance every 3 seconds, each photo will look as if it were perfectly posed. Each movement has a purpose and meaning. The actions are very slow and deliberate.


I checked the schedule and found out that the shows are 5 hours long. Yikes! Thankfully, they sell tickets for individual acts. Around 5:00, I walked to the 2nd floor to the single act ticket counter. I think I was lucky to get a ticket, because the theater was packed. After I sat down, more people entered and must have purchased standing room tickets. Most people had opera glasses and were prepared for a five hour experience.

Luckily, the theater rents earphones and a transmitter that explain things in english as they happen on stage. It does not translate the actors lines, rather, it explains the general story,what each movement represents and the importance of the music. I stayed for 2 acts. The show was slow moving, but very intense the entire time. Overall, I think American theater is more my style, but it was the unique experience I was looking for.

While I was taking a picture of the theater, a man tapped me on the shoulder. I thought I was in his way. But in typical Japanese fashion, he was just trying to help. He motioned, as to say, would you like me to take a picture of you in front of the theater. What a nice country.

Posted by thetodd 18:49 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites

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