I got up at 0500 this morning, not my favourite thing to do while on vacation. But I had a plan: I was out the door around 0545, and at Tsukiji Fish Market (the biggest fish market in the world) by 0630. Which was great except it was pouring down rain and I had no idea where the restaurant was. So I stumbled in and out of the multiple crazy-busy market buildings, occasionally asking for directions. It took me until 0700 to get to Daiwa Sushi - or at least I think it was Daiwa Sushi - the name panel is only in Japanese, but someone else in the line mentioned the name and, of the several small stall-restaurants, only two had big line-ups and this was the bigger line. The 25 or so of us formed a perfectly organized and highly compacted zigzag line under the awning, and the last few people (me when I arrived, others later) were clearly told by the owner of the next stall over that they should get off his damn property. I think he was just mad that no one was lining up at his place.
So the easy thing to do at Daiwa is to get the set menu. That consisted of several pieces of sushi and a couple small rolls. The rolls were one tuna and one roe of some sort (very salty). The other pieces of sushi were sea urchin, fatty tuna with sauce (one of the few things the chef seemed to know in English was "no soy sauce!" when it came to that item), lean tuna, squid, yellow fin, sea eel, halibut and a couple others I've forgotten. Also a lovely miso which turned out to have a dozen miniature clams at the bottom. You were (gently) encouraged not to linger as they had a perpetual line. It was very delicious. Kaiten sushi will suffice from now on - don't get me wrong, it was great: but getting up at 0500, taking the train to an odd part of town, and paying ¥3500 (around $35) is only worth doing once when kaiten sushi is so noticeably better than Toronto sushi and so much cheaper than the high end.
photo: From left to right: roe roll, tuna roll, sea urchin?, shrimp head, sweet shrimp, tuna, egg.
The couple from London who sat next to me at Daiwa told me that their friends had either got up at 0330 or worse, been at Tsukiji at 0330 - and had still not managed to get into the tuna auction, so I felt justified in my decision to not attempt it. It wasn't something that really appealed to me anyway, but it's touted in all the guide books.
I spent a half hour wandering Tsukiji - by 0820 they're cleaning up and boxing the stuff they haven't sold, it's a very early morning thing. Pretty much every edible form of sea life has a presence there.
My guide book in the centre of my bag was by then curling wet at the lower edges, so I concluded a dry destination was called for. So I headed to the museums in Ueno Park - but passing through Ueno station I saw a bakery-restaurant offering a "ham and cheese donut." Had to try that ... sadly, they had identified the most tasteless cheese and ham available to put inside it, so not much to report.
I started with the National Museum of Western Art, as the guidebook promised me French Impressionists and Rodin (both personal favourites). I raced past the European religious art, but I'll say in my happy ignorance that it didn't look like a particularly stellar collection. But they did have a boat-load of Claude Monet, including some rather good ones. And an embarrassment of riches when it came to Rodin - of course that's a bit easier than with Monet, as they don't make multiple castings of the Monet paintings ... I was able to return in the afternoon when the rain finally stopped and take a look at both the Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell, both of which are outside. I adore the Burghers, and they can be enjoyed at several major cities around the world - off the top of my head the only other one I can remember at the moment is London, England, but I know the complete sculpture is in at least a couple other places and individual figures from it are littered across the art galleries of the world (including Toronto). As for the Gates of Hell - the only other full one I've encountered is in Paris, France. It's quite a piece of work at six meters tall and four wide. Oh, that's right: Wikipedia reminds me that I've also seen it in Philadelphia (of all places - but they do have an excellent Rodin museum ...).
Next door was the Tokyo National Museum, apparently one of the top collections in the country. I was reminded once again that I saw enough Buddhas to last me my entire lifetime while I was in southeast Asia - I had thought that effect might have worn off seven years on, but apparently not. Fortunately, they have plenty of other stuff including swords and armour. Oh, and paintings and pottery, and ... But who cares, they have swords and armour. It was good, especially some of the paintings.
The rain had stopped by the time I left, so I explored Ueno Park. Benten-do (a shrine) was something of a disappointment, and Tojo-gu (a temple) was completely under wraps, apparently undergoing renovations. So I'm still recording misses on this trip. But I did get to see the statue of Saigo Takamori - I thought that was worth doing, as the character played by Ken Watanabe in "The Last Samurai" is based, at least in spirit, on Takamori. Okay, it's a ludicrous movie, but I love it. I thought it would be worth injecting a bit of reality into my understanding of it.
I caught the JR Yamanote line a couple stops south to Akihabara, a place I know a couple of you thought I would visit first. To tell the truth, I was a little reluctant. But Electric Town is incredible: not only do they have a fantastic selection of electronic components, they're all carefully aligned with the kind of obsessive neatness that only the Japanese can muster on an ongoing basis. And then Yodobashi Akiba. Imagine, if you will, that Best Buy and Canada Computers (a computer parts supplier for hard core geeks) got together and had an OCD baby. But it was a sumo baby, really frickin' huge, like eight storeys. And it charged a little too much for everything. But it also had everything. Hell, I think they have some stuff that doesn't actually exist outside that store - kind of a world unto itself.
Getting on the train at Akihabara, I noticed that Asahi was handing out free beer: they must have been passing out 120 a minute, easy - it was a popular give-away. I got in the line and found myself with a free can of 0% alcohol beer! Oh well - it was interesting. I'll drink that later.
Back near the hotel I ended up at a popular local ramen place where I didn't even attempt to speak English (I was definitely the only Gaijin in the place, and caused a couple double-takes). The Japanese menu had big pictures of everything, so I pointed to the stuff I wanted: ramen with pork, a soft boiled egg on it, and a Kirin beer. All of which cost ¥850 or so (the Yen is worth roughly a penny right now - either Canadian or American - so the meal was cheap).
Got up early, off to bed now ...