I am going to reach back in time to Feb of 2010 for this post, but it is a good story so I figure I might as well share it here.
I was on vacation in Tokyo on my way home from vacation in Vietnam and had been there for a few days and had successful checked off most everything from my to do list except watch the auction at the Tokyo fish market. If you have never seen this I hear it can be quite interesting (I can’t say because I took a wrong turn on my way there and missed the auction…), and while I can not tell you the story of me visiting the auction I can tell you the story of my wandering around the fish market at 6:30 in the morning. From what I have been told and what I have read you can watch the fishermen auctioning off their best catch to the top restaurants from all over Tokyo, Japan, and even around the world with some fish going for the 10s of thousands of dollars.
OK as I already said it was my last day in Tokyo and the only thing left to do was go to the fish market, I had started getting sick the day before and had woken up at 3:00AM (after multiple alarms) and despite my worsening symptoms (runny nose, slight fever, headache, and all the other goodies that go with a bad cold) I took my shower, got dressed, and grabbed my cold medication and a pocket full of tissue then heeded down to the front desk to get directions to the fish market. The lady working at the front desk directed me to the subway (I was familiar with the subway system by now) and told me which stop to get off, what exit to take, and where to go after I got off the subway. Well I should have written the directions down because I got to the right subway station but took the wrong exit and ended up on the wrong side of the street so when I turned left (as instructed, see I can follow instructions) I was in fact turning the opposite direction from where I should have gone. Thinking back on the day I realize I should have followed all the people carrying Styrofoam ice chests, but my half awake and semi delirious state my mind could not make that connection so I followed my instructions and headed the wrong way. After about 30 – 45 minutes of wandering and looking at Google maps on my phone I determined that the empty parking lot I was looking at was not the Tokyo fish market and decided it was time to look for help. I had passed a large hotel not that far back and figured this would be a good place to get a cab so I started back to the hotel, but did not have to make it that far before I came across a helpful taxi driver. I told him where I wanted to go and asked him how much (luckily he spoke English). He simply shook his head at this lost American tourist and said “It’s not far, come on no charge”, or something to that effect. So I climbed in the back and we headed to the fish market (which was about 3 streets over), I got out and thanked the taxi drive in my very best Japanese and headed in to find the auction.
By this point it was close to 6:30 and the auction normally starts around 5:00 so I was too late to see it, a fact that became evident when I walked into the empty auction hall. A little disappointed that I had missed it I headed into the fish market proper to do a little wandering, after all I was not coming all this way to turn around and head back to my hotel. I think I must have taken around 1000 pictures in the market, of which I kept maybe 150, of which maybe 5 are any good, of which 6 are in this post. As I wandered I came across all sorts of things for sale, everything from crabs to fish to kitchen utensils and knifes to fresh mushrooms to every variety of freshly cooked seafood you can imagine. There are more things for sale in the Tokyo fish market than have been dreamt of in your philosophy (another literary reference, this time worth 25 points if you get it). So now I will just share some pictures from around the market.
By this point I had plenty of wandering and picture-taking so I figured it was time for my next objective of the day… fresh (and I do mean fresh) Sushi, so I started keeping my eyes open for a sushi restaurant. I did not have to look far as they are all over the place, and not knowing how to read Japanese or knowing anything about any of the various sushiya (sushi shop) I just picked one at random and walked in the door. The Itamae (Sushi chef) greeted me in Japanese and once again I replied in my best Japanese which brought a smile to his face and he motioned that I should sit at the counter before handing me a menu and a fork. I took the menu, thanked him in Japanese and polity declined the fork picking up a pair of chop sticks instead, this brought yet another smile to his face. As I was looking at the picture menu trying to decide, but having no real idea, what I wanted he took the menu back from me and motioned for me to wait a moment.
He selected a nice piece of tuna, laid it out over some sushi rice and proceeded to sear it with a butane torch. He then set the tuna on a small plate and prepared a mix of Wasabi (it was real Wasabi, and not the horseradish stuff you usually get in the US) and soy sauce, not a lot but just enough for the piece of tuna. He then handed me the plate indicating that I should dip the tuna in the Wasabi soy sauce mix, which I did much to my enjoyment. For about the next 30 – 45 minutes my morning continued this way with the Itamae preparing various selections of sushi with various dipping sauces (or no sauces) providing me instructions on how I should eat each individual piece, and I think it would have continued much longer had I not indicated that I was full and could not possibly eat another thing. I thanked him (again in Japanese) and indicated that I would like the bill, an action which brought a puzzled look to his face as he tried to determine what I was asking. As soon as he figured out that I was ready to pay my bill he looked a little hurt and began waving his hands back and forth saying “no no no”, he indicated that it was his pleasure to prepare a meal for me and that he did not expect or want any payment and in fact I think he would have been insulted had I insisted on paying. So I thanked him one last time adding a little bow, which he returned and said farewell in Japanese before I headed back out the door to find my way back to the subway (which turned out to be a 2 minute walk from the fish market had I come out the correct exit) and headed back to my hotel to pack up and prepare for my trip home.
To me this story highlights the friendliness and helpfulness that I experienced through out my short stay in Tokyo. To me this seems like a culture and a people who will do whatever they can to help you even at their own sacrifice, a trait that became self-evident in the way that the Japanese people reacted to help each other after the massive earthquake that rocked Japan in 2011. My time in Japan, though short was one of my most enjoyable travel experiences (outside of Vietnam) and I eagerly look forward to my next return.
This story was only a small piece of my time in Tokyo and I hope that someday I will get around to starting my travel blog so that I can share the rest of my stories with you.