July 8, 2016
Tsukiji Fish Market
Jet lag continued to plague us on our second full day in Japan. We woke up early and a bit groggy, but decided to fight the jet lag–so we headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market to check out the early morning action.
Most of the action of the “inner” market was closed off to tourists, which was probably a good thing. Vans and carts, and men on bicycles, and mopeds, and other machines darted every which way, delivering fish and coolers. The inner market is where fish auctioneers sell huge tuna and other sea creatures to restaurants and markets all over Tokyo and Japan. We stuck mostly to the kitschy tourist trap of the “outer” market. There were lots of overpriced street food and straight off the boat sushi. It was still worth the see and totally worth trying the food.
Tokyo Shiba Toufuya Ukai
Later during the day we made our way to a nice lunch date. We wanted to have at least one “fancy” meal for our honeymoon so we had arranged for an acquaintance in Japan to help us get reservations at Tokyo Shiba Toufuya Ukai.
Ukai sat at the foot of the white and orange, Eiffel Tower-like Tokyo Tower–a monument featured and destroyed in many Godzilla films.
When two sweaty Americans stumbled up to the entrance, the hostess seemed a little reluctant to let us in but we assured her we were there for lunch.
The restaurant was housed in a series of old, stereotypically Japanese buildings that had once been a brewery. The interior of the complex had beautiful Japanese gardens and the inside of the buildings was gorgeous too. All the workers were dressed in traditional Japanese garb (kimonos). We were seated in a room with a tatami mat flooring and 4 tables, separated by paper and wood screens. Our table had a view of the inner courtyard, where the tofu frying cook worked in a thatched roof hut. It must have been miserably hot working at the large barbecue-like stove top, cooking away at the tofu in the afternoon humidity. Yet, the elderly chef seemed at peace working at his craft.
Our table setting was simple: a large charger with a starched napkin, chop sticks wrapped with a small piece of cloth and a chop stick stand. We ordered a cold sake and the dishes began to come out. The food varied from the best tofu and sashimi we’ve ever had to the strangest food combinations, tastes and textures; however, they were all beautifully presented. First, we ate a shrimp and noodle dish, then fried tofu (so tasty) cooked in the courtyard hut. The sashimi was next and it was so succulent, but the dish after was weird: a ball of taro, a ball of sticky pumpkin and a leg of octopus. Next came trout sashimi, fried sweet fish, vinegar eel and okara (not okra but okara, a soybean product), a mismatch of awesome and bizarre. The sashimi and okara were tasty. The fried fish, though, messed with our senses. Instantly after biting into the fried head of the fish our lips and tongues began tingling. We both thought we were having an allergic reaction, but a few minutes later the tingling subsided. Most meals in Japan were accompanied by rice and miso soup, so of course that was one course. Lastly, desert was green tea and a boiled plum with gelatinous noodles.
Each time our server came with a dish, she seemed to have a practiced and refined process of picking up our plates and placing down our new dishes. The meal was well worth the time and money. We both enjoyed the epicurean adventure. It was a very Japanese experience: a combination of atmosphere, flavor, texture, ceremony and, for the average American, weirdness.
野球 (Yakyu – Baseball)
The fancy lunch wasn’t our only unusual experience of the day. Later that night we had tickets to the Tokyo Giants baseball game. Baseball is Japan’s national past time and the Giants are the equivalent of the New York Yankees here in Japan–either loved by a few in Tokyo or despised by everyone else. They were playing a home game at the Tokyo Dome against the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.
Japanese baseball plays by the same rules as the American version, but the fans and atmosphere are much different. The packed stadium felt more like a Sounders soccer match than a Mariners game. The DeNA fan section was loud and chanted throughout the game. There were large flags being waved that would probably not be allowed at a baseball game in America. The pre-game festivities featured mascots and cheerleaders with pom-poms. Like in the USA, the national anthem was played–of course, not the “Star-Spangled Banner” but the Japanese equivalent the “Kimigayo.”
As the game played, brightly-colored dressed girls ran around the stands serving beer. They wore mini kegs as backpacks and served overpriced beers (much-like the prices you can find at SafeCo Stadium).
The gameplay was pretty slow; nothing really happened until the 6th or 7th inning. Luckily, the boring game was broken up by the crazy Jumbotron commercials and the occasional spotting of a white/American family. (The camera people seemed to like pinpointing the non-Japanese people to be featured on the big screen.)
Like most baseball games I attend, I had a hotdog (there were many weird hotdog options, like curry and pastrami) and we left shortly after the 7th inning stretch. Before we left, I was hoping to see the infamous “long balloons,” sperm-like balloons that Japanese baseball fans use to make noise and wave around, but none came out and jet lag was again setting in. Plus it seemed that the Giants would win (they did 3-1).
Lunch at Tokyo Shiba Toufuya Ukai: We went for lunch because it was less than half the price of dinner (lunch was roughly $50-60 for each person). The menu is a set course meal and fills you up. Make reservations ahead. The experience is well worth the price. The staff speaks decent English.
Tokyo Tower admission: Decent views for $16 to get to the top observation deck. (We also went to the Park Hyatt Tower in Shinjuku and had great views for free/the price of a $20 cocktail.)
Tokyo Giants: Tickets can be ordered online at www.giants.jp/en and only certain sections of the stadium were available, even when we bought the tickets 3 months before. Our tickets for the upper section above home plate were $18.