Tokyo – Beyond the Ordinary

Our visit to Tokyo this time was due to stopping over for our trip to Hawaii and you can read my previous blogs on Oahu and Big Island. For Tokyo itself we spent only 3 days here, and the purpose was more to do the things we had not done previously. If you’ve been to Tokyo before, you would probably have gone round to all the usual tourist attractions in the city and also around Mt Fuji area. If you haven’t, then here is my previous blog of some of the things you can do in Tokyo. Otherwise, here are some oddball things that you can look at the next time you are there.

Tuna Auction

Everyone’s heard of Tsukiji Fish Market. This is the largest wholesale seafood market in the world and handles more than 400 types of seafood ranging from cheap seaweed to the most expensive caviar, tuna and even controversial whale meat. If you ever wondered how your raw fish got onto your plate in that sushi restaurant in downtown Tokyo, it all begins here at Tsukiji. Most of the tourists will visit the retail  section of the market that has the restaurants and small shops selling seafood, snacks and even knives for slicing tuna. Then there is the wholesale market which is opened to tourists only from 10am onwards. And finally there is the tuna auction area which few tourists get to see only because they limit the number of visitors and not many people want to queue up at 2am in the morning for this.

A paper map that was given to us. It shows the entire market with the different sections marked out and the place to go to register for the tuna auction - the Fish Information Office (what a name).
A paper map that was given to us. It shows the entire market with the different sections marked out and the place to go to register for the tuna auction – the Fish Information Center (what a name) on the top left corner of the map.
This is the Fish Information Center. We came here the day before to find out where it is. The market is very huge and the map is not to scale, so getting lost is a real possibility.
This is the Fish Information Center. We came here the day before to find out where it is. The market is very huge and the map is not to scale, so getting lost is a real possibility.

They only allow 120 visitors in 2 batches of 60 persons each. Once they reach the 120 persons limit, they don’t allow anymore visitors in. If you want to be assured of a place in the queue to see the tuna auction, then my advice is to be at the Fish Information Center by 2.15am. Depending on the crowd on that day, the limit on visitors may be reached by 3am to 3.30am. At such early times, the subway and bus is not running and if you are staying far away, the only way is to take a taxi there.

For ourselves we booked an Airbnb near the market and walked there. After taking a short nap until 1.45am, we started walking towards Tsukiji. Along the way, we passed by quite a few Japanese workers who just leaving the bars after spending the whole night drinking and groups of working men and ladies were still hanging around, probably looking to spend the night in a capsule hotel before hitting the office again in a few hours.

We arrived at the Fish Information Center by 2.10am and there was already 10 people in front of us. Talk about kiasuism. Anyway, we had to wait outside since they won’t let us into the waiting room until more people arrive. The couple of security guards who were on duty had that pissed off look on their faces and a similar attitude. I presume they could be relaxing in their guard room, but instead they had to baby sit us tourists who were crazy enough to gather here at an ungodly hour.

This isn't queue for the latest iPhone. We were waiting for the security guards to open the door into the waiting room.
This isn’t queue for the latest iPhone. We were waiting for the security guards to open the door into the waiting room.
After 3am they let us into the waiting room where we could sit and rest while waiting. We were in the first batch and had to wear these yellow vests to identify us as visitors.
After 3am they let us into the waiting room where we could sit and rest while waiting. We were in the first batch and had to wear these yellow vests to identify us as visitors. The second group wore a different colored vest.
Around 4.30am this guy comes in and explains about the market, how the tuna auction works and his job as a buyer of tuna. It was a really interesting introduction and we got to learn more about tuna.
Around 4.30am this guy came in and explained about the market, how the tuna auction works and his job as a buyer of tuna. It was a really interesting introduction and we got to learn more about the fishing trade and how they inspect the tuna to assess it’s quality.
5.20am and our group goes first to watch the tuna auction.
5.20am and our group goes first to watch the tuna auction. The sky was already light when we emerged from the waiting room, and the grumpy security guards were shepherding us while trying to avoid the numerous carts and trucks that were speeding around us.
The tuna auction area where frozen tuna are laid out for the buyers to inspect. Frozen tuna come from long range fishing vessels which spend up to a year at sea. These tuna could have been caught 1 year ago and were frozen in the ship's hold until now.
The tuna auction area where frozen tuna are laid out for the buyers to inspect. Frozen tuna come from long range fishing vessels which spend up to a year at sea. These tuna could have been caught 1 year ago and were frozen in the ship’s hold until now.
We are allowed only 20 minutes in the tuna auction area to observe. and not allowed to move out of our designated visitors' spot.
We were allowed only 20 minutes in the tuna auction area to observe. and not allowed to move out of our designated visitors’ spot.
The buyers inspect the tuna using a curve hook to cut the meat, where they shine a torch to see the translucency of the meat, and then they rub it between their fingers to feel the level of fat.
The buyers inspect the tuna using a curve hook to cut the meat, where they shine a torch to see the translucency of the meat, and then they rub it between their fingers to test the level of fat (by feel).
After inspecting each tuna, they will decide what price they want to pay for it.
After inspecting each tuna, they will decide what price they want to pay for it. When the lot of tuna goes on auction, the auctioneer calls out the prices and they respond by hand signals.
More tuna meat for further inspection.
More tuna meat for further inspection.
We didn't really got to see the main auction, and there was only a couple of auctions that were held in a corner where we couldn't see them clearly. So it really depends on your luck if they conduct an auction on a tuna lot just as you arrive.
We didn’t really got to see the main auction, and there was only a couple of auctions that were held in a corner where we couldn’t see them clearly. So it really depends on your luck if they conduct an auction on a tuna lot just as you arrive.
as we left, the lot of tuna that was just sold, was being loaded to be moved to he buyer's place.
As we left, this lot of tuna that was just sold, was being loaded to be moved to the buyer’s place. Buyers include shop owners in the wholesale market, distributors, agents representing restaurants, and sometime sushi chefs themselves who come to pick the tuna personally.

After we were hurriedly ushered out of the tuna auction back to near the Fish Information Center, the guards collected the vests back and we were free to explore the rest of the market. It was only 6am then, and we decided to try the famous sushi shops that open early in the morning for breakfast. The lines for the couple of well known sushi shops form as early as 5.30am in the morning. If you think that it’s crazy to queue up at 2am in the morning to watch some people haggle over tuna, then queuing up before dawn to eat sushi borders on lunacy.

The couple of famous sushi shops get crowded quickly. Even when we arrived at 6am, there was a long line waiting to get in. This photo shows what it's like when it's alter in the morning when it's even more ridiculously crowded.
The couple of famous sushi shops get crowded quickly. Even when we arrived at 6am, there was a long line waiting to get in. This photo shows what it’s like later in the morning when it’s even more ridiculously crowded.

The tuna auction does not happen everyday, and it’s best to check their calendar on which days it’s operating. It’s in Japanese but it’s easy to read. Red and green markings means days which the tuna auction is closed.

The wholesale market is opened to tourists only after 10am when it’s less busy, and security guards are stationed at the various entrances to prevent tourists from wandering in during the restricted times.

These motorized carts zoom around the inside of the wholesale market and getting run over by them is a possibility.
These motorized carts zoom around the inside of the wholesale market and getting run over by them is a possibility.
The range of seafood on sale is bewildering.
The range of seafood on sale is bewildering. Some of which I have never seen before.
Uni or sea urchin caviar on sale at wholesale prices
Uni or sea urchin caviar on sale at wholesale prices. It’s much cheaper than what you pay at a sushi restaurant.
Huge clams for sale.
Huge clams for sale.

After going through the wholesale market, you can then move to the retail market where the shops and restaurants are.

The streets inside Tsukiji are extremely packed with locals and tourists.
The streets inside Tsukiji are extremely packed with locals and tourists.
Many of the sushi restaurants display a tuna head at their entrance to attract customers.
Many of the sushi restaurants display a tuna head at their entrance to attract customers.
One of the snacks that you should try. Scallop in butter sauce grilled with a blow torch.
One of the snacks that you should try – Scallop in butter sauce grilled with a blow torch. It costs ¥500 each.

Tsukiji market was supposed to move to it’s new location in Tokyo Bay so that it’s current location (prime real estate) could be redeveloped for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The move was to be completed in November 2016, but now it has been delayed as the new Tokyo governor is investigating lapses in the construction of the new site resulting in contamination and pollution concerns. So visit Tsukiji while you can. Although it’s life at the present site has been given an extension, it’s days here are numbered. If you are a seafood lover, then this a good way to get to know where your seafood comes from as it makes it’s way from the ship, to the wholesaler, to the restaurant, and finally to you.

Larger than Life

You’d probably have seen the many Japanese comics or manga with their colorful, larger than life characters which have become part of Japanese pop culture over the years. And nowhere else can you come face to face with them than in Tokyo. If you look carefully, you will find some of your favorite characters just around the corner.

isn't that Godzilla hiding just behind that building?
Isn’t that Godzilla hiding just behind that building?
And in Odaiba, we came face to face with a life size Gundam robot.
And in Odaiba, you come face to face with a life size Gundam robot.
The details on this model are realistic.
The details on this model are realistic. It would be cool if it moves.
That's no moon, that's some building that looks like the Death Star. Actually this is the FujiTV building.
That’s no moon, that’s some building that looks like the Death Star. Actually this is the Fuji TV building which was designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. The sphere was built on the ground and lifted up into position 123m above the ground.
How about saying hello to the Mario Brothers?
How about saying hello to the Mario Brothers?
Does this look like you are in New York? Actually this is a replica of the Statue of Liberty but on a smaller scale. The Japanese call it the Goddess of Liberty and the bridge behind is the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba.
Does this look like you are in New York? Actually this is a replica of the Statue of Liberty but on a smaller scale. The Japanese call it the Goddess of Liberty and the bridge behind is the Rainbow Bridge.
And what's with that Windex phone cover?
This has nothing to do with manga, but I think her Windex phone cover deserves mention. At least here is a use for a phone cover other than to look good.
Enjoying the sunset at Odaiba.
Enjoying the sunset at Odaiba.

Robot Restaurant

If you like cosplay and love to watch robots and monsters fight, then welcome to the Robot Restaurant, where all your anime fantasies come true (in a sense). Promoted as a sort of techno-cabaret show, the Robot Restaurant is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. At a price of ¥8,000 per person, this is not exactly cheap, although you can buy your tickets online at cheaper rates. The price of entry includes one drink but no meals. You have to buy your meals separately, but based on online feedback, you’d be better off eating elsewhere.

There are 4 shows per day and each show is 90 minutes long, so you can choose your show time based on your schedule. The Robot Restaurant is located in the Kabukicho red light district of Shinjuku and it’s actually quite easy to find.

The streets of Shinjuku take on a new life after dark when the neon lights and LED displays come on.
The streets of Shinjuku take on a new life after dark when the neon lights and LED displays come on.
The entrance to the Robot Restaurant is along a small street, surrounded by pornographic shops and DVD stores. They aren't selling the latest blockbusters that's for sure.
The entrance to the Robot Restaurant is along a small street, surrounded by pornographic shops and DVD stores. They aren’t selling the latest blockbusters that’s for sure.
The ticket gives a hint of what to expect.
The ticket gives a hint of what to expect.
We had to take a lift up to the third floor. The gaudy neon décor is already hurting my eyes.
We had to take a lift up to the third floor. The gaudy neon décor is already hurting my eyes and the décor reminds me of some upmarket KTV lounge.
The Robot Lounge where we wait for the show to start. There is a bar here to get your drinks. There are no words to describe the décor.
The Robot Lounge where we wait for the show to start. There is a bar here to get your drinks. There are no words to describe the décor. An old English lady sitting beside me said it was like Alice in Wonderland, but I disagree, its actually more like Alice in Wonderland on drugs.
They even had an 'Android' playing the guitar.
They even had an ‘Android’ playing the guitar to entertain us while we waited.

When it was show time, we had to climb down 3 floors to the basement where the performance area was. It looks like a gladiatorial ring with seats on both sides. After taking our seats, we waited for the show to start.

There is no story line to the performances. They are just meant to entertain the audience with flashy costumes and sets.
There is no story line to the performances. They are just meant to entertain the audience with flashy costumes and sets. There is a mixture of Japanese culture and techno styles resulting in a schizophrenic assault on our eyes.
There are 4 acts and in between each act which lasts anywhere between 10-15 minutes, there is a refreshment break where you can buy popcorn and drinks.
There are 4 acts and in between each act which lasts anywhere between 10-15 minutes, there is a refreshment break where you can buy popcorn and drinks. Sometimes I think the breaks last as long as each act.
The second and longest act which tells the typical manga story of good versus evil.
The second and longest act which tells the typical anime story of good versus evil. This is where you see mythical beasts battle with demons, and girls in skimpy costumes wielding fake swords. An absolutely nerd-fest. Special effects like lasers and pyrotechnics spice up the battle scenes.
Of course it ha to end with the climatic boss battle.
Of course it has to end with the climatic boss battle.
This was followed by some really cool dancing a la MJ style, with neon lights.
This was followed by some really cool dancing a la MJ style, with neon lights and Tron-like Lightcycles.
And a final musical with girls, androids, robots and all manner of weird stuff.
And a final musical with singers, androids, robots and all manner of weird stuff. They gave out light sticks to us to wave during the performance, but we had to return them after the show.

The Robot Restaurant is not for everyone and with it’s rather steep entry price, it probably turns off a lot of people. But if you are into quirky stuff and like to see some of Japan’s manga and anime pop culture, this could be an interesting place for you.

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