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