Today was a full one, and its far from over. It started with an early rise at 4 am to make it to the Tsukiji fish market (the largest fish market on the planet) to catch the early morning tuna auctions. This is where flash frozen half ton blue fin tunas are auctioned off for $10,000 USD each. A true sight to see, but first there is preparation required.
I was making my way over to the market via 3 subway lines with two English girls that I met in my hostel the night before. A note on the subway system (and all Japanese public transport for that matter). It is by far the most intricate, efficient, and complete system that I have ever seen. There isn`t and place in the greater Tokyo area that you can`t reach with the subway system for a maximum of $2US. If you want to, you can get within 800 paces of just about anywhere using the subway system. It looks like a cluster fuck on the maps, but once you use it, you will realize that this country has a 1000% commitment to efficiency deeply ingrained in its blood line.
We started following a German tour group that was going to the fish market as well (so that we wouldn`t have to deal with the transfers ourselves. The tour leader was a late twenties Japanologist who stopped and told us that my English friends would not be allowed in with their backpacks and that you need an invite to go in. She said that the locals don`t really like the tourists in there because it is their place of business and that the tourists usually get in the way (or even hurt by stepping in the way of fork lifts).
My English friends could go no further and the guide refused to go in, because she didn`t want to offend the people. She said I could not go with her group because it would throw off the reservation size. She told me to just walk in and don`t take no for an answer. She said be fearless. This (as it might anyone) freaked me out a bit. But traveling alone is nimble for these very reasons. No one would notice one more foreigner. There`s almost always one more spot on the bus, plane, train, or hostel.
I charged in and went to the back room where the auctions were going on. It was much more tame that I thought it would be. I was convinced it was going to look like a scene out of the movie blood sport. In case you haven`t noticed yet, today, I can`t figure out how to make quotation marks with the computer that I am using. Yesterday it was apostrophes, and tomorrow it might be periods. Bare with me. I am a learned doctor (insert quotations around learned and doctor) who is working with a herpes computer.
There were two men with numbers on their hats casually nodding as a Japanese man (who looked remarkably like an Irish guy) screamed in a soft, beat up voice, the bid prices while standing on a stool. Are stool (the thing you stand) and stool (the thing you produce) spelled the same? Either way, I got a ton of pictures and video of the bidding and the men chopping up the fish (first with power tools while they were still frozen and secondly with Samurai swords the size of claymores when they were thawed out).
In addition, there were just about every species of fish and sea creature in the stadium sized warehouse. Everything from sacs of squid ink, to fish that I had never dreamed existed. This place made my mouth water so it was time for some sushi for breakfast. I ate some sushi and it was still quite expensive even though it was so close to the source. When people say Japan is expensive, what they really mean is that sushi is expensive. There are still cheap places to eat, it just takes some looking.
Even in the fabled fish market, people were extremely courteous. It`s all part of the culture. Think about their full contact sport (sumo). The guys are pushing each other. And don`t say that Karate is full contact, because it is a martial art, which I consider as something completely different. Americans have boxing, a bloody display of smashing each others heads with the other`s fists. In sumo, you just push someone out of a ring. It`s so damned polite.
Next I was having a walk down the street to find a bank that would take my ATM card. Ironically enough, there were a bunch of banks the day before that wouldn’t take my card. Of all the countries for my card to not work in, I never though it would be the one that is the most technologically advanced. There in lies another funny theme. For a country that is obsessed with technology, it still largely runs on cash. I got down to my last 8 bucks when I finally found an ATM that worked. Then there was a big line across the street that stretched for 7 city blocks. I walked across the street and asked some tourists what the line was for. They said that it was an opening of a new diamond store and that the store was handing out a free diamond for the first 5,000 guests. Wow, now that’s marketing.
The tourists ended up being 4 Kiwis who came to Tokyo on a whim due to a $350 USD round trip ticket. We ended up hanging out for the day, exchanging cultural stories and facts. They asked me how to get around California and I asked them more about New Zealand. We went to Akihabara which is the computer capital of the world. This place has more computers than New Zealand has sheep. Every gadget under the sun, but all the computers run under Japanese operating systems and have Japanese keys.
I went on a wild goose chase for a computer repair place and had some very helpful and clever non English speaking locals help me find my way. They used a website that translated what I said into Japanese and back the other way. It was so clever! Then they took my request and wrote it out on paper so that if I finally found someone who could handle the request, would know what the actual request was. I was beside myself with how far out of their way these people would go. It was like southern hospitality, but if you went to the south speaking Japanese, the locals would likely not be as helpful. They would more likely tell someone to speak English or go home 🙂