revisiting the tsukiji fish market involves waking up at 4:30 in the morning, otherwise i'd miss all the action like i did last time (even though i woke up just as early, i got lost and missed the auction). with just 3 hours of sleep (and the night before just as little, since i had to wake up early to go to nara), i seriously thought about just skipping the whole thing so i could sleep some more (wrapped in my curtain blanket, with the hot phallic space heater glowing dangerously close to my back), but the thought of possibly seeing something cool made me get up, get dressed, and go out in the pre-dawn darkness of a cold japanese morning. it's not the darkness that bothers me as much as it's the cold. i got to the station so early there was nobody there. the gate was opened so i just walked in, then waited by myself on the platform. the marquee for the next (first) train was almost 20 minutes away, so i sat down and waited, hood tightly drawn around my head, hands deep inside my coat pockets, eyes closed half sleeping. the thing with japanese train platforms are they're all opened. why they're designed like that i don't know (maybe in the past to facilitate steam locomotion? who knows), but it exposes you to the elements. you get rained on, you get snowed on, and during the winter, with the train many minutes away, it's unbearably cold. a young man arrived on the platform, and i knew he was going to tsukiji as well because he was wearing rubber boots. soon the 5:06 train arrived, only a handful of people in the cabin, most of them just like me, still asleep. the majority of japanese people sleep with their heads down, bowed forward like maybe they're reading or in heavy thought. i like to sleep on the train with my head against the wall, which leaves my mouth opened and slackjawed whenever i get roused from unconsciousness. it's pretty unflattering, and i'm sure some mischievous school boys have already got sneaky photos of me with their fancy high-resolution camera phones.
maguro (tuna) auction
since i've been there before, there was no getting lost this time: take the JR saikyo train (green) from toda to akabane, change to the JR keihin-tohoku train (blue) to akihabara then take the hibiya subway (grey, 160 yen) to tsukiji. once i arrived i made a bee-line to the fish market, walking fast past confused tourists. from a distance i could already see the open doors of the warehouses, the floors lined with frozen tuna that either resemble seal carcasses or torpedo missiles. there was activity everywhere, in one corner somebody might be holding an auction, while elsewhere people might be loading the tuna by dragging them with ice hooks, or inspecting the quality of the fish by examining the cut at the tail and pulling out crumbs of flesh to roll between their fingers. the cool thing about japan is because it's such a camera friendly society, nobody thinks twice when they see someone taking photos. a person holding a camera is just background to them. no matter how busy the action, they seem very accepting of photographers. and perhaps also the fact that tsukiji fish market is a big tourist draw, everyone there have gotten used to tourists taking snapshots. i stood in the middle of the frenzy, seemingly invisible, occasionally moving out of the way of people moving the merchandise around. a foreign girl smiled when she saw me taking photos and started to grab a few snapshots of her own. she had a friend, and when i heard them speak english, i asked where they were from. she's from france, and he's from albany. foreigners never seem to ask me where i'm from because i think they assume i'm japanese, so i usually add my own, "i'm from boston."
once i had my fill of the auction, i made a quick tour of the rest of the market, before leaving tsukiji and heading home. i took a circuitous route, hibiya subway to akihabara, yamanote to tokyo, chuo to shinjuku, saikyo to akabane, then another saikyo to toda. if you're into train riding, japan is the place to be apparently.
alex's laptop is password protected and he shut off his machine when he left for work. i had to call him to get the password, which he only barely remembered because he said he usually types it too fast to recall the exact keystrokes. i couldn't get in with the first password, and he had to call me back with a revised password after i left a message on his cellphone. i planned on going out and doing some shopping later in the day, but decided to take a little nap that became a longer nap. waking up at 4:30 in the morning will do that to you. during that time i felt a small earthquake rumble the bed; unlike the rumbling of a truck (which is gradual, and often accompanied by the sounds of the heavy vehicle), this tremor was sudden and lasted no more than a few seconds. i went back to sleep. i finally left the apartment again at 5:00, heading into shibuya to find the tokyu hands store to buy some umbrellas. shibuya is where all the high school kids hang out, as opposed to shinjuku, which is more of a young adult hot spot. not wanting to look like a tourist amongst the cool kids, i didn't bother taking out my map, but instead decided to find the store by intuition. i should realize by now that my internal guidance system is completely faulty, and whenever i can lead myself in the completely wrong direction, i will. so after walking aimlessly ("taking in the sights" is an euphemism), my time ran out and i returned to the station to take the train one stop to ebisu, where i was meeting claudio and alex for dinner. i met claudio at the lobby of his office building, and we returned to shibuya, where we met tami and alex. just so happens claudio wanted to show me tokyu hands so we ended up going there anyway. they didn't have the umbrellas i wanted, but i did buy some lovely postcards.
buttu trick bar
we ate a restaurant called buttu trick bar. the interior resembled a buddhist temple crossed with a swanky upscale eatery, with the waitresses all dressed in chinese cheongsams. the food was a fusion of chinese, japanese, korean, thai, a host of other asian ethnicities, along with a dash of mexican. after we ate, claudio and tami dashed off in a taxi, claudio had to be back at the office by 10:00 for a conference call. alex and i walked to ebisu station and took the saikyo back to his place. i spent the rest of the night writing out postcards, which seems kind of old school in this modern day of e-mails and photo attachments.