April 22, 2016
We finally got our act together and woke up a bit earlier to go to Tsukiji Market. We didn’t attempt to try to go for the tuna auction, which only allows up to 120 people and you have to get there as early as 3am to try to snag a spot. Maybe if we’re in Tokyo again and we’re jetlagged (too bad we were in Taipei for the 4am wake ups), I would try to go. Another reason why we wanted to go to Tsukiji Market was because they’re moving to another location further away and more inconvenient in November. Tsukiji Market has been there since 1935 and the majority of vendors are against the move.
As soon as we got off the train at Tsukiji-Shijo Station we could smell the fish in the station. We met up with William and made our way to the wholesale market which only opens up to the public after 9am. We arrived a little later than we wanted to (around 9:30am) so a lot of the vendors were already in the middle of packing things up. But we did get to see large pieces of tuna and a man filleting a live sea eel (unagi), which was very cool. It was really neat to see all the wholesalers at work and seeing them cleaning up/chilling out after a long day’s work.
When you’re in the wholesale market you have to be vigilant at all times of the motorized mini trucks since they go really fast and don’t really care about the tourists around. Basically, tourists being there are more of a burden than a benefit since no one buys anything and are just in the way taking pictures. I get why there are no tourists allowed before 9am, since that’s when the real business happens. Along with tourist there were locals who were buying some items for their meals for the day (a pretty good place to buy it)
After going up and down the rows we decided to find some sushi for an early lunch. William left to go do his own thing and we said we could meet up again later. There are two main restaurants that have by far the longest line ups – Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. For both these restaurants, people line up at 3am and wait 4 hours to get a seat. There was no way Tim and I were going to wait for 4 hours in the middle of the night to eat sushi at 7am (I don’t care how super fresh it is). Tim doesn’t even like to wait 30 minutes in line for food so this was not going to be an option.
When we passed by Sushi Dai at 10:30am, we thought the line up looked reasonable, about 15 people outside the front door so we lined up. The lady from the restaurant came out with her huge notepad and told us that the line up starts behind the building. We looked and said forget it, there were about 50 more people waiting there.
We ended up going to a place called Sushizanmai, which has multiple locations in Tokyo but its original is at Tsukiji. The owner, Kiyoshi Kimura, is known for going to the tuna auction and winning the bids on the most expensive tuna and selling it to his customers at a fraction of the price as his competitors. We only waited about 10 minutes to get a seat at the sushi bar. The prices here are very reasonable and the Bluefin fatty tuna was 398 JPY per piece vs. 520 JPY at Numakuzo (conveyor belt sushi place we went to in Shinjuku). We decided to order a la carte to get exactly what we wanted, although the combos and chirashi dons looked really good too. For our 15 pieces of nigiri and a cone, our bill was 3,503 JPY = $39.70 CAD, pretty good.
Each sushi chef behind the counter was in charge of a group of people. We sat down at a really good spot on the counter because we had the happiest guy in the restaurant. If we looked around at the other sushi chefs, they were all very serious and had no expressions. Our sushi chef was enthusiastic and super friendly so it made our experience at Sushizanmai a really good one. All the sushi was awesome and I would definitely go back there again. If you don’t want to wait (or value your time and sleep more) hours for Sushi Dai, I would recommend going here. I don’t think you can really go wrong with freshness at many of the restaurants that surround the market. Or maybe we’re missing out by not lining up at Sushi Dai. I’m okay not knowing what I’m missing out on.
After lunch, we decided to take a leisurely stroll towards Ginza and check out Roppongi Hills. William suggested that we go to the Tokyo City Views observation deck as it has the best views of Tokyo (and is the nicest observation deck) in his opinion and most importantly, it has a Sailor Moon exhibit going on for the next couple weeks.
Tsukiji is a relatively short walk to Ginza. It was a nicer day yesterday than the time we went there previously. It made for a much more pleasant experience. We didn’t go into Uniqlo this time but went to the large Mitsukoshi department store (in Taiwan they’re called Shin Kong Mitsukoshi) and went through each floor. Japanese department stores are all really nice and large. They have a great selection of brands (a lot of luxury brands if you’re into that sort of thing) and the interior is well put together. I like how there’s nicer restaurants on the top floors and the basements are always full of great take out food and desserts. If only Vancouver had a department store like this, it would put Nordstrom and Holts to shame, but we don’t have the population to support multiple stores like these.
I enjoyed my time at Mitsukoshi looking at all the pretty things while Tim found a chair to sit on and played on his phone. Being decked out in Lululemon clothes, runners and a backpack, I definitely did not fit in (I don’t fit in dressed like this in Japan, period). We have a few weddings to go to in the summer so I was browsing around to see if there were any dresses that caught my eye. I went to the formal dress section of the store and it was basically all black; black dresses, pants, blazers, purses, hats. I guess black is the only formal colour in Japanese culture. It looked more like a funeral wear to me.
Before coming to Japan, I knew that there was a popular dessert that was a cake made up of layers of crepe with whip cream in between each layer. The cake is called a crepe mille-feuille. I was on the hunt for these since I know New York has a store called Lady M that specializes in these yummy looking cakes. There is a café chain in Tokyo called, Doutor, that had it on their menu so we planned on going to one eventually when we felt like we wanted to sit down and try it. Being in Ginza wandering around, we spotted a Café Doutor (a fancier looking version of Doutor) and decided to sit down and get one there. We spent a good hour in the café resting and watching the crowds in Ginza. It was 500 JPY ($5.65 CAD) well spent and the cake was delicious too. Later on we found out that a regular Doutor’s millefeuille is only 360 JPY = $4 CAD. So we paid a premium to sit in the Ginza location, oh well.
We also visited the large Sony showroom in Ginza, which has 6 floors of products that you can try (Tim had fun in this store). The store is also a good escape from the crowds as their first floor lounge is labeled as a rest and free wifi area. It has cushioned benches and couches for people to sit on.
We walked from Ginza towards the Minato area, which is closer to Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills. We stopped by Tokyo Tower to take some photos of it and found a beautiful park beside it which felt like we were in the middle of a forest, not in the middle of Tokyo. We continued along towards Roppongi Hills as we were meeting William at around sunset to go up to the top of the viewing deck.
Roppongi is a very nice area in Tokyo. It’s an area that has large hotel chains and restaurants by celebrity chefs (like Jean Georges and Joel Robuchon). The area looks very modern and is filled with restaurants that you would find in trendy areas of New York. You also notice a lot more ex-pats in this area and Caucasian children in day cares. We saw a day care wheeling around 10 toddlers like a crate of puppies. It was quite cute.
We arrived in the area well before we had to meet William so we decided to check out a book store called Tatsuya, which had a fancy Starbucks downstairs. The place was packed with people drinking coffee and on their Macbooks. Tatsuya had a good selection of books and magazines, a lot of which were English publications. The top floor of Tatsuya is full of DVDs and after looking closely, we discovered they’re rentals. Since Blockbuster is no longer around, I haven’t seen a store this size full of rentals for a while. They had all the popular American TV series like “House of Cards”, “Suits”, “Game of Thrones” – anything you can think of.
While in Japan, I noticed that Starbucks was promoting a new cantaloupe frappuccino (not sure if it’s a limited time item). It looked interesting and I only saw it in Japan so I wanted to try. I thought it would be a perfect time to try it since Tim was happy reading and I could get the drink and find a seat and surf the net. The frappuccino only comes in one size, a tall. It was actually quite expensive, at 680 JPY = $7.80 CAD because it contains real cantaloupe and not just syrup. The drink was really good, it had mushed up chunks of cantaloupe and some sort of jelly in it. I would order it again if it were half the price or less (Tim: so I guess you won’t be ordering it again).
We met up with William at Mori Tower, and decided to have dinner before going up since the weather changed and there was no longer visible sun to have a sunset. Finding food around this area was a bit tough since a lot of the restaurants are pretty swanky and there are fewer cheaper options.
After doing a bit of research on our phones, we decided on a soba noodle place close by, called Sarashina Horii, that had very good reviews. They make their soba in house and have four different types. When we arrived at the restaurant it was almost full. They had a lot of tables with reserved signs on them. We all ordered soba and a side of tempura. The tempura was actually more expensive than the actual soba. I thought everything was good but I wouldn’t go back again unless the price was half of what we paid. Looking around this was a very popular spot for locals and we appeared to be the only tourists there.
After dinner we made our way back to Mori Tower and went up to the top of the observatory. It costs 1,800 JPY to go up but William told us we could buy discounted tickets at Lawson’s for 1,500 JPY. We stopped by a Lawson’s during our walk from Ginza and the cashier helped us with the kiosk, which was all in Japanese so we were lucky he did everything for us. Normally I’m not too keen on paying for observatory decks but since they did have a Sailor Moon exhibit as well, I was intrigued.
When we got to the top, the Sailor Moon exhibit was pretty prominent and they even had a themed café, which had a line up of women outside. The views of the city at night were nice. Tokyo Tower was only lit half-way up in purple, which we’re guessing was in honour of Prince. The exhibit was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. They had original comic books, sketches, costumes and a lot of memorabilia and toys displayed. The gift shop was full of overpriced items but Japanese women and men were going crazy and dropping things into their baskets like they were $1.
After a long day of a lot of walking and wandering, we made our way back to our apartment. While taking the train back, it was actually very crowded, and I was pushed from all angles. It was Friday night and everyone was in good spirits since the work week was over. We saw some very drunk businessmen passed out on sidewalks sleeping on top of their briefcases with their cell phones very exposed (they aren’t worried about theft here). We even saw one on the ground throwing up at Shinjuku Station. We also noticed that on Friday nights, people cross the smaller streets even when the lights are red (generally no one crosses in Japan). It’s like since it’s the weekend, rules are broken.
Total steps today: 28,000