|Go go Godzilla
Oh, no, there goes Tokyo
Go go Godzilla….
I flew into Tokyo, Japan for the umpteenth time, but this time was going to be different, I was actually going to leave the airport. Hahahaha…
I’d been meaning to explore some of Japan for the longest time and have just kept putting it off for one reason or another. But enough is enough and though my time was short, I only had a week or so to kill in between some other plans I’d made, I thought why not? Tokyo here I come.
My flight arrived late at night so I decided to pull an all-nighter and at 3:30 in the morning made my way to Tsukiji Fish Market. I jumped in line and was soon handed a yellow day glow vest and herded into the waiting area. What was I waiting for? The 5:25 AM Tuna Auction. It is the main event at the fish market and serious business. The prized tuna flown in from all over the world are auctioned off each morning, some selling for up to $10,000 for a single Blue Fin Tuna.
So there I was, excited and amped from no sleep and adrenalin, being told to wait for 2 hours in an extremely cramped, uncomfortable and wet (it was pouring rain outside) holding area with no seats or place to sit except the wet floor. Fortunately I met a couple of fellow travelers in line and we passed the hours of waiting telling tales from the road. At 5:25 AM we were escorted into the warehouse that holds the auction, this was the moment we had been waiting for…. and….what a huge disappointment. Hahahahaha…. I don’t know maybe I missed the subtlety’s of the whole thing, or maybe I was so overtired it all went over my head? But basically there were lots of big frozen fish spread out all over the floor of the warehouse and a bunch of dudes with knives and picks poking and prodding the large frozen fish and then a bunch of loud talking would occur and the auction for that particular fish or batch of fish would take place. Of course it was all in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word and they mostly use extremely subtle gestures of the hand or head to up the bid, so again I had no idea what they were saying, and it was all over so quick, I really didn’t know what the f**k was going on. I snapped a few pictures and before I knew it our 25 minutes was up and we were briskly and unceremoniously ushered out.
So what to do at 6 in the morning at one of the worlds most famous fish markets? Yep, eat sushi! Fresh, delicious, sushi…..for breakfast! Now I love sushi, I have for years and I have sought out some of the best sushi restaurants in cities around the globe. But here I was at the epicenter of it all, I was like a kid in a candy store (well okay a kid at a sushi bar!). My new friends and I sat down at one of the many eateries located on the fish market grounds and I tucked into tuna, salmon, eel, sea urchin, etc… It was worth staying up all night for, for sure. Though the thing about staying up all night and devouring a ton of sushi for breakfast is that when the adrenalin wears off and the food coma sets in you had better be close to a bed. And I wasn’t. So I staggered to the curb, hailed a taxi, arrived at my hotel and literally fell into bed, fast asleep, with visions of tuna swimming in my head.
The next day I was well rested and ready for some sight seeing. Tokyo is a huge city but has an incredible public transportation system. So armed with a few Yen and a map I set out to explore. I wandered around the many neighborhoods and marveled at life in the big city. The women were all dressed to the nines and the men all looked like they were cloned somewhere and made to wear the same dark suit and everybody, I mean everybody was on their smart phone. Even in the subway. I tried to count how many people were using their device on the train and it was so difficult, that I changed the game to counting how many people were not on their phones!
I checked out Asakusa and went to Senso-Ji, one of the most famous Temples in Tokyo. I marveled at the devotees receiving blessings and leaving offerings and even had my fortune told - though it was a bad fortune and so I had to tie it to a stand and let the spirits remove it from me? Then I strolled through the Denboin Garden and checked out the art work they call landscaping.
Eventually I made my way up to the Tokyo Sky Tree and decide to go to the observation deck for a look over the city - what a tourist trap! I payed a fist full of Yen to take an elevator up to 350 meters and walk around in a circle to take the same elevator back down! Hahaha… sometimes I amaze myself. Don’t get me wrong, the view was kind of cool, even though it was hazy, it was nice to get some perspective from this vantage point, and the see-through floor is always a highlight, but still it was a huge tourist trap and a huge waste of time. Oh well, hopefully I will have lived and learned?
I spent one afternoon and into the early evening taking in the local vibe and the beauty that is the Cherry Blossoms. I had timed my visit to coincide with this yearly event and this time I was not disappointed. The people of Tokyo come out in droves to celebrate the spring time. I most enjoyed Ueno Onshi Park just before sunset with the old and the young, the solitary and the couples, the families and all of the vendors and peddle boats and cameras and …. ahhh…. yeah, all of the life happening around me with the incredible backdrop of colors from the Cherry Trees and the sunset. Very awesome.
Though it is necessary in each place I visit to be a tourist to a degree and to see the famous sights, I most enjoy just blending into a local neighborhood and hanging out and catching the vibe. Oh yeah, and eating the local delicacies. So I spent hours, days, nights, chilling in areas of the city like Ueno and Asakusa, Shibuya and Shinjuku, and of course Roppongi. I marveled at the neon, the Hello Kitty thing, the huge Electronic Malls and everything in between. I dined on some of my favorites - Udon Noodles, Ramen, Dumplings, Tonkatsu and a new favorite called Takoyaki. I had accidentally found Takoyaki in Singapore years ago, but was unaware that it was a popular dish from Japan. Basically they are little balls of brilliance - batter, fresh chopped vegetables, a piece of octopus, all cooked into little edible balls of glory and then topped with sweet sauce and dried fish flakes. Mmmmm….. Of course I had sushi a few more times too. The highlight though was on my last night when I booked into a high end Teppanyaki Restaurant and was rewarded with the best piece of meat I have ever had. It was Kobe of course and I have come to find out that only around 2000 head of cattle a year are actually certified Kobe in Japan and it is way expensive and they only serve what I consider little portions - 200 grams was the biggest piece of meat available - but it was a taste of heaven. The meat literally melted in my mouth. Now I have never thought of cows as gods or as sacred by any means but I did say a silent thanks to the cow that gave up its life to be on my plate that night. It was that good.
So there I was in Tokyo and as it turns out so was one of my favorite bands - Gov’t Mule. I went to their last night of shows at the Billboard Live Tokyo. I hung with my friend Slim and sung Happy Birthday to Warren. They played 2 shows in one night - an early show (4:30 in the afternoon?) and a late show (7:30 at night) very weird. But the shows were hot and for the 2nd show they opened the curtains behind the band and the Tokyo skyline was all lit up and there were cherry blossoms in the park below. Very cool. Nice to get a fix from home.
Alright so I had done Tokyo to the best of my ability. And it was all good (well except for my momentary lapse of reason with the whole Sky Tree thing!) but I wanted to get out of the city, do a day trip, go see Japan’s countryside, go see the iconic image of Japan, go see Mt. Fuji. So that’s what I did. Or should I say that’s what I planned to do. I set out very early one morning to go see Mt. Fuji. I had done some research and had my route all mapped out. I was going to take public transportation and try to not be a total tourist. I wanted the real experience. Hahahahaha…. Oh I never learn. It must be my karma or something to have to repeat the same mistakes many times before I can move on. Or maybe I am just not that smart? Maybe all those hard hits on my head? I don’t know, but this time I really suckered myself in.
Okay, so off I went, I left the hotel at 7 AM and had to walk to the subway, the G lIne, I then had to transfer to the M Line, then take the Odakyu Limited Express Train the “Romancecar”? to Hakone - Yumoto Station. From there it was another train, the Hakone Tozan Train to the Hakone Tozan Cablecar. Which took me up the tracks where I boarded the Hakone Ropeway (which is really a gondola) and goes over - Owakundani - some place they call "Hell on Earth”, it was all smoking sulfur pits and barren rocky mountainside and they make the “famous” Black Eggs there (I passed) and proceeded on. I had to transfer to another gondola, or Ropeway as they call it, which brought me past where my first sighting of Mt Fuji should have been. Notice I say should. That Ropeway ends at Lake Ashi, which, despite this rant, is actually a pretty beautiful lake. There I had to get on a boat to cross the lake. This is when the second sighting of Mt Fuji should have occurred. Notice I again use should. At the far side of the lake off I went, now walking, about 3 km up on some hill to some shrine where there is supposed to be the postcard shot of Mt. Fuji. Notice I say supposed to be. Then I walked down the Ancient Cedar Avenue and wound up at a bus stop, where I climbed on the bus to take me back to the Train Station where I did all of that in reverse - train, subway, subway, walk - and eventually arrived back at my hotel 11 HOURS later! Whew! All that and it was hazy and cloudy all day and I DID NOT get to see Mt. Fuji. All that and not only did I feel like a total tourist, but I also felt like a total commuter, cloned like all the rest of them, the only thing missing was my dark suit and smart phone!
As I already mentioned, I had Teppanyaki my last night in Japan and fortunately after a day like that it was my last night. I sat and watched my Chef cook my meal and as I savored the last bite of my Kobe Beef I just had to smile at myself, learn or not, life is good.