Monthly Archives

August 2012


The World’s Biggest Fish Market: Tsukiji in Tokyo, Japan


The Tsukiji Fish Market was a large, wholesalers fish market that has become an unexpected tourist phenomenon over the years. While an early morning (between 5am and 6am) appearance and sign-up sheet can grant you access to the area where the fishermen conduct the business of selling huge Tuna fish, the market does open to all the public at 9am every day, except on days when it’s closed. Tsukiji is really interesting: there are tons of sushi shops everywhere, as you’d imagine, selling sushi made with fresh-caught fish sold that morning (which is what a lot of people come for) and the stalls at the very front of the market are actually more tourist goods than fish. You have to walk over a small hill and past some other vendors before you actually get to the fish part of the public market. Market stalls at Tsukiji are kind of like townhouses: narrow fronts with long, deep corridors, filled with tonnes of stuff. You’d never find what you’re looking for alone: the stall shelves are packed to the roof with goods. Living in Tokyo is probably what’s given these sellers such a good sense of how to take advantage of every free space possible.

While the market’s purview used to be more restaurant and wholesale, the influx of tourists has changed it, so now there are more offerings to family’s looking to buy fresh ingredients, or tourists just looking for the weirdest, pickled, strangely-coloured unnameable item to take home to show their families.

You can tell that not all of the fisherman and stall vendors love the tourist attention they receive. Although it has been going on for some years now, you still get salesmen who glare at anybody holding a camera. There’s no point in arguing with these guys, most of them are pretty proud, stubborn old men. I’m a pretty stubborn, young woman, so I guess I can relate.

There are lots of signs before you enter the market, geared towards tourists, telling us not to interfere with sales in any way. This includes some pretty funny cartoons of blatantly blonde, western-looking people trying to steal away a fisherman’s knife, thinking it’s a samurai sword. Didn’t see anything like that while I was there (unfortunately). The big thing I found was really just to watch out for these little zoomy-carts that the fishermen ride around on to get their proucts around the market. They’re pretty quiet so you don’t really hear them coming up behind you: best keep your eyes open and stay alert at all times.

All in all, Tsukiji was a pretty cool cultural phenomenon. And, of course, being from the Maritimes it was nice to see fishermen from another part of the world.


Origami Gifts

A few days ago, while still suffering from jetlag and a sick tummy I went to bed super early, only to find out when I awoke in the morning and was sleepily making breakfast, that my awesome boyfriend took a bunch of the origami paper that I brought him from Japan and made these sweet paper crane chains! Just like the ones I saw in Hiroshima!

And that’s why he’s the best boyfriend.


Watching Fireworks with A Million People

No one does crowds like the Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo

The Sumidagawa is a large river that snakes through Tokyo’s downtown. There are several bridges crossing over it downtown near the Asakusa district, which is where the fireworks festival is held every year on the last Saturday in July. This festival is one of Tokyo’s biggest annual celebrations: over ONE MILLION people attend every year. I had never been in a crowd of a million people before, so let me tell you: It is a LOT of people. There were so many small moments going on between spectators.

Sumida_River_Fireworks_Mel_Hattie Sumida_River_Fireworks_Mel_Hattie-4 Sumida_River_Fireworks_Mel_Hattie-5

You could tell I was from big ol’ Canada, with its whopping 10 people per kilometre squared (compared to Japan’s over 200) because sometimes I would stop watching the pyrotechnics just to stare at what was happening around me. I’ve lived in decent-sized cities before (Halifax, Hamburg) but I still felt like a little country mouse in the big city. The Tokyoites somehow manage to ignore each other and move as a crowd at the same time, without getting distracted by anything that’s going on around them. .

On my way back from the fireworks, walking with the huge crowd, sometimes I would just be looking around at buildings near me, checking to see if any of them had ladders so I could just scramble up above the crowd and breathe for two seconds. Alas, no. Despite the crowd, the event was pretty fun though. Lots of crazy fireworks, including a Pikachu-shaped one. Pretty amazing stuff; lots of fireworks crews from all over Japan compete to see who can produce the most impressive show. Getting close to the actual river was impossible, most people were watching from at least 3 or 4 streets back. Luckily, they shoot the fireworks pretty high up so even if you’re caught a few streets back you have a pretty good chance of seeing them from one of the two locations.

Also, amazingly, the hostel where I was staying was pretty much right around the corner from where most people were watching, so it was one of the few things I saw in Tokyo that I didn’t have to spend a half an hour on the subway to get to.



Back in Canada

One of the last photos of me in Japan. As of Monday, I have officially returned to my home country; back in good ol’ Canada. Because a cabin crew shortage delayed my plane from Toronto to Halifax for three hours, I was starving when we finally landed. The midnight drive home from the airport yielded a large, tomato and onion-covered donair. Let me check: yep, definitely back on the east coast.

Despite being back and slowly readjusting to home while fending off some potent, sleepy jetlag;  I definitely still have a lot of untold anecdotes left about Japan, and hoards of photos to sift through and edit, so I’ve decided that I might as well keep the Japan stories coming as long as there’s fuel to drive the fire. I figure: better to do it here where I actually have a platform to write them than go crazy waiting for somebody to ask, or worse: having to re-tell the same stories over and over and over again.

Some of the nice things about being home: today’s a rainy day, and there’s nothing like being able to stay at home on a rainy day while baking cookies, drinking tea, and relaxing with some candles in a freshly-vacuumed house. The baking cookies bit really rocks; in Japan most houses and apartments (including mine) don’t have convention ovens, so no baked goods or meals. Familiar things like that I ove coming home to. On the flipside, I can already tell that I’m going to start missing some of the small things about Japan (like the umbrella racks at the entrance of all the stores, and the fact if you leave your umbrella there, it will still be there when you get back); I’ve already been whining to my boyfriend about how I don’t want to take the car anywhere, and just want to bike it all like in Japan. But, since the pedals on my bike here somehow rusted and fell off while I was in Japan, it doesn’t look like this will be a reality anytime soon. 

Anyway: this photo! Here is bit of Tokyo’s infamous skyline, including the newly opened (just this year) Tokyo Skytree. The golden sculpture on top of the building to my left is an excellent directional landmark in the Asakusa area, and is affectionately referred to as ”the golden shit”, by many travellers. The hostel we were staying at is just about a 5 minute walk past the golden shit building. Charming? I know.

Fun Japanese Fact: Although Japanese has a word for tower, most newer places with ‘tower’ in their name (Tokyo Tower, Seiroka Tower, etc.). Actually use タワー (tawaa) which is the katakana phonetic spelling of the English word; something about English words being trendy and cool. It’s similar to how while driving on a highway you might pass through a トンネル (tonneru), even though Japanese also has its own word for tunnel.