Monday, January 14, 2008
The last stop on my round-the-world trip was Tokyo, Japan. As the title of this post implies, it was a bit difficult to bridge the language gap there. Not many signs were posted in English and few people spoke my native tongue, but my boyfriend and I didn’t let that stop us from enjoying our time there.
As cities go, Tokyo could not be more different from the small New Zealand towns from which we had just traveled. While New Zealand’s cities were full of green spaces and seemed to have larger livestock populations than human ones, Tokyo’s sprawling mass of tall buildings and neon signs were the embodiment of urbanization. As if that weren’t a big enough shock, we also went from the long, warm days of summer in the southern hemisphere to the short, cold ones of winter in Japan.
Since we only had three days in the Japanese capital, we hit the ground running. On our first evening in the city we headed straight for Ginza, a high-end retail mecca with designer architecture to match. Even though it was dark outside, there was so much light coming from all of the buildings that my jet-lagged body could have mistaken it for mid-day.
We walked around Ginza for awhile, absorbing the energy of the city and working up an appetite (climbing the stairs to all nine floors of a stationery store is hard work!). We took the metro to Azabu-Juban to eat dinner at Rainbow Roll Sushi, where we feasted on amazing fish and great sake. Ironically, the “special” that night was an item that was inspired by California‘s pioneering and inventive sushi techniques, and even used rice grown in California. Proud as I was to see my home state being recognized for its achievements, I was a little sad to have come all the way to the birthplace of sushi to learn that its chefs were looking to my home for inspiration.
The following day we took advantage of nice weather and walked around Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics district. While my boyfriend walked around like a kid in a candy shop, I marveled at the sheer quantity of stores and gadgets they had packed into one place.
From there we continued on to the Meiji Shrine, where we enjoyed the respite of some precious green space, and then went to see the Imperial Palace (or what you could see of it from half a mile away). In the afternoon we rested for awhile and then met some of my boyfriend’s coworkers in Shibuya for a great dinner of okonomiyaki.
On our last day in Tokyo we visited the famous Tsukiji fish market. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am and arrived as the fish auctions were beginning. We walked through stalls crammed with every kind of fish and shellfish we could imagine and observed the auctions with much curiosity.
After an hour we heard our stomachs growling, so we wandered until we came to the section of the market where the small restaurants were. We had been looking forward to eating the sushi at the market for a long time, as it is supposedly some of the best and freshest in the world. As such, we weren’t deterred by the 25 minute wait at Daiwa Sushi (not least because five minutes later it turned into an hour wait for the people in the long queue behind us).
The sushi did not disappoint. We sat down and were brought miso soup and tea, then the sushi chef started putting pieces on our plates. Thankfully he spoke enough English to tell us what each of his creations was. We ate toro, semi-fatty tuna, squid, eel, sea urchin, salmon roe, shrimp, and yellowtail.
Judging from the plates of the people next to us, we were definitely served the “tourist menu,” but I wasn’t going to complain about not being offered raw shrimp, an unidentified part of a clam, and cuttlefish spawn. I’m an adventurous eater (I slurped down a bowl of pig intestine in tepid broth in Romania once), but at 6:30am my stomach was already wondering what I was doing to it.
After the market we made our way to a beautiful Japanese garden, but the rain and cold made our trip shorter than we would have liked. Instead we headed back to Ginza to do a little shopping and have amazing sencha tea and pastries at a small tea room.
Nothing gold can stay, and so it was with regretful sadness that we took the train back to Narita airport and left Tokyo. We finished our round-the-world trip by traveling 13 hours to JFK airport in New York City, and then seven from there back to London. It was exhausting, but as there were no delays or missed connections we couldn’t complain. Now we’re back in London feeling jet-lagged but happy to be home. I will send pictures around later today.