Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tsukiji and the Asakusa Surprise!

Today, Saturday, I finally got a chance to do a bit of roaming and it was a near perfect day. It was a bit cloudy, and the intense heat and humidity that has been with us this week finally lifted. It was just splendid to be out and about and I had many reminders of why I love it here so much.

I started fairly late as I wanted to do a bit of work first and get it out of the way. The original plan was to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market by 6 am but when I woke up at 8 that was pretty much shot (you have to get there early to really experience the market and it's mostly over by 10 or 11 am). But I went to Tsukiji anyway, and started by visiting the Tsukiji Honhwanji Temple. I sat inside for quite a while as there were 3 Buddhist monks chanting and it was so peaceful and relaxing. (Page in english) if you are interested in learning more.

After the temple I walked around the narrow and crowded alleyways around the fish market and looked at the various vendors and their wares. Tokyo is so hugely modern and yet there are these tiny narrow streets just off the main streets and when you walk through them you almost feel as if you have stepped back in time. Yes, I have photos and I could just kick myself that I didn't spend more time looking for the cord that hooks my camera to the laptop. I got up my nerve and had lunch at a sushi-go-round restaurant, where the sushi chefs stand in the middle and create and then put the sushi on lilttle color-coded plates onto a conveyor belt. You sit and drink green tea and when a plate goes by that looks good you take it and enjoy it. At the end a lady comes up and counts your plates and you get your bill. It was simply wonderful. I had toro (fatty tuna) and eel and scallop and something that I had no idea what it was. The great thing is that these places are all supplied by the fish market just steps away and so you know you are eating the very freshest sushi it is possible to have. Delicious!

From Tsukiji I decided to go back to my old stomping grounds, Asakusa. It is truly my favorite place in Tokyo. I had an email from my New Zealand matie Peter on Wednesday morning. His mother passed away after a long illness last week and he wrote to let me know. I decided then and there that I would have to go to Asakusa while I was here and burn incense and light a candle in the shrine for his Mum.

As I was leaving the subway station at Asakusa I saw posters for the annual Samba festival which, as it turns out, was TODAY!!! This is a huge festival and I heard about it last year but did not go. So I stepped out into the streets of Asakusa which are crowded anyway and I can't even describe the mass of sweaty humanity that awaited me. Yes I have photos and I think I even recorded a brief "movie" on my camera. There were so many people that you couldn't even see the parade. Side note - the parade was underway when I stepped off the train and 3 hours later it was still going strong! Japanese people can have some fun. But anyway - the crowd. Literally (I swear to god) it was full body to body contact trying to walk the streets. I think I might be pregnant. It actually freaked me out a little bit. So much pushing and shoving and you get caught in the tide and pretty much go wherever the tide takes you. At one point I found a side street and sat on the edge of a planter just to get out of the madness. An older Japanese couple walked by and the woman came up to me and gave me a souvenir fan! So sweet and thoughtful! Another very special moment. The walk from the Asakusa station to the temple normally takes about 8 minutes but today it took over an hour due to the crowds. I lit the candle and burned the incense for Peter's Mum and then took in the energy of the festival for a couple of hours. Here's a link to someone who posted photos last year It seems to be an excuse for the normally black/brown/earth-toned wearing Japanese to put on neon feather costumes and thongs and fringe and cut loose and shake their booties. It was exhausting but fun. And oh yeah - while walking around Asakusa I saw my first in-person sumo wrestler! He was on a bicycle with his young daughter. I could tell he was sumo by his size and his top knot. Simply beautiful.

Now it's getting close to 7 and I need to go out and find dinner. When I was here last year I got a per diem and I was filthy rich! I never had a moment of feeling that I had to pinch pennies thanks to Gerard setting it up so we were all living comfortably in this very foreign place. This time all expenses come out of my own pocket and I will be reimbursed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and traveling expenses to and from the office. It stings a bit. Tokyo is far more expensive than I think I ever realized. So I have to make the most of my meal times. I could kill for tonkatsu tonight.

One thing I've noticed is that navigating the subway stairs and walking so much is quite taxing and so I realize that I was in pretty great shape last year. In the US we are sedentary. Here you have to walk and climb stairs all day and put out effort. I am sore and tired and achy but I feel so good!

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