Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 4 Tsukiji fish market

Thursday April 3rd

It's just after 6.30am and we are sitting at Tsukiji station after our tour of the wholesale/retail Tsukiji Fish Market. Breakfast was at Daiwa Zushi which was 12 piece sushi set menu breakfast. Naturally we accompanied that with hot sake - our chefs highly approved of that. They line you up like cattle at the doors on one side (a restaurant wrangler does thew work herding you in the correct manner) only to be efficiently guided out afterwards on the opposite side.

We were to meet our guide at 3am outside a Lawson store {convenience 24 hr store selling everything from hot fried chicken, pantyhose, frozen portioned vegetables to sake}. We had 2 young girls from Singapore on our tour also - Iris and Jasmine. Naoto-san was very efficient, affable with great English language skills. He previously had worked at the market for one of the five auction houses so he knew his way around. The government does not sanction tours of any kind and employ security guards who apparently done like Naoto-san. I promised him a private tour of Melbourne's Queen Vic Market if he ever visits our fair city of Melbourne

So we've now been up for 4 hours and I reckon we are doing really well considering we probably only had 4 hours sleep on a tatami mat. It's fortunate that it's prior to peak hour so the train ride home is simple and sans train passenger wrangler.
Our taxi driver at 2.30am was old school. No English (which matches our fluency in Japanese) and lots of bowing. Taxis here are delightfully so clean and well presented. Clearly the taxi drivers take great pride in their vehicle In fact, Tokyo as a whole we are finding very clean, though there  is a dearth of rubbish bins...

Our plan is to have a few hours rest/nap before attempting the remainder of the day. Clearly some sake won't hurt in this aim.

I found the market workers pretty much the same as most genuine market people around the world - concerned with their own business. By that i mean, they aren't exactly rude but do like to get on with what they should be doing so please don't get in their way. Fast and furious mototrised transporters zoom in and out the tiny alleyways.

It was dark and rainy and a bit chilly - in other words perfect weather to visit a fish market. Water cascaded everywhere, in and out of buckets, along gutters in the stone work upon which clever merchants had lain wooden squares to raise their wares up out of the constant water flow. Yes, everyone wears gumboots. I'm so glad that I wore my leather boots over woolen socks with jeans tucked in, leather jacket, scarf and new knitted peaked hat = kept me mostly dry and warm.

12 noon

Just woke up from a 5 hour nap and I'm feeling good. Mostly rested and we can attack the day again. I think we are going to try and track down a tea or coffee first (it's a massive assumption that you'll be able to get both in the same establishment) then find a soba restaurant. Soba is a buckwheat noodle often served cooled but also served hot in a broth.

We are staying very near a shrine that has a lot of cherry blossom (sakura) trees surrounding it. Most locals we come into contact with tell us how lucky we are to be here in the very short sakura season. The blossom only lasts a week or so apparently and that's exactly how long we are here for.
Today it seems to be drizzling almost constantly. Not that it made a difference at the market this morning as although we were essentially always undercover, there was water everywhere anyway. Ain't no water restrictions due to drought here. 

We got quite wet on our first day in Tokyo and kept juggling with the idea of buying an umbrella (a clear one so we could see what/who was weaving their way through the throng) but also as a defense against other umbrella wielding pedestrians. We didn't and we survived and I'm guessing we won't today either.

The plan is to caffinate first, then soba, then hang out in a  sake bar to learn more about sake for the afternoon - purely for educational reasons you understand. Of course honesty dictates that I admit that we had our first sake at 5.50am with our sushi breakfast - purely to warm our bones, you understand.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 3 Tokyo journey

Monday 31st March 2014

Today was lovely and sunny - much better than yesterday's constant drizzle. After a light breakfast, as opposed to the pig-out of the previous day, we wandered down towards the station. We printed out the journey planner information ticket (please note this very handy function Melbourne public transport people). We spent the next 10 minutes walking to try and find the correct platform for our train that was departing in 9 minutes....

Coming across an information desk a lovely young lady {immaculately attired as usual} pointed us in the correct direction. The underground metro system is quite warm so with all that walking we were positively glowing - read sweating whilst the locals looked cool as daikons. I'm thinking us Westerners sweat a lot more than the Japanese.

I was breaking in my new shoes today and I reckon I did alright. No blisters per say; more a warming of a tender heel. 

Tonight we have a private walking tour of the Shinjuku area known as the Golden Gai. Dinner is at a restaurant where we apparently catch your own fish. I say apparently as I'm not sure Steve nor I are natural fisherpeople.

Last night, we walked down to an area colloquially known as "Piss Alley". Starting with a drink or three at the Albatross Bar, we then had chicken bits (liver/mince balls, ribs, cartilage and connective tissue) all grilled on sticks and a bowl of pork stomach bits in a cloudy broth = YUM! SUPER YUM! Dessert was gleaned from the plethora of vending machines found along every street and in our hotel lobby even.

After dinner we walked home through the girly bar area of Kabuchiko. We only got hassled by Nigerian touts once. Steve takes me to all the classy spots.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 2 Harajuku

Sunday March 30th 2014 1.15pm

We are in the Harajuku area and I’m having a strong hot sweet oolong tea with a little snack – crustless white bread sandwiches filled with mock cream and fruit (strawberries or kiwi). Perfectly restorative after a rainy morning walking.

There was a huge winding queue of maybe 200 people waiting patiently in the steady rain for “Chicago caramel popcorn” – yeah,nah I’m not that desperate to try it. The smell was quite mesmerizing though and I do understand that the Tokyo-ites love a new bright shiny thing.

We are wandering around a really groovy little area of alleyways crammed with hipster (japster?), American vintage, sparse designer, cutesy ‘little girl’ look, groovy shoe stores. Really cool place and luckily…we fit right in!
Steve saw some cool union jack Dr. Martens shoes that he’s still deciding whether or not to buy. I like ‘em and am going to offer to buy then for his birthday for him {they ended up not having his ‘massive’ gaijin size}. I bought a cream based floral lace up pair. Comfy, dry and a cross between hipster and Japanese = japster!

We’ve been really lucky with meeting English speakers everywhere we’ve been. It’s actually driven it home to us how egocentric we are. We’ve vowed to learn more phrases when we travel to a non-English speaking country. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

First leg of the journey

Saturday March 29 2014
Current location: Kuala Lumpur – Low Cost Carrier Terminal

We flew from Melbourne at 1.30am landing 8 or so hours later at 6.30am in Malaysia. Originally we were only transiting through (with a layover of 7 hours) but since we wanted to use the lounge with showers, food etc. we had to enter the country to get landside to use the lounge. Ah, well.
It’s now 5 hours later and it was definitely worth the extra queuing. Far more to see and do over this side. Premium Plaza Lounge is very comfortable and worth the entry price.

Actually we are both very happy with Air Asia X so far – very clean, newish fit out of the plane. Our first point of contact being the check-in staff at Melbourne was very positive. She checked our baggage all the way through to Tokyo, got us the row to ourselves and added to that she was cheerful and pleasant throughout.
I’m very happy with such an easy start to the journey. Steve is wary as we’ve still another leg of our journey to go. I guess I’m just grateful for how it’s proceeding so far. I believe we are due to arrive at Haneda airport at 11pm Tokyo time so we should sleep well by the time we’ve taxied to our hotel.

A few weeks ago a Malaysian Airlines plane (MH370) went missing without a trace. Obviously there was much wild conjecture about what transpired. There’s an American program on the TV here in the lounge about the missing flight but nobody really seems to be watching it. Interestingly we are travelling with Malaysian Airlines low cost sibling Air Asia X.
We humans seem to lose interest in things very quickly. Clearly this is partly an innate quality and the fast pace of media I our modern world capitalises and possibly extends this attribute.

There’s food on offer here in the lounge and it’s most very edible. There’s simple rice congee, fried rice, thin spicy vegetarian noodles (my pick of the bunch) scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast, cereal and some apples/oranges. For gratis, I’m mostly satisfied. Tea, coffee, soft drink, juice and local Tiger beer round it all out quite nicely.
I’ve got my feet up; I’m cleanly showered and I’m relaxing just nicely.

We are about halfway through our flight to Tokyo. There’s a young child screaming their lungs out – poor thing (and parent/s). Both flights have actually been relatively peaceful {we did upgrade to Air Asia X’s ‘quiet zone’}

I commented to Steve whilst we were browsing a bookshop in KL airport that I felt certain assumptions could be made regarding local culture seeing as a large percentage of shelf space was given over to business management texts. Certainly, this was not something I had noticed in Australia or America for that point.