Tokyo, Japan

Posted by Jeremy on November 3, 2014

We spent a week running around Tokyo; covered 75 miles on foot, ate everything in sight and we cannot wait to go back! Here's how we spent our seven days in Japan!

Here is the full photo set from Tokyo

New Foods Discovered: Tiger Blowfish, Squid Ink Sac Gunkan, Cuttlefish, Dried Squid, Smoked Squid, Dried Scallops, Toro (Fatty Tuna), Sea Bream, Kamameshi, Whale Meat (Nigiri), Shark Fin, Dried Tomatoes, Niboshi (tiny dried fish)

Day One

We arrived in Tokyo on a Monday afternoon after an 11 hour flight from LAX. This flight was our very first on a 787 and it was fantastic! The flight itself was very smooth and the dimming of the cabin helped immensely with our time zone transition. We experienced no jetlag.

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We had plans for a hotel for our first evening in town and immediately hopped on a train at the airport toward the city. It takes about 80 minutes by train to get to the main metro system of Tokyo from Narita (a total of about 60km).

The Tokyo metro is a fascinating place. There are over a dozen lines, some of which are operated by private companies in addition to the government operated lines. This can get confusing at times as there are several different lines going through the same station, operated by different organizations. Luckily, all of the metro operators take the same forms of payment; a Pasmo card or a Suica card. We used Pasmo to get around:

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The Pasmo card is accepted all over the country for public transportation systems including trains and ferries. Occasionally we would also run into a vending machine that also accepted Pasmo. It was an excellent example of standardized payment systems.

We were initially surprised at the lack of English in Japan, especially after our most recent experience in China, where each sign had an accompanying English translation. Most people in Tokyo spoke little to no English, so asking for help was difficult. When we arrived at our first metro station, figuring out how to pay our fare was a welcomed challenge. A kind metro officer on duty saw our looks of perplexity and pointed at a bank of automated kiosks and repeatedly yelled “PASMO!” until we successfully achieved our mission.

We arrived in our hotel, settled in and took off again in search for dinner. We were hoping to stay up until bedtime in Tokyo so that our time change would go smoothly. We found a delicious dinner within minutes: our first sushi in Japan and a whole grilled squid!

 

Day Two

We started our second day in Tokyo on the search for another hotel. We found it difficult to find a hotel that had a room open more than one night (for a reasonable price). On the way, we found a nice breakfast place and had our first restaurant vending experience. We were drawn to this particular restaurant by the plastic menu displayed outside (a very common sight in Tokyo):

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This is also very common for inexpensive restaurants in Tokyo; first you choose a meal and pay at an automated kiosk:

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Then you will receive a ticket for the item you chose. A waitress will come by and take the ticket to put in your order with the kitchen. She will then bring your food when it is ready. No money exchanged with anyone but the computer, including no tipping.

On this particular morning we had tuna chirashi (raw fish on rice with seaweed) and udon; and grilled fish with rice. We had some form of raw fish at just about every meal in Japan, which we were very excited about.

After settling into our new hotel, Oak Hostel Zen, we were able to call home using Skype. We have Skype set up to ring directly to Jeremy’s phone whenever we are connected to wifi. It costs $0.02 per minute or $6.99 per month for unlimited calls and has been an excellent solution for us while we travel. Japan had excellent internet wherever we went and so we were able to connect easily.

We were staying in an area called Asakusa in the northeastern part of the city. Asakusa is home to many budget hotel options and hostels and is very well connected by the metro. It is also close to the Ueno district, which has a large metro interchange as well as a beautiful park. We started walking midday toward Ueno with the intention of getting on the metro to somewhere, but instead got lost in the park. We happened upon the Tokyo National Museum (which is actually inside of Ueno Park) and decided that that would be a perfect introduction to our time in Japan.

The Tokyo National Museum houses many national treasures of Japan, some dating back to 2000 BC. It is organized such that you can following the course of art in Japan for the last several millennia. This is the exterior of the main building with a couple of sheep outside of it:

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Here are a few highlights; samurai armor, kimonos and swords:

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After a few hours of walking around the museum campus, we headed west to the Ebisu district. Ebisu is known for having excellent food, so we were excited to try it. We encountered our first sushi conveyor belt restaurant within feet of the Ebisu metro station.

Conveyor belt sushi, or kaiten-zushi, is the most popular way to serve sushi in Japan. Unfortunately, on this particular day our camera ran out of batteries, so we cannot share the absolute joy from sitting down at one of these for the first time. However, it was not the last time we had kaiten-zushi, so there are pictures in later days. The gist is simply single serving sushi orders on small plates placed on a conveyor belt that runs around the restaurant. Each plate is a different color and represents a different cost; ie a yellow plate is ¥100 and an orange plate is ¥200. Typically each plate has a single serving of nigiri (two pieces of fish, each on balls of rice). Occasional plates have gunkan style sushi or an appetizer like edamame. You can take as many plates as you want. At the end of your meal, the wait staff count up your plates to get the total price of the meal.

We had our fill of sushi, and began walking to Shibuya station. Hachikome Crossing is right outside the station and is hailed as the busiest intersection in the world. We took the opportunity to first observe the huge swaths of people crossing the intersection. The people flowed like water. Every couple minutes, they would fill to the curb as if it were a dam, waiting for the light to change. Then, ding! The floodgates were opened and the water rushed out hard. As the amount of time left to cross dwindled, they slowed to a trickle of drops. We eventually joined in with the crowd and crossed back and forth a few times to our hearts’ content.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering the Shibuya district which is full of shops and restaurants. For dinner, we settled on a small curry restaurant (also vending machine style). We headed home on the metro with our bellies full and our feet tired.

 

Day Three

We moved from the Oak Hostel Zen over to the Kiba Capsule Hotel. If you have never heard of these, it's essentially lockers with beds inside.

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You keep all your things downstairs, change in to a set of pajamas issued by the hotel (mine were comically small on me) and climb in to a space not unlike an animal kennel. There was just enough room in there for me and we slept very comfortably each of the 4 nights we spent there.

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The upper floors are capsule rooms, men-only on the 4th floor and mixed double capsules on the 5th. The idea of double capsules is fairly rare, since most of these hotels are set up to cater to business men working late nights in the city. A major issue in Tokyo is sexual harassment, so there are a lot of places where the sexes are kept separate. The 3rd floor was bathrooms, one for men and one for women. The men's side was huge with 9 sit down vanities, a locker area, and a shower area consisting of 10 showerheads in a shared space, a big one person soaking tub, a 10 person sauna, and a hot tub that would have held at least 10 people. The women's was a more moderate size with only 2 showers, which turned out to be a bit of a problem when it was busy. Downstairs was a big locker area where everyone would keep their valuables, and a tea lounge where you would spend the time you were not sleeping. It was a great spot to hang around.

That morning, we were quite a few hours ahead of check in time when we arrived, so we just left our bags at the front desk and headed out. It had been raining all night and had not let up by the time we left. As it turns out, everyone in Tokyo carries umbrellas in the rain. It is quite an interesting sight on a crowded street. There are also special accommodations for umbrellas in front of every business. Some have machines that stretch a plastic bag around them to prevent water on the floor and others have racks with a locking slot for each umbrella and a tag you can take with you. This is not so much to prevent umbrella theft (common street crime here is nearly nonexistent), but to make sure you take your umbrella and not someone else's.

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The goal for this day was to finally take advantage of the global nature of our HSBC bank account and find one of their ATMs to withdraw money for free. A quick internet search located 3 branches down in the financial district and we made our way there in the morning. The first stop was Tokyo Station which was nearby. It is a beautifully renovated 100 year old structure that continues to be used for its original purpose all these years later. It is (like all the others) also a maze of underground tunnels where above ground and below ground rail networks converge.

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On our way through the station we noticed a display with a massive shark's fin suspended in acrylic and a sign advertising shark's fin soup.

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This is a very controversial dish where we come from, so we just had to see what all the fuss was about. Inside the restaurant there were some pretty appalling pictures showing harvests of hundreds of sharks on display.

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As with many restaurants we saw in Japan, this restaurant only served dishes based on one ingredient...shark's fin. You could order it whole in a soup, or in a few varieties of fried sauce with noodles or rice. Every dish was basically shark's fin with a brown sauce over it. We ordered fried noodles and it came out sizzling.

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The shark's fin was cut into very small pieces and both of us agreed that it really wasn't anything special. It was sort of fatty and gelatinous, and was certainly not a highlight of Tokyo cuisine. Later on we were told by a Japanese person that shark's fin soup is "a Chinese thing", but it's hard to know the full story. Either way...we wont be eating that anymore.

After Tokyo station we made for the Tsukiji fish market. This place is world renowned for massive amounts of fresh fish that come in every day. We figured this would be the best place to get the freshest Sushi. On arrival at the market, however we saw signs stating it was closed for a holiday. It was still raining pretty hard at that point, so we looked around for the nearest sushi place and grabbed a seat. It was a very nice place with wood paneling going floor to ceiling all around and a small bar and two small tables inside. When we got the menu we were instantly excited by one item in particular--whale meat. With our last meal being what it was, we decided it would be a good way to round out our assault on sustainable fisheries. We ordered the chef's plate of nigiri and an order of the whale. When it came out it was some of the freshest we'd ever seen. The fish was all very skillfully trimmed and arranged and looked spectacular. The whale meat came out and was two very generous pieces of bright red meat.

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It was closer to the color of uncooked beef than it was to any of the fish on the plate and it looked beautiful contrasted against them. The taste was very mild and the texture was smooth and tender. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

After 2nd lunch, we headed up to the financial district looking for the HSBC. The block where it was supposed to be was under construction and after 6-8 blocks of drenching rain later, we decided it wasn't worth finding right now.

Instead we found the Japanese Currency museum. It is across the street from the Bank of Japan and I believe it is paid for by them. The museum is free and most of the exhibits have English translations on them. Inside we saw a very well documented history of a currency system that has failed multiple times throughout its history. It showed at least two instances where the sitting government renders an existing currency valueless in an attempt to push a new currency on people. Many times these plans failed and people were forced to revert to old methods of transferring value such as rice, gold dust, and ingots of copper or silver. It was a very sobering reminder of the fragility of our current system. One wonders what means of trading value the people would come up with if our money were to become just paper.

That evening we headed up to Shinjuku looking for the fishing restaurant (more on that later). We never found it, but instead found a very nice Thai restaurant. There was a communication breakdown with the waiter in the form of ordering fresh rolls and finding they had pork in them, sending them back only to have the pork replaced with chicken, and sending them back again. Once we got that straight, we had a great meal of hot pot and some very tasty Pad Thai before heading back to our capsule in Kiba.

 

Day Four

It was wet and rainy all day, but we took off on foot from the capsule hotel anyway. On our way out, we noticed three police officers guiding traffic (both foot and motorized) on the corner outside our hotel. It seemed a bit excessive to have three people doing this job, but they were incredibly entertaining to watch. If a car needed to get through the stream of people crossing the street, they did a funny little dance, said “please, thank you, excuse me, thank you, thank you” in a flurry of Japanese syllables and halted traffic in the most polite of ways. Even as the crowds passed them after the car cleared, they continued to bow and dance while exclaiming their mouthful of thank yous—“arrigato gozaimas!”

They had such amazing energy standing outside doing this all day, even in the rain. We noticed throughout Tokyo that it didn’t matter what your job was, people took great pride in their work. We were very impressed by the dedication of every worker, from the sushi chefs to the street sweepers.

We had a plan to catch a water bus from the station about a mile from Kiba and take it to Odaiba, an entertainment district on an island south of the financial district of Tokyo. We began wandering toward the station without realizing we were actually headed in the complete wrong direction. Instead we found a lovely park with a pond filled with turtles and ducks.

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It was a nice a nice detour from the day’s plans, but we soon found ourselves off the map. We retraced our steps and headed in the right direction. Our little detour actually took us an extra 6 miles of walking and three hours out of our way, but we got to know Tokyo that much better.

We arrived at the water bus station to find out that we had missed the only water bus to Odaiba that day, but were still in time for the one heading upriver to Asakusa. When it arrived, we boarded this very flat looking boat:

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We soon realized why it was so flat. We walked on the top deck of the boat as it headed up the river.

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Approaching quickly we saw a bridge. A very low bridge. One of the boat crew climbed to the top deck and began shouting something Japanese. We watched as everyone around us began crouching down. We decided to follow suit. Sure enough, as the bridge approached, it was so low that you could hit your head on the bottom if you were not ducking. The first bridge was surprising and jarring, but as they kept coming it became a very fun game. How close could we get to touch the underbelly of the bridge?

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The cruise was an excellent opportunity for some beautiful photos of the city as well:

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We exited the boat in Asakusa and hopped on the metro to Odaiba. The train to Odaiba crosses the rainbow bridge and offered stunning views of the city to the north and water to the south. Apparently on clear days, you can also see Mount Fuji in the distant south. Today—no such luck.

Gargantuan shopping malls dominated Odaiba. We walked past a few and marveled in their sheer size. The island is also dotted by beaches with views of the city. As you walk along the north end of the beach, you will see something vaguely recognizable. Our Lady Liberty herself:

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Odaiba is also home to the Fuji TV headquarters, a massive, futuristic building with a giant orb as a centerpiece. I can only assume that evil plans are being concocted in such a structure:

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At night, the building displays a fantastic lightshow with sound:

We had dinner on the island at another sushi conveyor belt restaurant. This particular restaurant was very large and had an iPad ordering system. Some sushi came around the regular belt that encircled the shop, but other came in a very special way. You could browse the selection of sushi options on a iPad:

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In less than 90 seconds, a miniature monorail would zoom to your table along tracks located above the main belt. Atop the mini train was your exact order:

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Pick your plates off the monorail, press a button and it zips back as fast as it came in.

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We browsed the menu for something new and landed on the perfect target: squid ink sac gunkan. It arrived on the monorail in all its black, sticky glory. We both stared it down for a few minutes before tasting it. Thick, black goo oozed on top of a bed of rice, wrapped in nori:

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We worked up the courage to pop them in our mouths:

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The flavor was overpowering and intense and sharp, but it was the familiar taste of ink--like eating a pen. We had never had so much in such a concentrated form.

We called the waitress over so we could settle our bill. She used a wand to count up the total of the plates instead of counting by hand. At this restaurant, each plate had an RFID chip inside and her wand was able to recognize each plate’s cost and then add them together.

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Tons of food, all for about ¥3500, or $32.

We boarded the train back to Kiba after another exhausting and exciting day.

 

Day Five

This day we decided to really cover some ground. We had reservations for 5pm at the Robot Restaurant and planned a route up there starting in Shibuya a few miles to the south. We had what had become our standard breakfast of convenience store items. It may seem strange from a US perspective where convenience stores are full of terrible fried food and burned coffe, but in Japan they're good places to eat. On a typical morning you'll find them bustling with busy travelers on their way to their jobs around the city. Our favorite thing was the do-it-yourself sushi rolls. They were essentially sticky rice formed around belly tuna or salmon roe (which is Rachel's favorite) and packed with a piece of nori. Instead of wrapping the nori around the roll, however, it's instead wrapped in its own section of the wrapper designed to be pulled out when you eat it. When you start to open it you realize the whole thing is designed to be done on the go and makes no mess. It's a very smart design and the resulting rolls were delicious.

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We boarded the train for Shibuya station and once again emerged from the tunnel in to the world's biggest crosswalk. We were looking for the blowfish restaurant we knew was around here and headed north. After finding the restaurant was closed for the day we headed east toward Yoyogi park. This is a very large park in the middle of a dense part of the city and it was here that we encountered our first homeless people. They seemed very well taken care of, and from what we we had read; options for social services are plenty, and if you want to live in the park the government will pretty much leave you alone there. Many people do it and they all had their things neatly stacked on pushcarts parked in the bushes.

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While it doesn't look like the worst situation a person could be in, it's a stark reminder that even in the richness of Tokyo not everyone is able to make ends meet.

We walked around the Tokyo National Stadium buildings which were beautifully arced buildings built opposite one another that made for some nice pictures.

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After that we headed to the other side of the park and out near Harajuku. This district has become famous in the fashion industry for its eccentric style that only the Japanese could have invented. It can pretty much be described as wearing as many contrasting clothing items as possible and still looking great doing it. It's not that unlike Burning Man in that way and a lot of the clothes we saw would be great on the playa. The first part of Harijuku was the shopping district. It was a wide street filled with Gucci and Gap and all of the big names. It was filled with wide eyed shoppers all decked out in the latest fashions. It was pretty much not our style.

We ducked in to a little sushi place for lunch and had what turned out to be the worst sushi we came across in Japan. It was conveyor style, but 90% of the pieces were made with mayo. I can not understand why anyone would ruin good fish that way.

Next to us was a British gentleman with two Japanese companions. He was going on about how disgusting this "Americanized" sushi was and how Americans are ruining all sorts of things. This was after we introduced ourselves as having come from America.

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After a few minutes of this, we changed the subject and asked about Harijuku. He did actually give us some good information and told us to head around the corner to Takeshita street. We followed his instructions and found where the Harijuku girls do their shopping. Every store looked like the stuff was hand picked for a Burning Man event and the place was packed with wildly dressed teenagers and wide eyed tourists. I mentioned to Rachel that we should come here on our way to the Playa next year.

From Harijuku we walked to the Meiji temple complex. It's a very big piece of forested property surrounding a big wooden temple and various shrines. It has gravel roads leading up to it lined with offerings of sake and wine to the late emperor to whom the shrine was dedicated.

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When we got inside we realized it was an actual working temple and people were there praying and carrying out rituals. When you enter, you must wash your hands and mouth to cleanse yourself before prayer.

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The peaceful feeling surrounding the place was a sharp contrast to the busy city all around. We watched silently as a man dressed in traditional garb beat on a 5 foot wide drum and called out to those praying in the center. Behind us, people were hanging cards where they had written their worries on a tree so that when they left they temple they left their worries behind.

From the quiet stillness of the Meiji temple we walked a few blocks north to the Shinjuku district and sought out the Robot Restaurant. When we got to the area around the restaurant we knew we were in the right place. Giant signage advertising all kinds of fantasy fulfillment and distractions filled the skyline. Lights of all colors illuminated the tall skinny signs. We wondered how the place would distinguish itself from the assault of advertising all over Shinjuku, but when we arrived we realized that indeed they could outdo the others. The sign was poorly placed and hard to see, but it became obvious that we were there right away. The entire front façade of the building was studded with color LEDs and screens all flashing bright and garish light in your eyes.

When you approach the front, you see inside two large robot creations about 10 feet tall with female doll heads on top. In the torso of this monstrosity is a smiling young woman who makes eye contact with you while she pilots the robot directly at you.

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As this is happening you see that every wall and even the floor and ceiling are completely covered with mirrors, bright flashing lights and color that would make a Las Vegas casino seem plain and boring. Your eyes cant even make sense of it. Hallways and doors are completely obscured. It's almost uncomfortable. After confirming our reservations and dropping off our bags we were led inside in to a large open room. Both sides of the space were covered with LED TVs and the chairs looked like golden ammonite shells.

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The room could have been 50 or 100 feet long, but it was impossible to tell with all the mirrors. After taking our drink orders we were treated to a show on a stage in the middle. Performers in shiny silver dresses and others who looked like the daft punk robots performed lounge tunes on bedazzled guitars, brass instruments, a piano and even a harp. The show was quite good, but that was only the beginning. After we finished our drinks we headed down a set of the craziest stairs I've ever seen. It was like something out of a scary dream and they felt like they just went on and on.

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At the bottom we entered into a surprisingly small space. There were three rows of seating on either side of a flat open area about 100 feet long by about 25 feet wide. While that seems like a large space, it looked very small when they started rolling out the machinery. Dinner was served and then the lights went out. What followed can not be well explained in words. We saw parades of odd creatures, robots, horses, pandas, and aliens.

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There was fighting, singing, dancing, and all manner of revelry and the best part was that very little of it made any sense at all. I must say that even having been to Burning Man does not quite prepare you for the intensity of this show.


It is quite an experience, and all of the performing happens right in front of the table you're sitting at. It is certainly something I highly recommend to anyone planning to go to Japan.

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On our way back from the show we stopped in to a Pachinko parlor figuring that it would be pretty simple to understand. From the outside the place looks a bit like a slot casino, but that is only until the doors open.

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Slot machines being as noisy as they are have nothing on the roar emanating from a Panchinko hall. It's quite overwhelming. It's almost like standing next to a heavy machine running at full throttle. You can not even have a conversation. There is also cigarette smoke filling the air. After 20 minutes or so watching the action we still could not make sense of how to get started. Men were heaving baskets of steel ball bearings between machines and trading them for plastic cards. Only upon looking it up later did we realize that Pachinko for money is actually illegal in Japan and it is technically for entertainment purposes only. You build up points on these cards and then trade them for "prizes" which you can (conveniently) sell across the street for money. It's funny how these things find loopholes that allow it all to continue working right out in the open.

That night we had some udon in a restaurant in Shinjuku and headed home around 10. It was a very long day.

 

Day Six

This day started out with a bright sunny sky and we decided to head back to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Since it was closed when we went there the other day we really didn't get to see what it was all about. We had a quick convenience store breakfast of roll-you-own-sushi and canned coffee and headed into the subway. When we got to the market we were treated to a completely different scene than we had seen previously. The place was abuzz with vendors selling all kinds of fish and fish products. From dried squid to roe to fresh Toro (the Japanese term for Bluefin tuna), and even whale meat they had it all.

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Also, throughout the maze of vendor booths were at least 20 tiny sushi bars. Each one was packed to the ceiling with customers and some had long lines out the door. We picked one right in the center and had a seat at the bar. The prices here were a bit higher than other parts of town, but it was still quite reasonable. The dollar was quite strong against the yen (¥106 to $1) at the time we were there and that worked in our favor. We ordered the large assortment and an assortment of fresh toro. When the tuna came it was beautifully pink and marbled with white fat. There were three different grades ranging from lean to fatty and we tried them in that order. When we got to the fattiest ones we immediately knew why everyone pays so much for this fish. It is perhaps the best tasting sushi I've had to date. Succulent does not even begin to describe it.

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We finished lunch and headed out into the center of the market. Here there were a few more permanent shops and a lot more vendors. On our way through the door we were stopped by a well dressed woman accompanied by a man with a camera. She asked us if it would be ok if they asked us a few questions for their Japanese TV show. Without hesitation, we both exclaimed "Yes!". They asked us where we were from and what we had bought in the market. We pulled some dried smoked squid and dried scallops from our bag. They asked if we had ever had them before and we told them we had not, but we were looking forward to it. and they actually seemed surprised that we had them. We told them we love scallops and that that we were actually just headed inside for the much larger scallops they were barbecuing in there. They got excited at that and asked if they could accompany us. We headed inside and found the place. They had a tank full of live scallops about 5" across and they were pulling them out as you order them, cracking them open and putting them over hot coals for a moment. 60 seconds later you had a juicy scallop that is as fresh as they get.

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We got our scallops and headed outside. Their assistant had secured us a spot at a table (it was very nice to have someone do that for us since there wasn't an open seat in the whole area) and we got to eating. They filmed us enjoying our scallops and then talked to us a bit longer about the market. It was a lot of fun and now we're TV stars.

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Next we headed west for the Roppongi Hills neighborhood. I'm not sure what enticed us to go here besides the fact we had recently eaten at a restaurant of the same name in La Jolla, CA. When we got there it was clearly a rich neighborhood in an already very wealthy city. Tall gleaming shopping malls were all around and the whole area was occupied with the Tokyo International Film Festival.

We didn't have time for movies on this trip, so we passed on through and over to the Aoyama cemetery. Thousands of gravestones line the hills in neat rows. Each one carefully tended to and bore signs of frequent visits. We sat for a while, took a few pictures and went on our way.

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On the other side of the cemetery we caught the Metro over Shibuya. We were looking for the blowfish restaurant called Fugu-Tora Tei. We saw the place from well down the street because they had a giant blowfish statue on the front of the building. Also facing the street was a 50 (or so) gallon fish tank with 10-20 tiger blowfish swimming around.

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We went inside and got a table. Since this was to be the first of two dinners tonight (we usually ate 5 meals a day in Tokyo) we wanted to keep it light. Rather than ordering the chef's special which was 8 different courses all made from blowfish, we just went with two; the sashimi and the hot pot. When the sashimi came out it was arranged around the outside of a plate with some garnish vegetables in the center. At first glance I didn't even see the fish. It's almost perfectly transparent. We each took turns eating the neat little slices and didn't need any of the dipping sauce they sent out with it. The meat was a bit chewy, but very light in flavor.

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After a few minutes, they brought out a plate of vegetables with a few chunks of bone-in blowfish on top of them. The meat was actually still twitching a bit there on the table and was quite exciting to watch. This fish was so fresh it was still moving. The waitress placed a wicker basket on top of the induction cooktop embedded in the table, arranged a paper liner inside and dropped in a stainless steel disk. She then poured a pitcher of water into the liner and turned on the power. 3 minutes later the water was boiling nicely inside the paper. It was a neat setup. The fish cooked up quickly and turned out to be very tasty and tender. It was almost like crab in its flavor an a bit like halibut in texture. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in something new.



Second dinner that night took us north in to the Shinjuku district. This is probably the most dense part of Tokyo and is a wonder to visit. Towering skyscrapers fill the grid of streets on the surface, but down below you can travel between them all in an underground network of tunnels. You can walk miles without ever coming up to the surface. It is a very cool feeling. We emerged in to the Tokyo Park Hyatt building where we found Zauo a restaurant where you fish for your dinner (yes...really).

We got there around 8 and when they seated us they told us we needed to be finished by 10. That seemed like a very long time, but we used every minute. After we were seated the waiter gave us each a short description of how it works.

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He gave us each a fishing pole and told us where in the tank each of the fish could be found. For those fishing for sea bream they sold small tins of shrimp to be used as bait. We headed into the main hall and saw a swimming pool sized fish tank with a big ship built into the center. People were eating at tables built on the ship and others were fishing all around it. We picked a spot on the end and I tossed in my bait. There are enough fish in the tank that there is no real way to go wrong, so I picked a group of sea bream and put my bait right in the middle of them. Out of nowhere a shiny silver horse mackerel grabbed my bait and 30 seconds after putting my hook in the water I had him netted.

The waiter came and took my prize from me and sent it to the kitchen. Rachel's fishing experience took a bit longer. The sea bream are either quite a bit smarter or just less hungry than the mackerel and it took her around 40 minutes to get one of them.

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When we got back to our table the mackerel was waiting for us. It was arranged on a raft made from twigs in a bowl full of rocks and dry ice. On the back of the bowl they had skewered the remainder of the fish so you could look it in the eye as you devoured it. They even have an option to send the head and bones back to have them simmered in soy sauce so you don't miss any of it. When it was all done we were completely full and headed back to our capsule for one last sleep. Overall, It was an awesome experience and was a great finish to an amazing week.


Day Seven

Our last day in Tokyo was very short as we had a flight to Manila leaving at 9:30am. We had to say goodbye to our beloved capsule and head off toward the airport. Before we left, however we had one last order of business to attend to...

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Now don't worry. I promise that I'm not going to get in to a lot of details on this blog about the bathroom situations around the world, but the Japanese toilets deserve mentioning. I've never seen such attention paid to the quality of the toilet experience. The toilet pictured above is just your standard run-of-the-mill units you'll find in many restaurants and hotels. When you walk up to it and sit down on the heated seat, it greets you (in a female voice speaking Japanese) and says a few words. After that it begins playing the sound of a babbling brook as you do your business. The sound continues until you are finished and select one of the variety of rinse options. Warm water cleans you up and as soon as you stand up the toilet flushes automatically. Between the bidet, the automated voice, the warmer, and the seat cleansing gel dispenser there were four different power plugs going into the outlet on the wall. How many does your toilet have?

On the way to the airport we took some pictures of one of the many automated parking garage systems they had installed in the building next door. The way it works is that you drive your car in to a garage area and on to a platform. Then you leave it with the attendant and go in to the building. Your car is raised by a mechanism on to a vertical storage wall that takes up a fraction of the space per car as a traditional garage would since it does not have to have any space for driving around. When you retrieve your car you back off the platform onto a railroad style turn table that turns your car 180 degrees around so that you can drive out of the building frontwards. It is a very interesting system.

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We took a metro to the Haneda airport which is much closer than Narita airport over 60km away that we flew in to. Since this flight was not connected in any way with the USA, we were hoping that some of the ridiculous policies that the TSA follows would be different when flying between two non US countries. Unfortunately, however, The airport experience was very much like we were used to. The security lines were even slower because instead of a single agent for each of the myriad of jobs, the Japanese only had one agent running two or three stations. This caused a lot of running around and very little efficiency. It seemed somewhat un-Japanese.

At the boarding gate, they boarded people in groups, but instead of getting on the plane we were just going out to a bus. We were the very last people on the bus and were stuck near the door. However, when the bus arrived at the plane (quite a ways away) we were the first people aboard...it was handy for us, but what an odd system.

After a short delay on the tarmac our plane taxied out to the runway and we were off. Goodbye Tokyo. We will return when we have more time.

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