Thursday, May 20, 2010

Turning Japanese - Tsukiji Fish Market(Tokyo)

The Chocolate Bunny is going Japanese for a few weeks: Laurent and I have said “Good-bye to all of this,” and are currently in Tokyo! I lived here for a little under a year when I was 11. Obviously, it's changed a lot since then, but I'm so excited to have the chance to rediscover Japan!

I'm sure no one here will be surprised that the very first thing we did was check out the Tsukiji Fish Market. Well, no, actually, the very first thing we did was get 9 hours of sleep, after more than 24 hours in transit (from the time we headed for the Montreal airport to when we finally arrived at our hotel in Tokyo). And the second thing we did was find breakfast.

We had gotten up too early to enjoy the hotel breakfast (which had never, ever happened to me before), so we bought a couple of onigiri (riceballs) at the nearby combini (convenience store). I had actually never eaten these when I lived in Japan, and it was definitely something I needed to cross off my list.

The nori is separated from the rice with plastic film, so that it remains crunchy until you eat it. You can't tell from the pic, but my onigiri had a kombu filling. Yum!

With that out of the way, we headed on over to Tsukiji. I had my heart set on attending the infamous tuna auctions, but unfortunately those are currently closed to the public. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to see.

First thing: the fish market is a surprisingly scary place. Well, not scary, but stressful. The little carts pictured above are everywhere around the market, and even in some of the narrow alleys between the stalls. Unlike cars, they are very quick to turn and shift gears, and are therefore quite unpredictable. Not getting run over was a prime concern of mine, especially since I tend to space out easily – I'm already in danger whenever I step out in Montreal!

As you can see, there is little room to navigate between the stalls in the market itself. And, as in any popular market, there is a lot of action, a lot of comings and goings. Tourists are tolerated, but we definitely felt it important not to make a nuisance of ourselves, and not get in anyone's way. So usually, when one of us took pictures, the other stayed on the lookout for little carts, or fishmongers in a hurry.

Even though we had missed the tuna auctions, there were still a few lying around. They are as enormous as rumored (although these are actually not the biggest ones we saw).

It's quite the "before and after process," as you can see.

And, of course, there was every kind of fish and seafood possibly imaginable, most of which I couldn't even identify.

Someone had told me that, amazingly, the market doesn't reek of fish in the slightest. That is absolutely true. It smells like the sea, but there is no unpleasant odor whatsoever. I haven't been to a fish market in Montreal in a while, but Laurent confirms that the fish back home definitely smell a lot more.

We left Tsukiji around 9 a.m., just as it was starting to get more crowded. We did some other stuff during the rest of the morning (mostly browsing around Ginza, a high-density shopping area), but we came back to the market area for lunch. We went to Sushi Zenmai (the tourist guide book recommended it – yes, I am a tourist, why hide it?), where we were ushered in and loudly greeted by the entire staff. Throughout the meal, the waiters and chefs regularly yelled out orders, in addition to enthusiastically greeting and saying goodbye to any customer who walked through the door. I don't remember ever eating in such an animated restaurant back when I was living here – probably not, as noise was never my parents' thing. I loved it, though. And sitting at the counter, directly in front of the chefs, was quite a treat.

My Japanese is terrible, but good enough to more or less express needs and desires – and having a menu with pictures obviously helps. I had a sushi platter, which I completely forgot to photograph. Laurent had a chirashi-don, a bowl of rice topped with various slices of fish and seafood. Again, I had no idea what half the fish were. All I knew was that it was all super fresh, and delicious.

I can't wait to find out what the rest of the trip will bring.


  1. Oooo that all sounds so exciting! Your first day sounds like you already had a great time. Can't wait to hear the rest of your stories and by the time you come back I will probably be in Italy... :) Have fun!

  2. How glorious!
    Fish markets just blow my mind ... the variety is so incredible and then I think there's so much more we never see.

  3. Glad for you it was a pleasant smell. OK questions...what is kombu filling?

  4. love the pictures of japan! Hope you continue to enjoy your stay over there and keep us posted with food pictures :P

  5. Ooooh,...aaaaaah, exciting for you 2!! Enjoy it all!

    Thanks for this lovely recap!

  6. Enjoy your trip in Japan! Take lots and lots of pictures, I know I will have to go to Japan some time in my career.

  7. I am in awe. What an amazing place and experience. Thank you for sharing. I will be back@
    (green with envy)

  8. Wow, so much fun! Enjoy your trip!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  9. Oh, Val..I wish I was there with you! The photos look spectacular and just the thought of the varieties at the fish market render me super green! Have a wonderful rest of the trip and looking forward to seeing and hearing all about it! *hugs*