Friday, June 26, 2009

Japan Day 12 - Tsukiji, River Cruise and Sensoji

By Leo

What a day this was! After all the shopping, we really wanted to do more cultural things today, so we planned it all out. We didn't end up doing it all, but it was still quite an experience.

We started out super early -- we left the house before 5 a.m. so we could get to the Tsukiji Fish Market (pronounced "ski-ji"), the top recommended tourist experience in many guidebooks.

When we got there, there were no signs telling tourists where to go. In fact, it seemed like tourists weren't welcome. We made our way through speeding carts, wet fishy pavement, and people hauling around all kinds of boxes and seafood. The dodginess of it all, however, is part of the appeal.

Here's a worker with a coupla large tuna that will soon be fresh sashimi or sushi.

The auction was something like we've never seen before -- it was worth hauling Eva and the kids out at 5 a.m. for this! Basically, there are several auctioneers in a room filled with huge, huge frozen tuna (caught the day before) and lots of buyers (or middlemen who will sell it to restaurants and groceries). An auctioneer will ring a brass bell for a couple of minutes before starting to auction a group of tuna laid out on the floor in front of him. He stands on a box and starts yelling things crazily and loudly and quickly, unlike any auctioneer I've ever heard. He seriously sounds demented. The buyers will bid with gestures, but all of the action is with the auctioneer -- he looks like he's going to burst a vessel. Sometimes there are a few going on at once, all in a huge cold warehouse.

Some of the tuna laid out in rows.

Here are some of the little shops and stands outside the Tsukiji fish market. You can get some good sushi and seafood in these little restaurants -- or so I'm told. We didn't actually eat breakfast here because the kids weren't in the mood -- they wanted something more American. So we went to Denny's and had pancakes. I know, but they're kids. :)

After our pancake breakfast we checked out a little temple. This is a fountain with ladles near the temple that I thought was neat.

We were going to go to the Hama Detached Palace Gardens next (it's very close to Tsukiji fish market), but it was still 8 a.m. and the gardens didn't open until 9 a.m. So we found a little playground and the kids played while Eva and I rested. Above, Maia enjoys the swing while the boys play some incomprehensible game in the background.

Eva pushes Noelle, who experiences pure joy known only to 3 year olds.

And here's the Hama Detached Palace Garden, really a beautiful garden that used to be part of the Tokugawa Shogun family's residences. The shogun hunted ducks here, we understand. It was extremely peaceful, nicely tended, an oasis among some really huge skyscrapers.

This is the teahouse in the Hama Gardens, where Chloe and Maia and I had some green tea and a Japanese sweet served to us. The teahouse seems to float on this little pond. The tea and sweet were delicious. Unfortunately, I embarrassed myself by spilling some of the tea while trying to demonstrate to the girls how refined I was. :)

After we strolled through the gardens, we took the Sumida River Cruise, which has a stop right at the edge of the gardens. Unfortunately, I was low on cash as there are so few ATMs in Tokyo that accept my debit card, so we couldn't buy tickets at first. I had to leave the gardens, run around the business district in the area looking for ATMs -- and it took me three tries at three different ATMs to get the cash -- and then run back, pay another entrance fee into the gardens, while Eva and the kids waited for me. Then we bought the tickets and took the river cruise. Above, Eva enjoys the peaceful river while Seth takes a rest.

Actually, the river seemed to have a sleepy effect on most of the kids, who had been up since 4:30 a.m.

At the end of the cruise, we were in Asakusa, a nice little district that is more traditional than the more modern districts in Tokyo. This is a little restaurant that had a tree and benches I really liked.

In Asakusa, we headed for the famous Senso-ji Buddhist temple, which was very cool but turns out to be at the center of a lot of little shops aimed at tourists. The shops are mostly along Nakamise Dori, a little pedestrian street with everything for sale from Japanese toys to samurai swords to sweets and t-shirts and shoes and handbags. Being the tourists we are, we loved it. :)

Senso-ji temple was pretty cool, if a little overcrowded.

Chloe washes her hands and drinks from the fountain with a ladle. The water was cool and clean and cleansing. There was also an incence burning thing where you are supposed to inhale the smoke and it gets rid of illnesses. Also, you can toss coins in the temple and pray. The temple is like a thousand years old (I forget the details now), although it has been rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII.

After the temple, we went home, exhausted after a long day of really cool sightseeing.

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