Tsukiji Fish Market Round 1
The 3:45AM wakeup call was not pleasant but one of those sacrifices you have to make to see the tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market. The sun was barely up either as we walked from our hotel to the market. The lucky thing for us was that the Conrad was only 15 minutes away so we didn’t need to grab an expensive cab. The unlucky part for us was that when we got there at 4:30AM at the northern gate of the market, there was a sign out saying all reservations were gone. Yikes, we totally thought we were okay but even 4:30 wasn’t good enough.
Not wanting to waste the early wake up I thought it would make sense for us to line up for one of the sushi restaurants instead. We asked the guard where to go but he couldn’t really explain it very well. Then all of a sudden some guy working at the fish market walked over and was really excited to take us to where Daiwa was. Again it’s incredible how friendly Japanese people are. He asked us where we were from among a few other things. After we made it to the restaurant he made a comment about how “Japanese people like to make line” and left. The one I had read about Daiwa oddly enough didn’t have a line but there was another restaurant I believe called Sushi Dai which had at least 20 or more people queued up (Lonely Planet effect?).
We waited for a good hour until *gasp the place finally opened up and we were ushered into our spots. The place itself is really tiny and seats only around 10 people with 3 main sushi chefs working behind. We were also told to put our bags in a corner near the cash register, which made sense to ensure it didn’t clog up the aisle or disturb the other guests.
We were so excited to be in it totally overrode our lack of sleep. There wasn’t much we needed to decide once we got in because the 3500 JPY set menu was pretty much what everyone gets so we kind of gave the head chef a nod about our decision. We were lucky enough to sit right by where the master sushi chef was working from and he got working right away.
I hope the following photos don’t send you into full on foodgasm but prepare yourself. This was probably some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. Feast your eyes on this! If there’s another useful Japanese word you need to know it’s “Oishi” and this was the appropriate time and place to do it.
Even after our set meal was done we wanted more so we ended up ordering another uni, scallop and mackerel. I was going to beat myself up for not making the tuna auction but the chance to get into the restaurant without waiting in line at all made it all worthwhile!
With our tummies filled to the brim and satisfied we found our way to the Seafood Intermediate Wholesalers Area. Now this area was technically closed off to visitors but we just casually strolled in. It was pretty neat seeing how the different shops had their wares laid out and different shop owners cutting up their catches. It was all great until the security officer found us. We played the dumb tourist card and he escorted us outside. Plans foiled, we figured it was about time to head back to the hotel. The time was around 7 at this point.
Curious about what the breakfast in the lounge was like, we checked it out and grabbed some light food and drinks.
The Imperial Palace
Feeling refreshed we made our way to the Imperial Palace first. We hopped on the JR line and took it around to Tokyo Station and made the rest of the way on foot. I kept on commenting on how it felt like I was in New York. The area around Tokyo station really gives you a feeling of being dwarfed by large skyscrapers, men and women in suits and gridded streets. The only difference here of course is that Tokyo somehow manages to be 10x cleaner.
Once we got to the area we realized how huge this place was. The scale seemed almost like a Central Park. We eventually found some sort of entrance inside and this turned out to be the East Gardens. We had quite the nice stroll walking around what ended up being just a normal park with some remains of castle walls and a few samurai guard houses. To be honest I was a bit disappointed. I was totally thinking in my head that I would be able to see a huge Edo period castle but instead because of fires, disasters and WWII bombings there really wasn’t anything left. We also found out later that most of the Imperial Palace grounds is fully closed off because the current emperor and empress reside there.
Hungry again, we started looking for some food on our way back to Tokyo station but couldn’t find any. Instead Chantelle changed a bit more JPY and I tried using my bank card to withdraw money from an ATM but got rejected (see the tips on why below).
Failing to find anything, we hopped on the JR to Akhirabara – center of the universe for all things electronic, anime, maid cafes, AKB48 and nerds. This area immediately feels different once you walk out of the subway with large obnoxious bright and large signs, teens roaming around and people dressed a little bit more strangely. We went into one building in search of food and found some Japanese curry we had been craving for.
After that we just randomly roamed around the neighbourhood, going into stores that looked interesting. A lot of stores sold a lot of generic electronics that you’d find in a electronics market in China or Hong Kong and the others were almost purely anime with levels upon levels of CDs, DVDs, memorabilia. The upper floors of course are designated for anime of the adult variety so we had a fun time walking through the aisles and seeing a variety of young boys or older men.
Ah and yes Akhirabara is known for their maid cafes and we thought it might be fun to check one out. Tons of girls in school uniforms or maid dresses line up the streets handing out leaflets. After we finished at Yodobashi (huge electronics outlet) we went up to one to take a look at leaflet. We couldn’t read it of course but Chantelle continued to ask where the maid café was. They pointed in the direction of where we needed to go. And then Chantelle persisted by asking if they worked as maids at the place they were advertising. They had no idea what she was saying. We followed their directions but when we got there, all they had were these posters of scandalous women giving massages. The place looked too sketchy so we decided to bail. Long story short…we didn’t get to go to a maid café sadly.
To end the night we took the JR to Harajuku to see if we could hunt down more interesting outfits. Harajuku is known for their Lolita girls which I didn’t really know about until this trip. Sadly I never got a chance to capture any on film but imagine little girls with a frightening amount of make up in emo like school girl outfits made from the 1800s. Of all the streets I ended up exploring in Japan I thought the Harajuku area was probably the best in terms of shops, people watching and restaurants. We didn’t make it that far along Takeshita Street because we found the Daiso (Japanese Dollar Store) and spent a good hour there. Daiso was probably the only store in Japan that I actually bought something non-food related. By the time we came out of Daiso all the other stores were closing shop so there wasn’t much left to see.
Exploring a few other random streets I found this crepe shop on the side of the street. This place is truly a marvel where they combined two of my favourite desserts. Crepes and cheesecakes in one. Genius right? It was as amazing as it sounds crazy.
For dinner we passed by a lot of international food places until we found a local tiny restaurant in a small alley. I was skeptical about this place as nothing was in English but we figured it’d be fun to try. As I suspected it was quite the challenge to order food but luckily the chef knew a little and came out to explain to us their set menus. I don’t think he even bothered with some of the a-la-carte menu items. The food here wasn’t the greatest but it was quite the cultural experience with all the Japanese locals.
After that extremely long day we took the JR back to Shimbashi station and then walked back home.
- Tsukiji Fish Market
- The bottom line is you have to wake up really early to even make it to the tuna auction. They recently changed the rules so that only 120 people area allowed in each day split over two time slots (5:25AM and 5:50AM). The second time we went to the fish market we made it there just after 4AM and we were already #78 and #79. The experience is quite worth it but you’ll see the details in one of my last blogs from Tokyo.
- Also make sure you make it to the restaurants there. Sushi Dai and Daiwa are the go-to places but expect to line up. If you failed at going to the auction you might as well go straight to the restaurants.
- Seafood Intermediate Wholesaler’s Area – This place is only open after 9AM to 11AM. It’s also worth it to do this section if you time everything well. It’s pretty interesting to see the comings and goings of fishermen, shop owners and fresh seafood.
- Restaurant reservations – For a lot of the well known restaurants in Tokyo it’s important to make reservations a day in advance. We did this for the entire trip and didn’t run into any problems (except when we were late).
- Harajuku is a must-visit area of Tokyo. Tons of fun. You will not be disappointed.
- ATM – If you have a foreign debit card like I did, you’re going to run into problems withdrawing from normal legit bank ATMs. For some reason these machines don’t take foreign cards. The only machine that worked for me the entire trip was the 7-Eleven. This one worked all the time. So don’t worry…your card didn’t get locked. It’s the bank’s problem. Just go over to any 7-Eleven which won’t be hard to find and you’ll be good to go.
- Wake up at 3:45AM
- Find out we won’t be able to do the Tsukiji Fish Market tuna auction. Wait in line at Daiwa restaurant.
- Restaurant opens at 5:30 and we have the best sushi we’ll ever have (except for maybe at Jiro’s hah)
- Sneak into the Seafood Intermediate Wholesaler’s Area before getting kicked out
- Go to the Conrad Tokyo lounge for a bit more food
- Nap until 11AM
- Imperial Palace East Gardens
- Explore Akhirabara with curry lunch in the area
- Explore Harajuku – Daiso
- Dinner at a random Japanese-only restaurant right off of Omotesando Street
If you’re looking to do any travelling around Japan, I highly recommend picking up a JRailPass. Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase it before your trip and ship it to your home.
Check out the Next Day
Head on to the next day in Hakoni: Day 81 – Hakone – Onsen Time.
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.