Where in the World Is Peter Bender? Tokyo
My last post took a look at Germany and Austria, but this time we’re changing continents.
Our trip to Tokyo was the first time either of us had been to Asia. Knowing that the cultural differences would be a bit more than what we’d seen in Europe, I was pretty nervous about inadvertently offending someone. However, the people there are so gracious and welcoming. A few Japanese phrases here or there signaled we were trying. It’s one of those places where I didn’t really know what to expect.
We were a bit overwhelmed when walking through Shinjuku station upon arrival (it serves an average of 3.5 million passengers per day) but as soon as we stepped outside, we were swept up by all of the excitement of the city. It was a rainy evening, but the bright lights illuminated the sky and the sea of umbrellas kept us moving swiftly down the sidewalks. I think it would have taken hours to find our hotel without Google maps, but after some twists and turns down the narrow streets, we arrived. This reminded me of how utterly dependent I’ve become on mobile technology in travel, which is true both for navigation as well as discovering new places. For me, my favorite category of “new places” is food.
The food options in Tokyo are limitless. Ramen, izakaya, sushi. So much. Everywhere. And it’s so good.
Armed with some great recommendations from friends (and copious amounts of Google searching), we more or less scheduled our days around meal periods. We visited some of the department store food courts, hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, yakitori spots, and the corner 7-Eleven. Yes, 7-Eleven. If you haven’t been to Japan before, this might surprise you, but the convenience stores have a wide selection of high-quality, reasonably priced food items. I went there every day for breakfast, and it was great.
A favorite destination on this trip was Tsukiji Fish Market. It was the one time we didn’t open up Google Maps and blindly follow the screen. Instead, at 3 a.m. we walked outside of the hotel, hailed a cab, and said, “Fish market please.” The driver knew exactly where we wanted to go. Tsukiji Market is full of any sea creature you could imagine, and it’s especially well-known for its bluefin tuna auction. Each day, only sixty visitors are allowed to the auction, hence the early wake-up call to make sure we got our spot.
When we arrived, we were given blue mesh vests to identify us as part of the group, and then we waited in a room until the auction began. At 6 a.m. we were led to the auction floor, where dozens of tuna were on display for the bidders. These giant, torpedo-looking fish were being carefully examined until a bell rang and the auction began. The auctioneer’s chant filled the otherwise silent room where bids were being made using only subtle hand gestures. No technology here; only simple pieces of paper and the extensive knowledge of each grader were used in making the transactions. This was truly unlike anything else I’d experienced.
In retrospect, there was really nothing to be nervous about in traveling to Japan. The people couldn’t have been nicer, the transportation system was amazing, and the food was delicious. Out of every trip we’ve taken, Tokyo is now at the top of our favorites list, and we hope to go back again someday.