Waking up at five am is never pleasing, especially on vacation. But the blaring alarm signaled a new day, the promise of adventure. With my legs still stiff from the 14-hour flight, I arose and peered outside, a blank canvas of a day in the Land of the Rising Sun.
My task today was to go from my familiar hotel in Tokyo’s center (a rather expensive but well located place to stay in Tokyo’s Shinjuku-Ku neighborhood) to the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market (there are several other resources with tips on arriving at and enjoying the open air). To do so, I had to conquer the Tokyo Metro, a conglomeration of symbols, maps, and signs that could stump even the most avid navigator. (Become familiar with the Web site before embarking on the intellectual journey—but also don’t be afraid to get lost and explore where you end up.) Although my first instinct was to ask a friendly face, English was nowhere to be found; Japan is a place where the native tongue and courteous body language preside. With luck, however, I managed to arrive on the correct platform. On that quiet metro, I resisted the automated urge to pull out my phone and instead observed my surroundings: the passengers and the way of Japanese patience and consideration, their homogeneity, countered by unique characters. Enraptured in the lives of others, I almost faded away, but snapped back. Next stop: Tsukiji Fish Market.
Upon leaving the station, my senses were caught in a whirlwind of conflict: the undeniable scent of seafood, the shrill yelling of auctioneers, and the brisk wind of a zooming supply truck. Gaining energy, I picked up my pace and headed towards the entrance. Once I passed a certain threshold of tranquility, I was confronted by chaos: Glorious, stinky, fascinating chaos. As I roamed through the vendors, I concluded that Tsukiji Fish Market is not for the feeble-stomached, for fish carcasses and blood-stained utensils sat everywhere. Hearty, but awesome—from squirming octopus to oddities like eel, wandering the market is never a bore.
Towards the end of my time exploring the crooked aisles, I came across a man wielding his knife against a beautiful hunk of red tuna. As I stood, transfixed by the glimmer of the scales, he carved out the eye and signaled me to consume it. Shocked but curious, I gingerly reached forward and courageously plopped it in my mouth. I momentarily cringed, but battled through the discomfort until it met my stomach. Bowing towards the fish guru, I caught his amused gaze and presented my deep appreciation back; that benevolent man taught me more about the Japanese than any guide book could have.
Visiting the market, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Oftentimes, touristy locations are contained and tidy, with an abundance of pesky merchants. At Tsukiji Fish Market, I realized that “tourist attractions” are a false façade of the country, not an accurate depiction of its people. At Tsukiji Fish Market, I fell in love with the real Japan, not some censored version of the truth. My time on the archipelago taught me the importance of respecting others, but beyond that a profound sense of tolerance towards people from all walks of life. Directly interacting with the Japanese offered me a glimpse of traditions thousands of years old and has made me a more reflective person. In November 2016, this gem is relocating to a new neighborhood; therefore, discover the market’s magic while you can!
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