Find the Fish

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Every traveller to Tokyo is, it seems, immediately bombarded with commands and questions directly pertaining to their presence at the famous fish market at Tsukiji, deep within the bay of Tokyo. It has been almost four months since I arrived in the city, which at the very least rules out using the experience as a barrier against jet lag, so at the continuous request of a particular parent and after no less than four failed attempts I came to be blinking in the very un-rainy seasonal sun at nine o’clock in the morning.

Here, Mashimoto demonstrates the correct way to play an unagi.

Here, Mashimoto demonstrates the correct way to play the unagi.

The 5 am tuna auction is perhaps the most well known aspect of this place, but given that photography is generally not allowed and that getting a place would require me to get the last train from Koenji and wait for four hours, I thought it far more pleasant to skip the whole affair and simply see the post-auction market in action. Surprisingly, the market proper was almost free of tourists. Unsurprisingly, the guidebook-recommended sushi restaurants on the outskirts were not. This allowed me some quality time with some totally unconcerned fishermen in their natural habitat.

As many guidebooks say, tourists at tolerated here rather than welcomed. One has absolutely no right of way amongst the serious looking men wielding comically enormous knives or dock workers speeding about on dollies piles high with frozen fish.

JKR_9796This has definite advantages to the budding street photographer, however, as it allows him to move about effectively unnoticed by his subjects as they go about their morning. The bulk of the day’s commerce has actually been completed by the time tourists are allowed in, so there was a general air of reaching the end of a long morning amongst many of the staff, who were relaxing and having breakfast while their superiors worked on the accounts. Nevertheless, fish were still out and being sold at a steady pace.

While Tsukiji may not be quite the number one attraction Tokyo has to offer (in this wanderer’s opinion, at least), it is most definitely an experience for those looking for ‘the real Japan’. The replacement of sugar coating with a mix of slime, fish blood and water will be refreshing for many. I personally chose sleep over the tuna auction, and have few if any regrets about doing so. Other sources have advised that it is best to avoid the main sushi restaurants where the queues can hit two hours and explore the area a little more to find shops where the fish has had to travel a grand total of 30m further. Just be sure to have your camera ready and your wits about you.

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Cats are Blasé

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I am not generally to be found soaking up the utterly bizarre counterculture of Harajuku, but some of the less fashion-centric trends tend to find their way out into (relatively) less edgy neighbourhoods like Koenji. Cat cafés became somewhat better known in the UK after one opened in London, but here in Tokyo they are almost old-hat now. Being not quite emotionally ready to handle a maid café, it was to Café Baron that I journeyed on my first morning as a nineteen year old.

JKR_9580A small room, littered with paraphernalia both strigidaean and tytonidaen and run by a quiet man with a long ponytail, the café is dominated (visually, if not spatially) by a corner by the window, wherein two owls can be found sleepily gazing out onto the street outside. Having ordered out cinnamon teas, the owner brought out the first of the two owls. Having fluttered up to the back of a chair in the middle of the room, he began the rather arduous task of preening his many feathers, occasionally pausing to stare in a somewhat shocked manner at the patrons drinking and watching, casting accusatory looks at the owner whenever another customer walked in. His vigilance was such that all who entered bowed to both hosts.

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Although there as no touching allowed, we could get very close indeed to the birds. While this larger one maintained his position for most of our stay (he later hopped down and looked very significantly from the door of the enclosure to the owner), the barn owl was rather more mobile, and seemed far more dishevelled from its slumber, although this was soon cleared up by further preening. JKR_9592Both were very quiet and pleasant, posing for photos when needed, although one man who tried to get a clear shot of the back of the barn owl’s head was foiled in every attempt by the its turning round every time he approached with camera primed.

Cats and maids are all very well, but this is one of the few places where one can satisfy strigiformal sympathies in a relaxed and slightly bizarre environment. A little extra research has taught me that such places are far from limited – mice, rabbits and guinea pigs have also joined the ranks of animals that ultra-fashionable Japanese can gaze at and play with while sipping very expensive drinks. Maybe in five years these too will be enjoyed by the folk of London town.

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