This year, I was required to travel to Japan for work; so every couple of months I end up in Tokyo. This is a city like no other. I have been fortunate enough to experience it through winter, spring and summer. The most striking time you will ever see Tokyo is spring, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. These even flank the airport runway and is a beautiful sight when you first arrive. Quite the contrast from the cold, concrete, electronic screen city that Tokyo is recognised as during the rest of the year.
My first real point of interest was the famous Tsukiji fish market. There are two distinct sections of the market as a whole. The “inner market” is the licensed wholesale market, where the auctions and most of the processing of the fish take place, and where licensed wholesale dealers (approximately 900 of them) operate small stalls. The “outer market” is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops that sell Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries, seafood, and many sushi restaurants. The market opens at 3am and the inner market auctions start at 5:20am. The most impressive being the Tuna auction (both fresh and frozen) being brought in by plane and ship from all around the world. This is where I was somewhat torn; the chef in me was alive, mouth-watering at the possibilities of such amazing fish. But the conservationist in me kept me grounding, reminding me that these prized blue fin tuna are now featured on the endangered species list as well as every menu in Japan…..
The food in general in Tokyo is great. They have a somewhat refined fast food culture. But not fast food as we know – McDonald’s, Burger king, etc. Instead they have Stand up sushi bars, Ramen, Katso. Now when I say that these are fast food I am simply referring to the speed the patrons dine. They are literally in and out; but the food is really great restaurant quality. The first think you see when you enter these restaurants is a vending machine listing all the menu items. After making your selection you put your money in and then receive a corresponding ticket with your menu choice. You then take a seat at the communal seating counter and give your ticket with the waiter, who will in turn give you a glass of tea while you wait. Literally within 5 minutes you will be presented with a steaming hot bowl of pork bone ramen or a bowl of rice topped with crisp katsu, freshly rolled sushi, etc, depending on the place you are at.
As most diners are alone, conversation rarely takes place as it would in the Western world. Instead you are expected to gulp down your food and leave as swiftly as you entered so the line of people waiting at the door can have the privilege to do the same. As I go to Tokyo on business, I usually eat alone. So these restaurants offer a fun an inexpensive way to dine, while experiencing some great, typical Japanese cuisine.