From Singapore, I took a red eye flight to Japan which landed at the Narita International Airport at 6:30am (approximately 7 hours of flight time). My connecting flight to NYC was scheduled to depart at 6:30pm that same evening, so I only had a brief layover to hang out in Tokyo.
I had studied abroad in Tokyo at Sophia University上智大学 (jochi daigaku) for a semester in Spring 2005. Since I had already done the majority of the touristy stuff before, I was able to focus this quick visit on the most important things in Tokyo: seeing my “little brother” Yui-chan, eating sushi at Tsukiji, and buying boxes of Yoku Moku cookies.
Once I exited from passport control at Narita, I headed to the orange Limousine Bus Counter located in the Arrival Lobby. I bought a bus ticket to the ANA Intercontinental Hotel, which is located in Akasaka in central Tokyo. A one-way ticket costs ¥3,000 and takes 1.5-2 hours driving time to arrive at the hotel. The fastest method to get to central Tokyo from Narita is the Narita Express train, which only takes 53 minutes to get to Tokyo Station for a fare of ¥2,940. However, since I was planning to grab lunch at the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is located a short drive from the ANA hotel, the bus was recommended as the most direct route.
Yui picked me up from the hotel drop off location, and we cruised through the streets of Tokyo. I enjoyed taking in the familiar sights, such as the iconic Tokyo Tower and the numerous temples and shrines located at every corner. I was always fascinated with the fact that so many religions were able to coexist (somewhat) peacefully in Japan. I knew many families that observed both Buddhist and Shinto practices, and had symbols of both adorning their homes.
Tsukiji Market (築地市場 Tsukiji shijō) is one of my favorite destinations in Tokyo, primarily because sushi is my favorite food of all time! Formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Whole Sale Market (東京都中央卸売市場 Tōkyō-to Chūō Oroshiuri Shijō), Tsukiji is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It is also the biggest wholesale food market of any kind.
Tsukiji handles over 2,000 metric tons of seafood per day, which includes more than 400 different types of seafood. The 300kg tuna fish, expensive caviars, and controversial whale species are definitely sights to behold. The market is comprised of an outer and inner market. The inner market is a licensed wholesale market where auctions take place from 5-7am daily (the market itself opens at 3am). The outer market contains several wholesale and retail shops selling restaurant tools and supplies, as well as several sushi restaurants themselves.
When I was a student in Japan, my friends and I were able to check out the early morning auctions by not going to sleep the night before. We went clubbing in Roppongi from midnight until the trains started running again at 5am, and then we headed to Tsukiji to catch all the action. The sashimi I tasted that morning at 6am was the freshest and most delicious fish I had ever tasted in my life, and I was eager to try it again.
Yui took me to Sushi-Zanmai, a bustling chain restaurant located throughout Japan, and we indulged in a sushi feast. We started with a proper (huge) bowl of miso soup that had an entire crab inside.
We ordered many nigirizushi and temakizushi selections, of course including my favorite anago (salt-water eel). In Japan, anago and unagi is always served as a whole piece (sometimes 1ft in length, which is sometimes amusing to see placed over a 2″ mound of rice). I wish U.S. restaurants would stop skimping and follow suit and give me the whole eel!
After lunch, we wandered around the mall in Roppongi Hills. Back when I was a student in Japan, my host family had strongly discouraged me from spending time in Roppongi, as it is known as gaijin (foreigner) territory. Most expatriate residents and foreign tourists will stick to Roppongi, as it is slightly more English-friendly than the rest of Japan. My host family wanted me to get the authentic Japanese experience by spending more time with the locals, and so the only time I had been to Roppongi was that one time before my first Tsukiji adventure.
When my time was up, I took the bus to head back to Narita. While waiting for my flight, I headed to the duty-free shops to pick up some last minute souvenirs, such as my favorite Yoku Moku cookies. I also noticed the shops sold whole king crabs duty-free. Only in Japan!
Finally, I had to spend some time admiring the craftsmanship of the numerous fake food displays. These plastic food models are sculpted by hand and look incredibly like the actual dishes. The business of making fake food is apparently pretty profitable in Japan. It has also become recognized as an art form, with exhibitions featured in museums like the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Japan never ceases to amaze and enthrall me! And with that, my brief Asian adventure was concluded… for now… 🙂