Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Japan, April 8th - Tokyo

We went to the Tsukiji fish market Saturday morning. While I had been there twice before, the commplex is so mazelike, I don't think I ever fully grasped its scale. The warehouses seem to stretch out forever, with one small vendor after another. We arrived at its peak hour, so we constantly had to step aside for little motorized fish carts and men in rubber boots and spattered aprons. We saw some huge frozen fish and many unidentifiable creatures.

Determined to achieve the pinnacle of sushi-eating, we decided to have breakfast at one of the restaurants. Like the stalls that sell whole fish, they're all tiny and crowded, and we had to wait outside in a queue. We eventually ordered the 7-variety bowl, containing tuna, negi-toro (chopped toro with green onions), ika, ikura, uni, ebi, and egg. The raw shrimp was surprisingly good, and the other sushi was flawless, but fresh almost to the point of tastelessness.

Well sated, we headed to Harajuku for some teenage peoplewatching. Omotesando-dori was thronged with young people visiting designer shops, and Takeshita-dori was pretty crowded too, despite a rainstorm. There was of hairspray, hair dye, ripped jeans, and fancy shoes, but dissapointingly few people in costume. Apparently Sunday, not Saturday, is the day all the cosplay crowd hangs out on the bridge by the station. We did see a couple of Lolitas (girls in Victorian Bo-Peep-style outfits), and a crowd staring at three Ganguro/Yamababa girls (blonde, with dark tans and pastel makeup).

Around the corner, Yoyogi park had some better peoplewatching. A group of teenagers was doing stunts on a trampoline. We watched them dive into a thorny bush and jump into a tree. One even waded through the pond and tried to snuff out a 30-foot fountain with his rear end. (I'm sure you can find their videos on the internet somewhere.) A couple was walking their cat and dog, and girls were introducing their ferrets. People were practicing Kendo, drumming, Flamenco dancing, jump-roping, juggling, and even doing martial arts routines in Power Ranger-style bodysuits. And hundreds of normal, looking people were walking, playing frisbee, or picnicking under the cherry trees.

In the evening, we took the unmanned Yurikamome train across Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, the island entertainment complex in Tokyo Bay. We walked through Venus Fort, a shopping arcade that looks like Caesar's Palace, and checked out the cars at Mega Web, a Toyota showroom-cum-amusement-park. (We didn't get to do test drives, the electic vehicle test course, or the motion simulator, though.) We had dinner under the 115-meter neon Ferris wheel at First Kitchen, a fast food joint with a Japanese twist. Our favorite menu items: matcha green tea float, yuzu citrus breaded port cutlet sandwich with cabbage, macaroni gratin pizza, and corn-flavored French fries (curry-flavored are a close second). The flavored fries are an especially fun gimmick: they put them in a paper bag with the flavoring powder, then roll it down and shake like crazy before serving them.

We decided not to ride the Ferris wheel, and headed to our hotel after walking through a huge video arcade complete with fun houses, haunted houses, batting cages, bowling, ping pong, billiards, and rideable motorized stuffed animals in addition to the usual stuff.