Archive for November, 2008

Tsukiji (Tokyo) – The Sea Burst onto the Ground

Tsukiji is the world’s largest fish market – 10x the size of its nearest competitor. This had to be a stop on my trip in Tokyo. Tourists are tolerated but it’s a stressful time – narrow aisles, slippery floors, packed crowds of busy shoppers, and motorized vehicles that are aiming for you from every direction – you have to be alert. And mindful that these people scurrying around are trying to make a living, many owners of small mom and pop shops across Tokyo.

Most of the fish is housed under one gigantic roof that runs seemingly forever. There are hundreds (thousands?) of stalls, most themselves mom and pop operations, that have about 100-150 sqft of “retail” space; and a very tiny office, usually large enough for just a chair and a cash register. The stalls and aisles are generally organized by type of seafood.

You will obviously see a lot of blood and death – not to mention corpses being hacked by knife and power saws. The seafood runs the entire gamut of possibilities – from the familiar to monstrosities straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is fascinating to think of all the permutations of shrimp and fish – and it certainly provides ample excuse for repeat trips to Tokyo sushi spots.

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Koju (Ginza, Tokyo) – Minimalism and Perfectionism

The Western, or at least American, perception of Japanese food tends toward the ideas of meticulous perfectionism – ingredients and preparation – too perfect for a human but too soulful for a robot. The ideas must extend from our general notions of Japanese culture since Japanese restaurants1 in America rarely succeed at accomplishing one of the two, much less both. The cuisine from the island is mythical and I was uncertain if it could live up to its own legend. I was excited for the possibilities but prepared for the crash.

Koju, named after a master potter, manned by Toru Okuda, is one of the eight Michelin three-star restaurants in Tokyo. In a culture of apprenticeship, tradition and rules, I was quite surprised by his youth. I picked this meal intentionally as my introduction to Japanese dining for its reputation for perfect ingredients and impossible restraint. Anyone can make a reservation with enough advance notice, and I did, but I also had an introduction here (the Japanese love their business cards.)

The doorway into a magical place

The trusty Streetwise City Guide map will get one to the right block but the door picture will prove to be the most valuable mapping device of all, unless you read Kanji. Whenever you intend to visit a restaurant in Japan, and Tokyo specifically, print a door picture whenever possible – come prepared.

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