Day 5 - Yokohama Arrival

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Finally we are in Yokohama and all settled in the room. Nice view of the surrounding area too with the theme park below and the Yokohama Landmark Tower just down the road and the tall buildings all around. Mind you, from this floor it is quite a good view anyway.

It has been a long day. No really, REALLY long.

One of the things on both mine and my mother's list of things to see is the tuna auction held every morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. It is, we read, truly an incredible sight with the huge fish and the hustle and bustle of the market itself. There is, however, a bit of a catch. The auction begins at 5:30 every morning. This is great for people suffering from jet lag but now, three days later, we do not have any so getting up at 4:00 was very painful. I guess the advantage is that when we finally headed out at about 4:30 the streets were not terribly busy (it was still dark out!). Our hotel was just around the corner for the market so we were able to walk to the market over a few overpasses and just down the road. From our hotel window we clearly saw the market only two blocks away so were able to figure out the best way to walk there.

Outside the Market

Finding the market was not to be the problem. Finding the auction was the problem. When we arrived at the market it was, as you might expect, a big fish market so there was activity everywhere. They have these small electric carts that they drive standing on one end that are very quick and can easily sneak up behind you. We wandered around the very utilitarian market, down many wet (but clean) aisles in search of the auction – How difficult could it be finding 100 kg fish being sold? Well, quite difficult, it turned out. Eventually I asked someone in my rather broken Japanese where to go (“big”…“fish”…“where?”) and he pointed vaguely in a direction where we headed. In the end we found a couple of other tourists who were with a guide from the market and followed them to the auction which was in the south side of the massive complex within a sealed-off area.

Frozen Tuna Auction

By this time we were not the first ones there so found a place to stand in the area set aside for “visitors” and looked upon the scene. We were in the frozen tuna auction and standing in a line running through the middle of the moderately sized room (say, only about 20 m across and 50 m wide). Fish were lined up in rows but in clearly separated areas from one another. When we arrived (5:10) the buyers where checking the quality of the tuna by cutting and lifting a flap of skin near the tail (I would suppose looking at colour and texture). The did not have heads and did not really look like fish all having a uniform, white, shape sort of like plastic floats you see used for fishing nets (though, of course, much bigger). The action of the auction started suddenly at 5:30 then things moved very quickly. A number of sellers stood in front of a section of tuna on top of a box and, believe me it sounded like, started singing in what I can only assume was some banter understood by the buyers. Fish sold quickly with a man walking around and dubbing paint onto the side of the fish no doubt indicating that it was sold to a particular group. In about 10 minutes it was all over with the auctioneers clearing their throats and stepping down from their boxes.

Fresh Tuna Auction

At 5:35 we spared no time finding the next bit of action at the fresh-tuna action. This was a much more gritty (and warmer) affair with fresh tuna arranged in a similar manner to the frozen in another room (the same size) just down from the frozen. The fish still had their heads but had their tails cut off and stuck inside their mouths (a bit nasty that…) along with blood everywhere. Of course, there is no smell here as the fish is so fresh and the place is so well cleaned between auctions. After all, these fish are going for hundreds of pounds each they can afford the best conditions for the auction.

Stalls in the Fish Market

The rumour is that after you attend the auction you can feast on fantastic sushi in some small restaurants attached to the market. Well, again, we had trouble finding them but eventually we found them on the far north side (near to the street). The restaurants are really no bigger than a small café with a small door and a handful of places to sit in each. Often it is along a small counter. Eventually we found a place that looked not to bad (they had a picture menu and a good looking special for 2,000 yen – a bargain compared to others we had seen) so we decided to give it a go. We were the only ones in the restaurant but that did not put us off – We had not seen anyone wandering around looking for food yet. It was 6:00 but we were about to eat…The lady running the place seemed to think that I was doing everything wrong as she chastised me on several occasions – once for asking for chopsticks (“use your fingers” – well, not in English). The sushi was prepared by a young man seemingly used to the older lady's manner meekly prepared several types of sushi for us and placed it in front of us on the counter. It was quite tasty. The best I have ever had? Possibly not but this opinion could be influenced by the critical eye I was getting from the lady in the corner…

Leaving the small shop we wandered around in the area a little. There are a number of shops selling everything from pottery to souvenirs to knives and T-shirts. Quite a little market, really. We also found another sushi restaurant with a large queue of foreigners outside – It appears we had found the famous sushi bar that people should visit while in the market (we had been told a few days ago that any of the sushi places were very good in the market, oh well!). Quite a bit of a wait to eat for them though…

Sushi Queue

It was still quite early in the morning but we headed back to the hotel to pack. Today is moving day. Yokohama ho! Leaving our luggage with the concierge we headed off to visit an area of the city that we had passed through but not yet properly given time for: Akihabara. As I have said before, it is not really any longer the place to visit to purchase electronics but it was interesting nonetheless. There are a number of side streets with small stalls set up all along them. Mother was interested in looking at digital cameras (the short explanation being that the camera I had bought for her had died recently and she was not happy with the replacement she was given) so we had a look. A lot of the stalls beside the road actually had electricity and many of the owners actually spoke English. To be honest though, nothing really got me too excited particularly when buying something like this here there would be the Japanese instruction manual…To be fair though, many of the items actually had world-wide warranties on them…

Yodobashi Camera Store (Akihabara)

Eventually we ended up in a the Yodobashi Camera store – basically a large electronic department store with 9 floors. The ground floor had laptop computers but there were floors for digital cameras, books and videos, toys, etc. This was a large store, really. We had lunch on the 8th floor that was basically a floor with a lot of restaurants on it. No, not a food court but full-fledged restaurants of all different types: Sushi, Katsu (basically breaded meat that is deep fried, but never oily), Italian (seems to be popular here), Korean, Chinese, Pizza, etc. Any of the shops looked good to us but we eventually visited one that served katsu. The restaurant was full so we put our name down (in English) in a book outside and sat down. This amused the waitress who showed us to our seat at the back of the shop. This was lunch time and the place was full of “salarymen” (though a few couples as well). Mother ordered from the menu (full of pictures – one of our prerequisites for a restaurant where we can't read the writing) what turned out to be the best choice – The katsu special which included soup. I ordered what I recognised: Katsu curry (which I get all the time in London) but it is mother's meal that was more interesting. She was given a small bowl with an inner surface that was scored but with a small amount of sesame (and other) seeds in the bottom. She was also given a pestle. With a bit of guidance from the waitress and observing other people she then poured a bit of some of one of the sauces on the table onto the seeds then crushed them with the pestle. When the katsu came, cut into small pieces and on top of a metal grid so the oil could drain, she dipped it into this mixture. Very, very nice.

After lunch I was able to find some DVDs that looked interesting (more Ghibli, for my sins) and wandered around in the toy department. There we found hundreds of capsule machines selling all manner of things. We spent some time just trying to figure out what was on offer (and picking up a few small Christmas items along the way).

Capsule Machines

The train to Yokohama was quite quick though it was a bit of a pain dragging along the luggage which is starting to get heavier (though I can imagine how much it will weigh at the end of the trip…). 30 minutes after leaving Tokyo we were in Yokohama where we went down some stairs to catch the local subway train to Minato Mirai. This is a new area of Yokohama where our hotel, the Pan pacific Hotel Yokohama, is located. Leaving the subway station we got onto an escalator that goes up about three floors but the ceiling is something like seven floors high. Quite magnificent. The shopping centre the escalator leads to is also impressive – Probably about a quarter of a mile long with massively high ceilings and “street” lights that sound like birds as you go by and respond to movement (leading to some dancing around later in the evening to make them sound). The whole place is ultra-modern with our hotel accessible directly from the shopping centre. Checking in we were shown to our room which is much larger than the one in Tokyo and with a very pleasant view (no computer though).

View from Hotel Window

We were in Yokohama for the World Science Fiction Convention which starts tomorrow. There are going to be big crowds to register then so I always like to register (if possible) the night before – Thankfully, the organisers had set-up registration so we could do exactly that. We headed over to the main area in which the convention is to be held, the Pacifico Yokohama Conference Centre – near the convention centre proper (a very big, long building opposite the Pacifico). The whole area is space age to say the least – Incredibly tall, sweeping buildings all around – The main convention hotel (not the one we are staying in) looks for all the world like the sail of a huge yacht. We picked up our registration information from the English queue (separate from the Japanese queue) which included a guide for everything that will be going on over the next few days as well as a (hurrah!) guide for places to eat.

It was getting late again so after dropping the things off at the hotel we headed off to find something to eat. We ended up in a small restaurant we had seen while coming up the escalator from the subway. There are a series of about six restaurants in the area and we picked one that looked to do a number of things, but we helped ourselves to an interesting variety of tempura (delicious).

I think I will have a look at the program before I go to bed so I have an idea of what to see tomorrow: A whole new city, a whole new convention…

Day 6 - Convention Day 1

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