May 29, 2013

Tokyo (1) - Sushi and sashimi

A three-day trip to the largest urban area of the world. With over 13 million people in the city proper, and almost 36 million people in Greater Tokyo, this is a massive town. It is the true concrete jungle, with roads winding over canals and under railroads, pressed between grey buildings of all, mostly not too pretty, shapes and styles. Add on top a mumble jumble of billboards and led-screens and you get a cacophony of screaming color and movement. What does not turn all of this into a sensory overload is that the city is squeaky clean, and the vast majority of the thousands and thousands of people on the streets dress the same: the men in dark suit and white dress shirt, and the women in either dark suit and white dress shirt, or in earth tones.

Although there are people everywhere, and there are so many of them, it doesn't feel like a human anthill. No one bumps into each other, and there is universal respect for personal space. For a bystander, the society seems very well organized, friendly, safe, and utterly incomprehensible.
The reason for my trip was 1.5 days of meetings at our Japan office, so that left 1.5 days for sightseeing. This was also my first time crossing the international dateline, and that makes for an interesting experience. Although it was a 13 hour flight, getting on a plane on Sunday morning and getting off on Monday late afternoon is a bit confusing. But in particular the return flight made the concept of time utterly surreal; after a 12 hour flight you arrive earlier than you left.

So somewhat confused and at a loss what time and day it was, I kicked off my stay Monday with an excellent sushi dinner prepared right in front of you - incredibly fresh fish makes you realize what we're missing out on with the US or European imitations.

The swank Grand Hyatt hotel I stayed at is in Roppongi Hills, a new high-end shopping and residential development with many expats. Definitely not lost in translation like Bill Murray in the Park Hyatt, but it does feel very un-western nonetheless.

Waking up jetlagged and early, I ventured to the Tsukiji fish market during morning rush hour. The market is the largest in the world and is at its most hectic from 5 to 9AM, with delivery guys on mopeds, electric carts, bicycles or hand-trolleys swarming in and out of the massive market halls to haul the most exotic types of fish to the local restaurants or to trucks standing by for delivery further out. This is so busy that they don't want strolling tourists to enter before 9AM, but you can enjoyably wait it out over a sushi breakfast nearby. Thinking that yesterday's dinner was fresh, breakfast was still swimming in the ocean just 4 to 6 hours before landing in your bentobox, and the shrimp were actually still alive on the breakfast counter. Marvelous mackerel, sumptuous squid, terrific tuna. And uni, aka sea urchin.

For someone who typically eats crunchy granola, I didn't think I would ever have sea urchin for breakfast, and the one time I had an uni hand roll for dinner in the US made me a little wary this time around. That said, tthis time around it tasted much better, but anything that draws slimy threads between your chopsticks and your mouth will not be my favorite...... Other than that, this massive concrete jungle is a foodie's heaven.

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