Something fishy going on

4am and my alarm goes off. What the heck am I doing? I went to bed gone one o’clock last night and am about to get up to go see some dead fish!! Why? Should I just stay in bed instead? Sod it, I’m awake now and the fish market is supposed to be one of the main sites to see in Tokyo so I may as well make an effort.
I wash and change quickly, knowing I don’t have a great deal of time to get to the train station in time for the first train out. Not sure how to get to the market the other end, but I’ll work that one out when I get there. Seems to be a theme for this trip – do now, work out next step later. I put on double layers of clothes on top as it’s probably gonna be cold this time in the morning, especially being surrounded by frozen fish. I step out in to the cool, early morning air…and it’s raining. Great. Might get a bit wet today! I hurry along to the station, about ten minutes away.
Did I mention the stations here are huge? Not just big, but hu-hu-huuuuge! They have multiple exits that make London look like a piece of cake to navigate. I read somewhere that one of the stations has 60 exits! I just tend to pick the nearest and hope for the best, finding my way back outside. Some of them take longer to get to than to the station itself; totally crazy. Luckily, the signs are quite good, and although I’ve taken the wrong train or two briefly, a quick check with someone usually helps me out, via pointing at map and nods of head. This time, I think I’ve got the right track. It’s cold, dark, and a few people are out here. The train arrives.
Ok, so now I’m at the station nearest the market, so I scratch my head and take an exit at random. No point thinking about it if you have no idea where you’re heading! I wander out into the dark and curse the drizzly weather. Now what? No signs. Can’t be that far to walk? Follow my nose? No, can’t be that near as no fishy smells yet. I ask someone who is looking intently at the map by the road. On hindsight, asking someone who is looking intently at a map for directions is like asking someone who is shivering for a jumper. He has no clue, but is desperately trying to help. A few Jap-lish words come out, but it’s no good. “Taxi?” I ask, and he nods his head, relieved that he doesn’t have to spend the rest of the morning on a quest to help a poor gaijin. As luck has it, a taxi pulls up beside me.
Cool. I read about this – the back taxi doors open and shut automatically! These Japanese think of everything, He drives not an insignificant way in the rain and in return he gets a not insignificant fare back. I’m here. Or at least I think I am…

Old men sit huddled on stools at a food bar, eating some kind of fish breakfast. Stalls are setting up with various fish products. A fishy smell is definitely in the air. Men are scurrying along holding containers with fish. I sense a theme here…

I walk around, trying to keep dry in the increasing rain with little success. People are everywhere in the narrow streets, and I do my best not to bump in to the locals. I know they closed the area down for tourists recently, such was their annoyance at the issues we caused with our cameras and getting in the way. Luckily, we promised to be on our best behaviour and stop camera flashes (blinding the auctioneers who can’t see hand signals), so we’re back in. Still, don’t want to cause them to change their mind. Now where? This isn’t the main part of it, where they display their catch and have it auctioned. No signs around – I guess they still don’t want to make it easy for us. I follow my nose (literally) before asking someone in uniform (good travel tip, there) who points somewhere near.

Flippin’ eck! What have I stepped into! This place is like Piccadilly Circus…except with fish! There’s lorries everywhere, men rushing around with crates, equipment breaking old white boxes down, but mostly it’s men on speedy mini forklift trucks, zooming in and out. I try to make my way through but feel it’s only a matter of time before I become roadkill. Eventually I make it, via a few last-second collision-avoiding steers from annoyed workers and I’m in the stalls. Wow – there are thousands of white containers with all kinds of fish being sold here. Octopus, shrimps, clams, eels, tuna and lots of other types of “normal” fish that I can’t identify. It’s a sea of colours – red, white, orange, silver, green. The paths between the stalls are very narrow, and again I dart between gaps to avoid the carts and the men setting everything up. Finally, I get to the main auction hall.

At last! I meet some non-Japanese people! An Aussie from Sydney and an Israeli, who just happen to find the small door into the main room. It’s 5:20am, and this is the place to be until 6:15 when tourists get chucked out. We enter, chat about where we’re from and then see the fish. Cool – there’s rows and rows of frozen tuna, ends cut, ready for inspection. Grey fish lie on their sides, frozen eyes long glazed over, with a big hole in their head. The Japanese simply love fish. I’m sure the feeling isn’t mutual.

This is like a massive fish graveyard where buyers come along, inspect the dead, in the hope of claiming them to sell on for a nice profit, probably to expensive restaurants. Only the best tuna is wanted, and they come in various sizes. Prospective buyers walk around with their hooks and torches, prodding and poking, in order to gauge each tuna’s quality. It’s serious business, with some of the tuna selling for £25,000 upwards, I’ve heard,

The tourists – and there’s now Americans here too – are contained in a thin line, bunched up in an area bisecting the main hall. To be honest, it’s a little disappointing now – not much happening, no monsters of fish that I can see, and not as big as I expected. Soon, however, the party started, as the hand bells rang out across the floor.

“He-huh! He-ju-huh-huh-huh! He-he-ju! Ju! He-he-ju!” Ok, that wasn’t proper Japanese as I’m sure you can tell but that’s the sort of sounds the auctioneer is making. He’s getting into a proper rhythm now, and I’m sure it’s more a chant than a business procedure. I imagine a bass track underlying it and a trance anthem in the making. Weird stuff, but then aren’t all auctions a little mad? Blokes with cards on their hats like some kind of party games do their hand signals and at some point it briefly stops. Goodness knows who won that. It’s fascinating to watch. After a while, I have to leave as hoardes more people want to come in and view. I make my way out back through the stalls, taking my life into my own hands again with several near misses. Snapping away at the many cool containers, fish eyes staring at me accusingly, I decided to have breakfast.

It’s 6am now and I was told to try to eat here as it’s the done thing to do. What shall I have? I know – fish! I choose a sushi restaurant and sit down. The first attempt at reading the menu is poor, but the waitress hands me an English menu with a mug of hot green tea. Mmmmm the tea is nice. Now, those who know me should know I’m not a sushi fan – one poor experience in LA led me to believe that eating raw fish with rice meant not a lot of fun. I remember feeling like I’d no moisture left in my mouth as I crammed in a big piece of rice and fish. No, sushi wasn’t for me, I’d decided. However, having been re-educated by Steve in New York recently, I decided that maybe it was worth another shot. My small sushi takeaway breakfast yesterday wasn’t too bad, so let’s go for it! Travel Andy doesn’t shirk away from a challenge – I’m here and have to do it. “I’ll have…the Basic Sushi” Yes, not the most adventurous on the menu, but a great mixture of rolls, and different fish on rice. Soon, it arrives and I ask the American lady next to me if she would capture the moment. I’m a bit cold, tired and hair soaked, but this photo should make ‘em proud! I tuck in, pleasantly surprised at what I find. A while later, it’s all eaten and I rush off back to the hotel so I can catch the train to Osaka – my next destination where I’ll be for three nights.

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