Japan

What to do when it’s 7am in Tokyo

After finishing my sushi breakfast and I wondered what else I could do. I remember passing by Ginza and it sounded familiar so I walked over. It turns out Ginza is a shopping area but nothing was open at that hour. They did have free wifi so I hopped on and wondered what else I could. I had originally planned to head back and take a nap but I was feeling awake so I decided to stay out and then head back early. I was about to head over to the Imperial Palace because it was sort of within walking distance but decided to head over to Tokyo Skytree. I debated between Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree but they say the Skytree is newer and the view is not blocked by other buildings. I also read if you can get there at 8am before the tours you can beat the rush and the wait.

Tokyo Skytree

I arrived just after 8am and no line! I didn’t have a reservation but that didn’t matter since it wasn’t busy. They sold me a ticket to the observation deck at 350 meters for around 2000yen. I had the option to purchase a ticket for the 450 meters observation deck once I was at 350 meters. I’m not sure why they don’t just sell it as a combo. The extra 100 meters is another 1000yen. I figured I was two-thirds so I was pit committed. The view up higher was actually worse since everything shrinks and I thought it was a clear day but it was hard to see far. Tokyo has blue skies so it doesn’t suffer from the same pollution problems as Beijing so I’m not sure why the view wasn’t clear. They do have a glass floor but it wasn’t too impressive.

There were lots of Halloween decorations and Halloween themed photo spots.

Asakasa – Senji Shrine

I decided to head to Asakasa next to see Sensoji Shrine. I wasn’t planning to but again it was nearby. I thought about walking but I saw that it crossed a river so I assumed there wasn’t a footpath but when I got out of the station I saw that there was one. Not having internet readily available I tried to remember what were the sights I was supposed to see. I wandered some streets that looked like old Tokyo but were now souvenir shops for tourists. I wandered around the shrine but didn’t find anything particularly interesting. I felt the same way about the Forbidden City in Beijing when I visited for the first time and then would even tell friends to skip it and just go to Summer Palace instead.

I was starting to get tired mostly because I was lugging around a 5 pound camera around my neck but it was starting to get later in the day and too late for a nap. There were a couple sights all in the same area and I didn’t want to go to my hotel just to come to the same area.

Imperial Palace

My friends had mentioned there’s not much to see but again it’s on the list so I continued on. Admission is free! I walked around but I didn’t see the emperor. It’s nothing like Buckingham Palace with the guards marching around. I don’t think I could even see his residence. It’s very possible there was a path that I missed but I ended up just looking at a bunch of trees. I noticed some people sitting on the grass so I laid out on the grass to get a short break. After my break I wandered over to the gardens and then headed back out.

I was ready to head back and then I decided to look up Jiro’s restaurant. I had no intention of eating there but I wanted to see it in person. My big splurge was visiting the restaurant of his apprentice in NY. At the time I didn’t know I would be visiting Tokyo so soon. I saw the restaurant was in Ginza. Again going back to the hotel and coming back out would be too much travel so I decided to head straight there. I remembered from the documentary the restaurant is unassuming and located in a subway station. They fail to mention it’s also a bit secluded and it’s something you can just stumble upon. I ran around the station for about ten minutes and even used google maps! I finally found a blogger who wrote a description of how to get there and I found it!

I had my phone at the ready to take a photo and there was a sign that said no photos please. This is not Sushi Dai. I did read that they have a policy that discourages non-Japanese speakers. They only take reservations in Japanese and once at the restaurant you need to have your own translator. I walked by and there’s nothing else there so it’s not like I could pretend I was going somewhere else. There was a sign out front that said reservations for the day were filled. There was one kitchen attached to the restaurant and then there looked to be another space across the way that was being used for prep. I couldn’t tell. It felt a but surreal to be so close. I half expected Jiro himself to pop out but that didn’t happen.

Back to the hotel, I showered took a rest and decided to get ton-katsu for dinner.

Tokyo has sights to see but really I just wanted to eat delicious Japanese food. I wanted to eat more but I think my appetite has shrunk since I’ve been traveling so much. When I travel alone I tend to skip meals if I’m trying to get a lot done.

The ton-katsu was delicious! They even gave me sesame seeds to grind for the sauce. I had wanted to eat tempura after but I was stuffed. But not too stuffed to try a mini waffle. I saw people queuing up for a small waffle stand by the train station. Usually a line is a good sign something is good.

It was still only around 6:30pm but I had been out and about since just before 4am so I was exhausted and I needed time to pack. Ever since leaving my clothes behind in Cairns I’ve started to allow for extra time to pack. It’s better now that I can leave my winter clothes in my pack.

Tsukiji Fish Market

I had done some research prior and was hoping to get there just after 4am to secure a spot for the tuna auction.

2:30am Wake up from a nightmare that I overslept

3:30am Wake up before alarm and get dressed

3:50am Catch a taxi, I can’t remember how much it costs but I’m guessing around 40000yen or around $40USD. It’s not an exact conversion but close enough.

4:10am Wander around looking for the entrance. I couldn’t communicate to my taxi driver I wanted to be dropped off by the tuna auction and I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me other than cross the street. By the time I find it the spots are all taken and they say come back tomorrow at 3:30am! I think about coming back but I have an early flight to Korea. I get directions to Sushi Dai but I proceed to get lost for another half an hour or so.

4:50am I’m able to find free wifi and I google map my way to Sushi Dai. There’s already a line out from and then a continuing line around the corner. I join the line and hope the wait is not too long. I’ve heard stories it can be 2-3 hours wait. There are of course other places to eat sushi but this is supposed to be the freshest and it came highly recommended by my friends. With no internet no company I spend the next two hours candy crushin’ the same level to no avail. At one point I grow frustrated and want to stop playing but what else do I have to do to pass the time? I come close a few times so it keeps me going. A woman comes out every so often to ask how many guests per group and when we get to the line in front of the restaurant she asks us which menu option we would like. There’s one for 2600yen and 4000yen. If you’re going to wait 2 hours for sushi before sunrise you might as well go big!

6:50am Finally seated! I got to skip ahead a few groups because there was one single seat available and no other singles ahead of me. While waiting outside I saw people exit, smile, and then pay their belly. Meanwhile I was starving, cold, and tired. Yes, these are first world problems I brought upon myself. It did feel good when the woman ushered me in and I skipped ahead 6 people.

It’s a small shop and everyone sits at the bar. There’s a rack overhead to store large bags but not the suitcase kind more like book bags or large purses. The sushi chefs are all friendly and fairly interactive. The service was excellent. I would finish something and a second later someone picks it up.

Everything in Tokyo I noticed always feels so efficient whether it’s ordering ramen from a vending machine or people queuing for the trains, waiting for people to exit first before entering. I love it!

I enjoyed every bite and would have to say that was best uni I have ever had. For the last piece they let you choose anything you’ve already had and I think they have other options we didn’t try that are available. I wanted to get the uni but I figured tuna was the way to go.

I most recently ate at Sushi Nakazawa in NY, the restaurant run by Jiro’s apprentice so I did have something to compare it to. I would have to say both are quality there’s no doubt about that. Sushi Dai is your hole in the wall place that does the basics well. Sushi Nakazawa adds to that by trying out some new things while still delivering.

By the time the tamago came out I was getting full. And then the tamago was HUGE! They have us two huge pieces. I was tempted not to finish but I didn’t want to leave any waste so I stuffed it down. After the meal I promptly whipped out my 4000yen and got ready to go. The person next to me asked to take a picture of our sushi chef and then the woman offered to take a photo together for them. I then asked for a photo as well and in the process I fumbled and dropped my Canon 70D. That was the first time I dropped that camera but luckily it only has a kit lens and I felt the camera was diesel enough to handle a short drop. The sushi chefs and the woman had a look of shock on their face and they were immediate apologetic. I assured them it was okay and then got my photo. Later I reviewed the photo and saw the other chef hopped into the photo as well! I wasn’t expecting the chefs to be so friendly and it definitely made the experience much more enjoyable.

I headed outside and there was still a long line that wrapped around the corner.

In the end it kind of worked out that I missed the tuna auction. Had I gone to the auction I definitely would have had to wait a good 3 hours for Sushi Dai. I did read a blog post someone had written and it was done so well I felt like I had experienced it! I’ll post the link to that later.

It was definitely working waking up early for Sushi Dai!

 

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This is the map they hand out to you at the Fish Market. Tsukiji Fish Market Map

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Lost in Translation

I’m borrowing the title from the movie with Bill Murray and Scar Jo but I don’t remember what actually happens in the movie.

I landed at Narita airport just before 4pm. This is my second time at Narita, the first time I was just connecting on my way to Singapore. It’s hard to believe that was 7 years ago!

I caught the JR airport train to Shinjuku. I’m not actually sure how long it takes but it’s somewhere around an hour. Most of the cities I have been traveling to the airports are close to the city. That’s helped a ton since I like to book 6am international flights… Usually I have a travel rule of no red eyes and no early morning flights but when you’re traveling with miles and trying to book the lowest fare you don’t really have much of a choice.

I got to Shinjuku around 5 or 6pm. I really can’t remember. It took about 15 minutes to walk to the hotel that I found without getting too lost. By that point I was drenched in sweat (lovely) and exhausted. I was just about ready to put off dinner and call it a night since I was jet lagged from my flight and sort of still on Melbourne time, 2 hours ahead.

Once I showered I got my second wind so I decided to venture out. My original plan was to get soba noodles but I wandered into Muji and Uniqlo and was tired again. At Muji I finally picked up packing cubes I could have used for the first half of my trip and maybe it would have helped me to not lose my clothes. At Uniqlo I bought a pair of jeans to replace my missing jeans.

When I used to live in China the locals would always talk to me in Mandarin. They wouldn’t believe me when I would tell them I’m Korean. In Tokyo everyone speaks to me in Japanese until I speak to them in English. In Korea they always speak to me in English if they can.

The trains confuse me to no end. Just when I think I finally get it I hop on the train headed the wrong direction and then proceed to exit at the wrong station. There seem to be multiple train lines running around the city. Luckily I found the magic pass that works on everything but it does take me about ten minutes to find my correct train.

I didn’t get a SIM card since they only have rentals. I’m flying out of Haneda and I wasn’t sure if I could return it another airport. Not having a SIM card does make it a bit harder to get around since I can’t rely as heavily on Google Maps. I usually walk a couple different directions until I can see the blue dot moving in the direction I need to be.

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