Saturday, July 14, 2012

8th Wedding Anniversary

 Craig took Friday off and we went to Kyoto to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. We'd heard a new aquarium had opened and was boasting about being the best in Japan. For those of you with some sense of Japanese geography, this may be surprising because Kyoto is inland and no where near the ocean. We learned, however, that it sits in a large river basin and the aquarium tried to take advantage of that unique water environment. Between the two of us, we've been to 4 different aquariums in Japan. Unfortunately, I would rank Kyoto at the bottom. Craig puts Churaumi in Okinawa at the top. I haven't been there so I put Osaka at the top followed by Suma and, lastly, Kyoto.

 We took our time getting into Kyoto, had lunch and then headed to the aquarium. We were worried because it was looking like we'd only have three hours to see the place. We finished in plenty of time.

Kyoto had your standard big tank with lots of fishes swimming about, a jelly fish exhibit, some small tanks with little fish, a very, very short dolphin show, penguins, seals, and some river life. Most notably, they had giant salamanders, Chinese, Japanese, and a hybrid. These guys were literally the size of a cat but were mud colored salamanders. We never saw them move, they'd contort themselves so they'd be under rocks, sand, whatever they could get below, but stretch their necks up so their nostrils were just above the water.

One thing I do at aquariums is wonder what the animals on display would taste like. I am not alone because we heard “oishisou” “looks delicious” at a lot of tanks. At the last exhibit, what Craig figured would be the “guilt you with an environmental message” section, we saw something much more honest – instructions on cleaning fish and food models of our properly prepared fishy friends.

 The highlight of the trip turned out to be our celebratory dessert. When we were looking for a restaurant in the train station we passed a bakery with gorgeous tarts covered in fresh fruit. We decided we had to stop by on our way home. In the US I always felt like bakery stuff looked better than it tasted, but I can confirm that these were as tasty as they appeared to be.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The fishiest place in Tokyo

A couple of weeks ago (2012/06/29), I had the chance to travel up to the main RIKEN campus in Wako for one of their “Discovery Evening” events.  This was the second of the year; the idea is that they invite RIKEN’s young acronymed researchers (FPR, SPDR, IPA, and JRA) to the Wako campus (outside Tokyo in Saitama prefecture) where they hear a couple of informal-ish research presentations by their peers and then mingle and eat.  Most of the attendees are from Wako and Yokohama (also pretty close).  Gianluca Esposito, an FPR from Italy, is apparently heading up the committee that organizes these things and had e-mailed me asking if I wanted to come up to Wako and give a presentation.  So on Friday (06/29) I took the shinkansen up to Tokyo and did the discovery evening thing.

On Saturday I figured I’d traveled all the way up to Tokyo on someone else’s dime so I might as well do some sightseeing.  Because I managed to get to bed fairly early on Friday (the party ended promptly at 8pm), I decided to get up early and visit the famed Tsukiji fish market (築地市場駅).  All of the web sites I’d looked at said one should get there super-early, so I got up at 4:30 to catch the first subway out of Wako at 5:00, which got me to Tsukijishijo at about 6:00.  I stashed my luggage in a coin locker in the subway station, then stepped out and followed the smell of fish.

 Those are eels.  Apparently they bleed a lot.
Our invertebrate friends were also well represented.

I ended up in a big covered area with lots of people dashing about in narrow little aisles and lots of fish everywhere.  I was so engrossed in all the fishy amazingness that I didn’t notice that I was the only person around who didn’t seem to be… ummm…. working.  Eventually a nice police officer noticed that for me, and came over and explained that the “Seafood Intermediate Wholesalers Area” wasn’t open to the general public until 9:00.  So I had a few hours to kill.  He directed me toward what appeared to be the tourist area, where there were a lot of souvenir shops and (more importantly) sushi restaurants.  So I at least managed to start the day with a sushi breakfast.

 What the policeman hadn’t told me (and that I fortunately figured out on my own) is that right next to the official Tsukiji market there’s a great big unofficial market.  It doesn’t have the same frenzy of fresh-off-the-boat seafood activity, but there is a lot of pickled and dried stuff along with plenty of seafood that probably had been at Tsukiji earlier that morning.  Basically, if you want ingredients of any kind for Japanese food, that’s the place to be.  There were also lots of shops selling unusual cooking implements like fish-scaling tools.  There were plenty of free food samples to be had; I tried lots of different things.
The funny-looking green things on the left (under the 本わさび sign) are fresh wasabi.  I had no idea that's what it looked like.
 There was a shop selling plastic models of sushi for restaurants to put in their display windows.
 Dried squid.

 This shop was fun; they had all sorts of different vegetables, all pickled.  Lots of samples.

 Those black things are sea urchins.
 Giant slabs of sashimi-grade tuna.
I brought this home for Quinn -- a trail mix with little dried fish in it.

When I made it back to Tsukijishijo after 9am, things had quieted down quite a bit, and most of the wholesalers where cleaning up; probably finishing a solid 8 hours of work.  It still seemed too early to go back to Kobe, and I wanted to check out another neighborhood of Tokyo.  Ginza was nearby and I’d heard of it, so I took the subway to Ginza.  I think if you like shopping Ginza is probably the most amazing place in the world; otherwise it’s not really so exciting.  Tsukiji is totally more my speed.