19 hours in Japan

Crossing the international date line is a weird thing. I'm pretty sure I was in the daylight sun for about 22 consecutive hours, but who knows. I didn't even know what day it was when I landed - July 2? July 3? America's birthday? Should I be shooting off fireworks? The answer to that one is no, not in Tokyo. Turns out it was 1pm on some day, and we were leaving at 9am the next day. The countdown had begun. 19 hours to go.

The Narita airport was easy to figure out. Plenty of English, lots of signs, and the restrooms had your choice of toilets - western style or squatty potty. I won't tell you which one I chose. After buying the wrong train ticket and given new ones by the kind attendant, we were off to Tokyo. 18 hours to go.

The Tokyo metro area train system is not the most straightforward train system I have navigated. And it wasn't really the language that was the problem. There were just so many lines going in so many directions, and the stations we not all that intuitive. Sometimes you had to go out to the street to get to another station with the same name to transfer from one line to another. The train maps were no help. The best method we found was to annoyingly ask every worker, piece together all their different broken English, and hope it leads you the right way. It usually did. We did get better at navigating this huge train system by the end of our stay. I guess practicing something makes you better at it. So after a long train ride of rice paddies turning to bamboo forests turning to small residential neighborhoods turning to a sprawling metropolis, we finally made it to Tokyo. 17 hours to go. 

 I have no idea what this sign means.  

I have no idea what this sign means.  

Our first stop was Shibuya Crossing - a Times Square-esque intersection in the middle of a commercial district in the heart of Tokyo. We left the station and took a left. We should have taken a right. I definitely recommend getting a map of Tokyo before leaving the airport. Slightly lost, hungry, tired, sleepy, and clueless of the time or date, we stopped for noodles. 16.5 hours to go. 

 Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

I think we could have made a better decision on our noodle spot, but we were very hungry and pretty tired - aka hangry. I ordered some soup from the menu. The noodles themselves were really good. Thick, soft, fresh. The broth and other ingredients were lacking, but I blame the person who ordered the food. It's like he or she randomly picked something off a list. I suggest going somewhere with pictures on the windows or menu. It makes ordering what you want so much easier. 15 hours to go. 

 Japanese noodles with pork. Delicious pork.  

Japanese noodles with pork. Delicious pork.  

With new energy we found Shibuya Crossing. Every couple of minutes all the traffic lights turn red and the walk signals light up at every corner. Then hundreds of people lining the street swarm the intersection trying to get to the other side like a salmon who can't figure out if he is going upstream or not. It's an organized chaos that ends as quickly as it begins. It's an impressive sight to see, and who has the best view? Starbucks does. And that makes perfect sense in this bright, crowded, busy commercial Tokyo district. 13 hours to go. 

Back on the train, headed to Akihabara. This is the anime district in Tokyo. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Am I right ladies? This is Tokyo in all its fascinating weirdness. Six story tall buildings full of comics, movies, books, posters, curtains, mugs, calendars, and anything else you can think of with beautifully drawn semi soft core porn cartoon characters on them. There were people of all ages, and there were fashion choices for all. It was interesting to see, and I'm sure if it wasn't 9pm on a Sunday (figured out the day by this point) it would have been even more interesting. 12 hours to go.  

 Is this appropriate? I guess so.  

Is this appropriate? I guess so.  

After our fill of scantily clad cartoons, we headed to the Tsukiji district. This is the fish market district on the east side of Tokyo on the water. We had heard of the Com Com Manga Internet cafe with reclining chairs that you could rent for 3 hours of sleep, just long enough to rest before the 1:30am alarm to get to the fish market for the tuna auction. After some very hard work finding that Internet cafe on the second floor of a small building, we are told that minors are not allowed to stay there. Since we had my 15 year old step brother with us we had to find other options. 11 hours to go. 

We settle for a nearby hotel too tired to search for a better deal. The Tokyu Hotel. The rooms were small and clean, and it was nice to be able to take a shower. We didn't realize how great of a location this place was in until the morning. Right next to the fish market. Street vendors just outside the door with fresh seafood from the market. Perfect. I barely had time to set my alarm before crashing into bed for 3 solid hours of sleep. 7.5 hours to go. 

Left the hotel at about 2am. We found a queue of people, almost all foreigners, outside a small building near the fish market. Only 120 people are allowed into the auction each morning. We were probably around number 30 in line. They gave us neon vests and let us inside. The next 3 hours consisted of waiting in a small room of 120 people. And I do mean small room. It was not very comfortable or fun, but I did meet a few people and had some good conversations. They let us into the auction at 5:25am. 4 hours to go.  

Walking into the room with the giant tuna laid out all across the floor was cool - both literally and figuratively. There were about 100 very large, very  frozen tuna all around. The tails were cut off and a little flap was cut into the flesh so men could inspect the fish. Each man had a little pick axe and went around to each tuna poking it and cutting out a little piece from where the tail had been cut off. They would hold the little bit of tuna meat in their hand, judging it in their expert tuna ways, and then throw it away. None of them ate it. I was watching to see if they would. The auction itself was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. No yelling or fighting. Just a bell and then calm, rhythmic, almost Native American sounding chanting. The auction only lasted a couple minutes. 3.5 hours to go. 

 Tuna inspection before the auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market

Tuna inspection before the auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market

As with most things, the food was the best part of the whole Tsukiji Market experience. We didn't have much time before we need to get to the airport so we walked through the market looking for a quick, fresh seafood breakfast.  As we were walking down a small side street a vendor was just opening up. The shop had a little grill out front with large shells piled high with different kinds of seafood - tuna, crab, squid, other? We pointed to one of those and the man began steaming it up. While he did that I grabbed a sea urchin from a tray laid out on the table. It was already cooked and had a spoon in it ready to go. It was my first time eating sea urchin. The inside was a burnt orange color, soft, mushy, rich, and sea tasting, but not overbearingly salty. I would have it again in a heartbeat. Once the steamed shell was ready we needed to hustle to the hotel so we ate on the run. Eating seafood on a shell with chopsticks while walking through a crowded Tokyo street at 6am without dropping a piece made me feel pretty good about myself. And the fact that the food was so amazing didn't hurt either. The tuna was my favorite. It was so fresh, perfectly steamed, warm, melt in your mouth, delicious. I don't know how else to describe it. 3.25 hours to go. 

 Street sea urchin. Yum. 

Street sea urchin. Yum. 

We grabbed our bags from the hotel room and raced to the airport. This was our best train navigation yet. Which was a good thing because we didn't have much time to spare. Hopped on the skyline train to Narita just in time. 2.25 hours to go.   

Forty five minutes later we arrived at the airport with an hour and a half to spare. We checked in, grabbed a bite, and said goodbye to Japan as we boarded our flight to the Philippines. 

Arigato, Japan.