The individual elements of travel are relatively easy – fly, navigate to your accommodation, check in, try local cuisine and visit attractions both on and off the beaten track.
However, there are those nuggets of gold which bring travel in strange countries to life and ultimately, make memories. These tend to be experiences which cannot be found on leaflets or poorly constructed signs typically found in hostels and hotels. I’m talking about those rare moments which allow you to lift the veil and transition between being a tourist and a traveller – or more simplistically, to see things as a local. Real and tangible experiences, oozing with the essence of the country you’re travelling in.
Japan is amazing to travel around – it’s one of those countries which constantly reminds you of being in a foreign land. Your senses are attacked from all sides as different smells filter through your nasal passages, harsh language tones with your ear drums, street signs merge with unrecognisable brushstrokes and your taste buds awaken to strange new flavours and spices. Even when you stay in Japanese Ryokans (traditional Japanese Inn’s) the rice tatami walls and floors unleash a new feel underfoot. It is a beautiful country to travel in and whilst not cheap, it is an honest travel experience and highly recommended for all ages.
Tsukiji Fish Market
There are many elements of Japanese life I could blog about however, one that springs to mind and somewhere I took my groups to on many occasions when tour guiding, was the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo – the world’s largest and busiest.
Typically jet lag is the feared enemy of travellers however, for me it gifts a wonderful chance to wake up with the birds, explore and take photographs before the onslaught of morning commuters fill the streets. With the ideal time to arrive at the fish market being at 4-4.30am, it’s the perfect chance to shake off the jetlag blues in favour of stinky fish, the hustle and bustle of market traders – what could be more perfect right?
Be sure to check the website first to see if public access is allowed, don’t take a bag as you are required to squeeze into tight spots (market traders will take priority) and wear closed shoes (you’ll only make this mistake once). Research your route in advance as manoeuvring the Tokyo subway system can take some effort at the best of times.
Arriving under a cover of darkness and into the indoor but open air market, you will observe fishmongers filleting, haggling and packing their catch on ice. It’s a busy, loud and interactive experience and worth every minute of lost sleep. You’ll encounter hundreds of keen salesmen and restaurant owners bidding aggressively for the prize catch of the day, endless rows of fish of all variations and colours laying on beds of crushed ice awaiting purchase, as well as live shellfish with sealed fate.
The smell is intrusive, no doubt about it but the atmosphere is electric. A piece of advice is fishmongers take this business very seriously (it is their job after all) so if you are standing around taking pictures open-jawed, make sure you’re not in the way – just imagine a bunch of Japanese tourists coming into your workplace.
I realise it will still be very early in the morning however, no visit to Tsukiji is complete without a sushi breakfast. There are loads of sushi vendors around the area and to find the better options, you should weave your way towards the restaurant area near the wholesale fruit and vege market inside the main gate off Shin-ohashi Street. I personally am not a fan of seafood but my groups loved it!
In total I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market about six times and loved it more each time. As a high percentage of your diet in Japan will be seafood, it’s a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the local cuisine before it reaches your table, and ultimately your mouth!