Upon coming back from Odaiba on the Yurikamome Monorail, I saw Hamarikyū Teien majestically seated on its seashore throne, surrounded by menacing bodyguards of glass, steel and concrete. I got off the train on a whim and decided to investigate the gardens. I was not to be disappointed. A free audio guide is presented to visitors of the gardens, and using GPS-navigation it instantly knows which part of the garden you’re in, adapting the commentary on the fly.
This garden is located right next to Tōkyō Bay, and houses a salt-water pond, the only one of its kind in Japan. There’s three tea houses in the garden, a 300-year old pine, duck hunting grounds, and above all: a lot of trees whose leaves were just turning, resulting in a canopy ablaze with an astonishing range of colours. The garden was meticulously tended to, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single leaf out of place in this enormous compound. Though I think Rikugi-en is still my favourite Japanese-style garden, Hamarikyū is a close second. Walking around the garden for a few hours had turned morning into noon, and my stomach was purring a polite “feed me”. I’m not one to let a stomach in distress suffer, so I made my way to the nearby Tsukiji fish market.
The travel guides all tell you to turn up at Tsukiji in the early morning, to catch the auctioning action. Early means even earlier than the first train, so you either take a taxi or camp out here. I’m not much of a morning person, and had therefore put off coming to Tsukiji hoping I’d end up going out pretty late and then just coming straight to the dawn auction at Tsukiji. After about two months of Tōkyō, this still hadn’t happened, and since I was in the neighbourhood now, I decided it was time to visit the fabled sushi restaurants of Tsukiji.
Even though the auction is completely finished at noon, I still managed to get run over by a dozen or so miniature forklift trucks. These make up much of the charm of the fish market, but a few years back, some drunk Australians carjacked one of these trucks and went for a little joyride. Needless to say, the local fishermen where not amused, and ever since there’s been plans to keep tourists out of the dawn auctions and hangars. Right now you’re still able to walk through, however, and it will be only when the fish market is relocated (in a few years’ time), that the auctions will become closed to public. After wandering through the hangars, I joined the ranks of hungry businessmen waiting for up to an hour to get their hands (the regulars don’t use chopsticks) on some of Tōkyō’s best sushi.
I had the luck of coming here by myself, and even though I was prepared to queue for around an hour to try the ultimate sushi, I only waited for 10 minutes. Most people came here in pairs and an odd three people party had created an available seat. I gladly helped them in filling their establishment. I was asked to leave my bags at the entrance of the miniature restaurant, and wriggled my way onto a stool, shoulder to shoulder with the Japanese businessmen. Three sushi chefs worked non-stop to serve us with the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. The oldest one of the three was constantly joking around in a rough old-man-Japanese, and was delightfully paternalistic toward some of the women and foreigners (that would be me) in his restaurant. When one of the women remarked the sushi was delicious, he grunted a slightly amused: “Of course, what would I do here if it weren’t?” The businessmen all laughed, and when I joined in, he immediately turned to me and said: “Well lookie here, even the foreigner is laughing.” I wish I could take this guy home and give him a plate of milk, such a character he was.
The sushi wasn’t cheap (3800 JPY for a set, and I had one extra helping of octopus), but it was worth it. Considerably poorer than when I entered, but completely satisfied, I left the store and disappeared into the bustling streets surrounding the central market.