I have three things to write to you about. We’ll see how many we get through tonight. Probably just the first two, leaving the third, my trip, as the grand finally (although the pictures are already up on facebook).
This is the big fish market in Tokyo. In culture class, the teacher was assigning us all to groups that would go to various places around Tokyo. I had been to some, and would go to anything, so I was placed with the group that (hopefully) didn’t mind my accompaniment. After a number of facebook messages, we thought we had a plan to go Wednesday after class. Then, late Tuesday night, we realized that by the time we got there, most stuff would be closed and we would definitely miss the tuna auctions. At the stroke of midnight we pronounced our plan to meet at the train station at 5:15 the next day. After a brief rest, the painful discovery that the shower didn’t open until 6, and a short walk, I was at the station; everyone else was soon to follow. A surprisingly busy 30 minute train ride and 15 minute walk put us at the market around 6:15. The only good part I can say about the first few hours of that day is that I saw the sunrise for the first time. We missed the auction. The last group was let in around 5:45. Well that left a drowsy group of college students 3 hours to wander through closed shops, restaurants we couldn’t afford, and a bit of general cluelessness. Redundant would be a good way to explain our use of that time. We went through all the blocks, looked at all the prices, wasn’t sure we could afford any, and did it again. Eventually, after a few more times through, we decided on a restaurant that was relatively cheap (little over $10 per meal). And so we had what felt like lunch at 8 AM or so. More wandering followed but, at 9, we were finally able to go into the wholesale market. It is big, bustling, and bloody. Seriously, lots of fish blood. The amount of food that was still alive I also found a little….disturbing. I’m not used to seeing my dinner still swimming in a fish tank or trying to climb out of a Styrofoam box. One of the most fascinating things to me was how organized the chaos seemed to be. The cart drivers whizzed around, always with some sort of destination in mind, crossing paths, merging, and yelling to each other the whole time. I didn’t understand how the logistics worked, but it seems like they did.
WARNING: The next part may be a bit graphic
One thing in particular struck me. Eels still squirming and swimming in tubs of their own blood. There is not a whole lot that matches the un-appetizingness of that. My first thought was far from “Oh, I’m sure that would go wonderfully with rice.” For that matter, my first thought was closer to Jonathan Swift’s satirical remark:
“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”
Link to pic, but you’ve been warned.
Actually, the large slabs of tuna and filets of fish was the only truly appetizing thing for me.
I lived up to being a white kid from Texas; I had never seen much less tried many of the “food” there. Borui Sun, a Chinese exchange student, lived up to the stereotype. She was ecstatic that fish heads were only 100 yen. Apparently they are used for soup, but I’m still skeptical. I fail to see what good could come of something with little or no meat that stares at you. She undoubtedly used it that night; I’ll have to ask if it was good. I’m sure she thought it was, but that doesn’t lesson my skepticism.
Culture Festival (文化祭) (I only took pics the day before when they were setting up)
These are a huge thing in Japan. Imagine them like homecoming and Depot Days rolled into one. Each school will hold its own festival and, within each school, each club will have its own show, food stand, etc. They prepare basically all year for this thing. The school even had bound book listing all the clubs with their flyers, schedules, and locations.
I spent basically all my time between two things that I love: food and music. I will split my blog similarly, food being first on the chopping block.
Lots of food. All kinds of food. Most surprisingly, all kinds of alcohol. Not just like at a formal party where a bit of alcohol is given away, there were tons of stands actually selling alcohol. There is no way this would be remotely legal in the US. Half the people running the stands would be facing criminal charges. Not small amounts either. Cases and cases of beer and well stocked shelves of hard liquor with a “bartender” to mix. So that probably accounted for half the sales. The other half was what I got.
*This is not food, but I thought if fit in the “surprising” category*
Some of the costumes worn by people performing, selling, etc, were quite interesting. A couple guys were wearing pink wigs and some sort of girls outfit. One girl looked like the Red Queen off Alice in Wonderland with pink hair and a shirt that cut off at her midriff. The winner for shocking was the Playboy bunnies wearing the true one piece bathing suit-like top, fish net leggings, four or five inch high heels, and ears to top it off.
*Now back to food*
Chocolate covered bananas were popular, cheap and delicious (the two latter probably contributing to the former). That was the first thing I got. What was next….I think taiyaki was next. Mine was filled with custard if I remember right. These things are wonderful. I will have to get you some when you come. They are like a bready, airy pancake with something wonderful inside. I have no idea why they put it in the shape of a fish, but I assure you that it is not fish. For dinner, a taco. It tasted wonderful, probably at least half owing to my severe deprivation of Mexican food. The last item of the day was also dessert; a parfait with cream, mandarin, and blueberries wrapped in a pancake. Very good. Food is going to be a must when you visit. Dad, I’m going to have to instill in you a bit of adventurism and a bit less austerity. You’re not Greek, you can afford some luxury.
While I’m still on the subject of food, you guys are going to have to learn to use chopsticks or carry forks everywhere you go. A lot of the cheaper places don’t have forks or at least they don’t have them out. Also, chopsticks are all you get if you just go to a grocery store or convenience store.
I went to three separate music events. More specifically, I went to one, then another, and a third, then back to one, then back to the other, and back to the third. It wasn’t a well-planned affair on my part.
My least favorite was the “third,” the big stage. I didn’t really care for either of the bands that played. The second time I went there they had a guy that played all sorts of weird instruments, like the dijeridoos we have, but the overwhelming feedback was a bit distracting. Also a bit disappointing considering it was being run by a professional outdoor sound group. So not much to say there, mediocre band with lots of speakers.
The first music event I went to (and later returned to), was a big room that was letting large jazz bands play concerts. That was just fun. Both times I went they had 4 saxophones, a couple on trombone, four or so trumpets, a drummer, a bass cello, and a pianist. The first concert was most marked, at least for me, by the bass saxophone player. I haven’t really seen many people play a bass saxophone, I’ve never heard one do a solo before, and she performed her solo quite well. The second group’s leader was an alto sax and he was very good also. He had a long solo to show off and got the biggest applause of the night afterward.
Here was a pic of their schedule:
The last middle event so to say, was small bands playing in two tiny rooms with just two speakers for the lead singer, the guitarists with their amp, and the drums about to deafen everyone. By small, I mean small. Like 4 times the size of my dorm room small, so, with no equipment or anything, it could fit 60 people wall to wall standing room only. Reminded me a lot of some of the concerts we’ve had at church and things like that. There were probably five or six bands playing between the two rooms and most of the audience consisted of band members. If they weren’t playing, they were probably the audience for their fellow band. They were all playing for themselves, and that is what made it so fun. None of them were particularly wonderful. I doubt any of them have a chance at making a CD, but it was nice. It wasn’t a performance for money, obligation, or fame; it was a conversation between friends. Each sharing what they had learned, their new songs, and, when their turn was done, they would do their part and listen. The closeness of it all made it a bit more awkward, but no more so than the maid standing next to me. Not really sure where she (hope it was a she, but a maid outfit should not be considered confirmation) worked. Was just standing there, realized there was a really poofy dress, look over, and saw a maid listening to one of the bands. I always seem to come away from these things with more questions than answers.
I have no idea what this is, it was just awesome/hilarious:
It doesn’t look like I will get around to talking about my whole trip tonight, so this will have to do for now. I’ll try to post about my trip sometime this week.