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9 September, 2005

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This is a morning exercise routine we ran across in Shinjuku Central Park. It's coordinated through music. I'm told if you start to play this music anywhere in the city, people will actually fall into step with it and start doing the exercises.


Now this is the kind of train map that really gives me a headache.


The view from the outside of the fish market where everyone seemed to be driving at high speeds on these little carts.


They're known as "Mighty Cars" in case you were wondering.


Here's a machine that sells drinks in cups rather than bottles and cans. Note the blue for cold and red for hot designations.


One of two giant styrofoam piles I saw outside the fish market.


And here is where the action began.


These lobsters were breaded and still alive. Not too happy either.


You could buy a single fish or thousands. The market is open to anyone and everyone.


This is where restaurants and resellers come to get their seafood supplies.


I've never seen as much octopus as I did in this place.


And nobody was averse to mixing a little politics in with the fish. In fact one of the candidates for Sunday's election came barreling through shaking hands.


Did I also mention that I had never seen as much eel as I did in this place?


You could stay here for hours and still not see it all. Even with a Mighty Car.


There's an awful lot of slicing, chopping, and even sawing that goes on here.


Inspecting the carcasses.


Back outside where you take your life into your hands trying to cross the street.


Trucks here sometimes have really funny names.


OK, oftentimes.


Those things just look like so much fun to drive, don't they?


A wise saying, especially for a tea company.


The line outside Sushi Dai, which is said to be the best around.


In the park near the fish market, Mt. Hinokuchi looms.


The sights of the city are never far, even when communing with nature.


This is where I got my piping hot can of tea. Note that I could have gotten the exact same tea ice cold.


The maps of the two subways networks next to each other. Don't look for the JR lines here.

9 September, 2005

Day 55. This had to have been one of the strangest days of the entire trip as well as one of the most exhausting. It all started with our waking up at 6 in the morning in order to witness the frenzied activity in what may well be the biggest fish market in the entire world. Dave has been telling me about this place for years. You can only witness the true splendor in the very early hours of the day. In fact, we were already missing a significant part of the whole thing by not being at the fish auction which started at 5 am. (Since the trains don't even start running until after that, I don't really know how we would have gotten to that even if we had wanted to.) But we consoled ourselves knowing that we'd at least get some of the best sushi we've ever had out of this adventure.

So we took the subway all the way down to where the fish market was. And as we approached the site, the first indication that I was on another planet came when I saw many dozens of people flying around on these motorized carts at very high speeds, some with all sorts of merchandise piled high, others completely empty. But everyone seemed almost desperate to get where they were going as fast as humanly possible. In true Tokyo style, they all somehow seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to be and managed to not smash into each other. I hoped I wouldn't screw it all up by getting flattened.

Just looking at the outside of the market was impressive enough. Apart from the vehicles and people on foot racing around, there were two mountains of used styrofoam containers that apparently were the result of a whole lot of successful fish transactions. This clearly was the Dayton Hamvention of fish, except that this is always here and moves at a pace even faster than when they throw money on the floor of the stock exchange.

We went inside and the only word I could come up with to describe the place was endless. It was like an airport hangar that went in all directions. Fish of all sorts, octopus, crabs, eels, you name it. This is where anyone who buys wholesale fish gets it from. And not just for Tokyo. If you're into fish, sushi, or anything from the sea, there's a good chance you'll get something that's been bought and sold at the Tokyo fish market.

Everyone here knew exactly what their function was and they did it well. There was no slouching, no relaxing. Just constant movement and unending activity. It was like some sort of a war was on and everyone was staying alert in order to stay alive. Maybe this is more true than I know. Or maybe people are just tremendously impassioned by this line of work. I mean this is a city that has eel stores and people who have worked in them all their lives. Fish and the sea are major parts of so many lives here. I always knew that. But I guess I never really expected to see it translate to such excitement and movement. Well worth getting up at 6 in the morning. And next time I want to see the auction so I may just stay up all night in order to catch that. I'm told it's done almost entirely without spoken language. With the wrong gesture you could easily wind up hauling away a thousand tunas.

We took lots of pictures and covered a tremendous amount of ground. That in itself was exhausting. I can't imagine how much energy you would need to actually work here. But I guess those little motorized carts would certainly help. They're so much more useful and fast than those stupid Segways.

After getting out of the actual fish market, it was time to go get food at the sushi place that Dave had picked out. It was definitely a good one as a crowd of people was waiting outside to get in. The place only held about a dozen at a time and the wait was at least a half hour. And of course there was the little fact that we were going to have a sushi feast at 8 in the morning. I don't think my world could have been turned any more upside down.

Some of the places here are only open for a few hours in the morning and that's it. The one we were going to was open longer - from 5 am to 2 pm. The sushi chefs (three of them) were quite hospitable and gave us instructions in English, like telling us which pieces shouldn't be dipped in sauce, what each one actually was, etc. It was an amazing and intimate experience within such a small place in such an alien environment. The sushi itself was indescribably good but that was to be expected. And I managed to forget that I normally would have been asleep at this time for a number of hours to come. This was the kind of experience you remember for the rest of your life. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something unusual and fun to do while in Tokyo. Of course it really helps if you like fish.

After going to Sushi Mecca we visited a picturesque park and garden a few blocks away where we communed with nature and recorded a portion of next week's "Off The Wall." While the park was relatively small, it seemed to be the place for nature to hang out in the middle of the big city and so many people were strolling around, maps in hand, trying to see as much of it as possible. That's actually a theme of this city: people walking around with maps. I think it's because things are so big and complicated that even those who live here need a little help now and then. And that definitely makes me feel a bit more confident.

Later in the day we stopped by a food market in a part of Shinjuku station that also was coordinated bedlam. Two stories of all sorts of vendors peddling their wares within a department store. There were great quantities of free samples too. This is what there isn't nearly enough of back home. Buying food should be an exciting event like it is here. It's great to walk down an aisle and have no idea what you're going to come upon. To see people who are clearly into what it is they do makes it so much more desirable. Nothing like the quiet and orderly supermarkets I'm used to where the most excitement comes from the beat of the Muzak.

But we had no time for food here as we were going to meet Stuart and some of his friends for dinner in another part of town. This naturally involved looking at one of the maps in the station to figure out where exactly we were going. And this led, as it often does, to a Tokyo native taking us under his wing and not only giving us directions but showing us exactly where to go. This guy who looked like he just got out of work (and on a Friday afternoon in Tokyo, that alone is an event worthy of celebration) must have walked us half a mile through the train station to make sure we went through the right entrance. It was a little awkward since we already had a good sense as to where we were and where we were going. But we didn't want to be rude so we just did what we were advised. It's so impressive to see how much people here care about making sure others are provided for. But I'm not sure how much this translates in everyday life. I saw a woman fall off her high heels on the street and nobody offered to help her even though there were three security guards standing within a few feet of her.

We found our way to Stuart and his friends in the Ginza district and recorded the last part of "Off The Wall." We went to this really neat restaurant called Doreme which did all of the cooking at the table but did it in a really festive and exciting way. It was a continuation of the theme of the fish and food markets where the food becomes not only a way of life but a celebration of it. It was a really enjoyable experience and it was great fun hanging out with this crowd. All but one had come to Japan from another country but they made a point of distinguishing themselves from ex-patriots who don't learn the language and have food shipped in from their original homelands. These guys were all completely fluent in Japanese which really makes all the difference in so many ways. How else do you know the places to go, what's going on throughout the country, the subtle nuances of conversations you pick up in the street? It's one thing to visit a place or even to live there for a while but if you're in a land that's turned into your home, you have to plunge headlong into it and become a part of it in every way imaginable. And today was a day I really felt close to that.

We did a little filming for "Speakers' World" in the street which was also quite a bit of fun. I was surprised by the reactions we were getting from people passing by, almost as if they had never seen a camera before. Well, this is Tokyo so obviously they had seen many cameras before. I think it was just a very festive and friendly atmosphere where everyone was celebrating the arrival of the weekend. It seems as if the same intense focus is put into fun here as it is into work. This should be a pretty good weekend if that's true.