My alarm is going off. How can my alarm be going off? I just fell asleep 5 minutes ago.
Nope, I am mistaken. It really is 2:30 already. I fell asleep 3 hours ago. Why would anyone ever want to wake up at 2:30am? There’s no better reason than a good old fashioned market. A Tokyo Fish Market, to be exact. This place is famous for it’s early morning tuna auction, to which they only allow entry to 120 spectators. 60 for the first auction, 60 for the last. The first auction starts at 5:30, but rumour has it that you need to be there hours earlier if you plan on getting a seat.
So here we are. Getting ready to leave our hotel at 3am. Did I mention that I have to leave for the airport at 8:30? Yeah. That’s happening.
We take a 20 minute taxi to the famed fish market, where I can already see a couple of other tourists walking towards the market. STAY BACK, tourists! If there’s only 120 seats I refuse to be arrivals number 121 and 122. Best believe I’m racing out of this cab to get in line.
A total of four people get to the crosswalk before we manage to jump out of the car, where three officials are standing to direct pedestrian traffic to the tuna auction waiting area. We are lead into a room stuffed with more tourists, all wearing yellow vests. At a first glance, I figure there must be well over 60 people in front of us, but upon doing a quick count I find that it’s really only about 50, and we’re going to make it into the first auction! Sweet! About 10 more people are given yellow vests, before the blue ones start being handed out, signifying the second wave of auction goers. We’ve made it in time! Hooray!!
We’re directed to sit on the ground with everyone else, huddled as tightly together as possible to make room for more people. I don’t think it would kill them to provide some chairs…or a pillow…or really anything besides a 1,000 sq/ft hardwood floor for 120 people.
It’s 3:20. Now what? We shift around uncomfortably for 2 hours, that’s what.
Hallelujah, 5:25 is here! Us yellow-vests are herded out into the market, leaving the blue vests to fester in that tiny room for another half hour. See ya, suckers! We have previously been warned that any harm that may come to us in the market is our own fault. Now I understand why they have to do this. There are trucks and mini forklifts whizzing about all over the place and none care if they take out a nosey tourist or two. They might even kinda like it. They’re just trying to do their jobs…and now they’ve got a daily flood of photo-happy foreigners to watch out for. Probably not ideal.
I can’t be sure, but it looks like all 60 yellow vests make it to the tuna auctioning room in one piece. Which is a little unfortunate for me, because now we are crammed into an even smaller standing-only space in an aisle of the market room. There are approximately 8 zillion giant frozen tuna fish laying all over the floor to my left and right. Men with pick-axe/fish hook hybrid sticks walk around with flashlights, poking at the tuna, inspecting it for colour, and sometimes stabbing them a little with their sticks.
I’m looking to the left side, watching the tuna experts examine the huge fish, when a very loud voice holds a long monotone sound from across the room. Cow bells start ringing. Everyone whips around to the right, where an auction is about to begin!
The booming voice starts yelling out what I can only assume to be prices; throwing his hand up in the air like he just don’t care. Similar to English-spoken auctions, the auctioneer has a bizarre humming, quick and barely comprehensible way of yelling. Two or three men stand across from him, some very large tuna fish laying on the ground between them. The group of men stand casually, moving nothing but their hands in very understated gestures. I gather that these hand gestures represent bidding, but again, I can’t be sure.
Some dude wins though, because after much hum-yelling and hand gesturing a forklift rolls up to collect like 8 giant tuna. The auction champion hooking his pick axe into their mouths and hauling them up onto the forklift with the help of a pal. They look REALLY heavy, these crazy frozen fish.
We just catch the beginning of another auction before our time is up and we are pushed out into the busy, truck/forklift traffic hell that is the fish market. I do another great job of not dying, but there are a few close calls.
While sitting and waiting in the tiny pre-auction room, we had been chatting with some other tourists who knew of this supposedly incredible sushi place within the market. Apparently the wait times to get into this place, for sushi at SIX AM, can be over four hours. This famous chef’s son also has a restaurant in the market, with more reasonable wait times of over an hour.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Dad and I stop at the first sushi restaurant that we see. It’s still in the confines of the market, so we’re bound to get fresh fish no matter where we go. The idea of raw fish at 6am is a weird one, but when in
Rome Tokyo… do as the fish market people do.
We sit down at a bar where Dad’s sushi and my sashimi are prepared right in front of us. We’re also served a miso soup with mussels in it! I swear the sashimi is like the freshest most fabulous fish I’ve ever eaten. We even get a free gift when we leave! It’s something black in a jam jar… It has yet to be identified. I’m not like a sushi connoisseur or anything, but I can’t imagine how that 4 hour wait could be worth it. I’ll be in Korea by the time these people sit down to breakfast (is it lunch if you have to wait that long?).
It’s time to head back to the hotel and get my life together. I still haven’t been on public transport where the attendants push people into the train car, so we try once more for the subway. It’s Friday morning…that’s rush hour right?!
Apparently not. The subway is empty. Lame.
Back at the hotel, I finish packing, and try to fit in a nap. I feel another small earthquake while I’m laying in bed. Feeling slightly terrified when the shaking lasts longer than 10 seconds and increases in intensity. Then it’s over, no big D. I fall asleep.
10 minutes later it’s time to get up and go. Solid nap.
Dad and I take our last selfie-of-the-day, and say goodbye before I get on a bus bound for the airport. As per usual when I’m traveling, I feel a mixture of happy and sad. Sad to be leaving Papa Lai and Japan, but simultaneously excited to move on to some place new.
I am back to the pov life of a backpacker. In order to save money, I booked the dumbest flight ever. I leave Tokyo at 12:25pm to arrive in Osaka at 1:30pm. Then I must wait from 1:30pm until 6:15pm to board my flight to Seoul. Because I’ve essentially been up since 2:30am, it’s a really long day. I’m too old for this stuff now.
I get to eat one last bowl of soba noodle soup before leaving Japan. I’m craving soba noodle soup, and make it my mission (to keep myself occupied during this boring layover) to find a noodle restaurant. I obviously do, but by the time I arrive at a suitable location, I’m a little hangry. Maybe I’m being crazy, but I swear every other patron of the restaurant is watching me eat. Like turning around in their chairs to look at me. Is there something wrong with my hair? Something on my face? I’m just eating noodles…
I’ll never know.
The girl a seat ahead of me loses her passport on my flight to Seoul. I’m kind of a bad person, but I think it’s funny. She’s so flustered, making the flight attendants flustered. All the crew members are on their hands and knees looking under peoples seats, and stepping up on the edge of other peoples seats (including mine) to access the overhead baggage compartment. This goes on for a solid 20 minutes before she finally finds it stuffed in one of her bags. SURPRISE! Everyone claps, she hugs the flight attendant, and they even make an announcement about it. It’s certainly provides me with a bit of entertainment.
Before they announce our landing, my left ear gives me some serious discomfort. I try to be a champ and just deal, but like I’m literally crying because it hurts so much. I grew up learning that if you keep swallowing the pain will all go away, but it’s totally not working. When a flight attendant walks by I politely ask him for a water and he just gives me sad eyes and says “noo, sorry”. I, in a bit of a panic because my ear feels like it’s got pop rocks in it, respond with “I CAN’T HAVE A WATER?”
“Noooo” he says, pointing to the Peach Deli food menu in my seat pocket, and pointing out that it costs ¥200 ($2).
“Ok!”, I say, “Yes that’s fine”, And he just shrugs and says “sorryyyyy”, then goes to walk away.
I stop him again, “are you going to bring the water?”
“Well it’s ¥200 then” he responds, smiling. This irks me beyond words. I understand it’s probably like a bit of a language/cultural barrier; He’s used to people paying up front, and I’m used to free water. Still dude, I need a water pronto. I give him the ¥200 and get a water within a matter of minutes. I drink it in big gulps until my ear spazzes out, and I’m feeling like my brain might quite literally be exploding. Then the pain is just…gone. I have no idea what’s wrong with me but I’m going to attribute it to the small head cold I’ve had for a couple days. Can sinuses explode?
For the next 30 minutes before we land, I feel like I will never fly Peach again. I hate Peach! With their dumb altitude changing and ¥200 water and stuff. Then, when we land, I breeze through customs, collect my bag, hear Gangnam style playing over the airport speakers, and remember that I’m in Korea. Saweeeeeet!
I take the subway to my hostel. So far, I find Seoul’s subway system to be much more comprehensive than Tokyo’s. Super straight forward from the airport at least!
The hostel seems good. I have to sleep on a top bunk. OOOOH backpacking how I have missed you!!!