Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 06 2008

Tsukiji, Ginza and Krispy Kreme

The weather wasn’t so nice when I got up this morning. In fact, snowflakes were swirling through the air outside my window again. I toyed with the idea of going out to Odaiba and looking at the mall there, but I just wasn’t in a mall mood, so instead I set out for the fish market at Tsukiji. It was just a fish market kind of day.

tsukijiIdeally, it’s best to get to the fish market early in the morning when everything is happening, but I got there later, when things were already winding down. First I walked down a narrow alley past sushi restaurant after sushi restaurant, and then into the market proper, nearly getting run over several times by curious mini cargo vehicles that look like robots, basically a small motor inside a circular trashcan casing attached to a cargo bed and steered with a huge ring on top. Most of the workers wore either green or blue, mostly blue.

You can find a lot of different things at the fish market besides fish, like brushes, scales, cardboard boxes and T-shirts with the characters for many kinds of fish printed on them. I tried to find a shirt for my Taiwanese friend “Whale” but alas, there doesn’t seem to be a market for such things. Sorry, Whale. “Can I interest you in a salmon T-shirt? Or a tuna cap?” the old owner asked.

I continued walking to the back of the market, which was the dirtiest place I’ve seen in Tokyo despite the efforts of the staff, and out the other side, emerging next to a large park on the Sumida River that used to be the Imperial Family’s “detached palace” where they could walk around Being Aloof all day. From there I could see the old original capsule hotel building, but when I walked over to have a look, I found it was closed. Only one room on the ground floor was viewable through the round window. The interior was pure 1970’s.

It was starting to snow again and I remembered the hot packets I’d brought with me (they are actually Japanese and are available at convenience stores here, so bringing them from Taiwan was like recommending arpeggios to Phillip Glass), and put a couple in my jacket pockets. I don’t know why I didn’t think of them before, but they’re really nice.

mikimotoSoon I found myself in the fashionable Ginza district. There’s a whole different vibe on that street from the rest of the city. The street lamps are different, the buildings and shop are more exclusive, the sidewalks are wide, the pavement is a special grade, and the pedestrians are extra pushy. I walked into a swatch store, which had many display rooms filled with watches, walled in glass. Suddenly, one of the display rooms rose into the air. A few moments later another disappeared into the floor. They were all elevators. Just for kicks, and to get out of the cold, I took one of the rooms up to the top, where I stared at a saleslady who stood by a case full of expensive watches until the doors closed and back down I went. I suppose she’s used to that sort of thing.

I continued walking up the street to the Apple Ginza store, the first real Apple store I’ve been to. It wasn’t really anything special. I played with the new Mac Air, which weighs the same as my old Thinkpad, has the same memory, but does feature a more frustrating keyboard. Then I decided to check the upper floors out, and got in the elevator to find that there were no buttons inside. Typical Apple: you’ll stop at every floor and you’ll like it! Not that I’m completely anti-Apple. They did have a nice wifi-signal, something I’ve found to be rarer in Tokyo than in Taipei, strangely enough. Also, I have a 16gb iPod, which has just been rendered obsolete by the unaccessible new apps and the release of a 32gb version.

I walked back down the street and over a couple of blocks towards the train tracks and a group of department stores, where spent a couple of minutes watching a pretty neat 3D LCD display with 3D glasses. I also tried my Sigma 17-70 lens on a 5D, only to find that it doesn’t actually work. I’ve come to realize that I really do need a larger LCD screen on the back of my camera; the tiny one on my 20D makes it next to impossible to tell if I got a shot or not.

pricesI continued along the railroad tracks as the snow fell. Fortunately it didn’t stick so walking was easy, though it was cold (warm pockets helped). I had no destination in mind, really, just walking and enjoying not knowing what was around the next corner. For lunch I stopped at a deserted little restaurant literally underneath the railroad tracks (the Japanese know how to use space) for some outrageously priced shrimp tempura. The waitress placed a glass of ice water on the table, which I found peculiar, considering the amount of ice that was freely available just outside the windows. I asked for some hot tea, which is usually standard fare at such places, but they didn’t have any. It wasn’t just me, either, as another customer who came in later got the same. Occasionally a train would pound overhead.

When the tempura arrived, there were two bowls of very similar looking liquid on the tray. I tasted both, wondering if one of them might be hot soup, but couldn’t figure out what went with what, so I poured one of them on my cold noodles. The waitress came over and said, “No, this goes on that, and this goes with that.” Ah, right. The food wasn’t bad. The thing I’ve found about Japanese food in Japan so far is, when it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, it’s actually not bad.

I took some stairs down into the basement of one of the stores and, completely by accident, found myself in front of none other than a Krispy Kreme store in all its retro glory. A line stretched a little ways around the corner, and I couldn’t pass up such an opportunity, so I joined in. The line was 99% women, and I wondered how all these people could not be working at three in the afternoon. Everyone in line got one free donut fresh out of the oven.

Krispy Kreme TokyoEventually we got into the store itself, after a woman explained that, if you wanted just a big box o’ donuts and didn’t care what was in it, they’d give you one right now and you could go on your merry way. The rest of us shuffled through the line, by the window where you oversee and nod approvingly at the ranks of donuts marching by. I got a dozen, but I am curious about one thing: I have never seen any donut store in Asia selling a plain frosted cake donut. The only frosted cake donuts sold anywhere in Asia, at any donut chain, it seems, are the chocolate kind, be it Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts or Mister Donut. None. It’s a mystery.

I didn’t feel like walking around with a huge box of donuts in addition to my backpack and camera, so I took the subway back to the hotel and rested up a little before going back to Big Gym in Ueno for some more comics. This time, the staff was nice enough to help me download pdf versions, which I paid them for. “Is this a bear shop?” I asked one of the guys. He shook his head. “Because you’re all bears,” I pointed out. It was true: every one of the guys there was a bear, some of them quite good looking. One of them gave me a card for the Big Gym in Taipei, which I’d never been to or even heard of. Another, named Kenji, was quite generous with the free hugs. It made me sorry I don’t speak Japanese as I had no idea what he was saying.

Big GymAs I’d paid them in cash again, I was low and needed to visit an ATM, so I went to several local banks, cursing after finding none that would accept my Chinatrust card. Of course, I felt rather foolish when I walked into a 7-Eleven and found that their ATMs work just fine.

I had dinner at the same old place where I ate last night. Although people here aren’t allowed to smoke on the streets outside designated areas (“It could hurt children,” Yas told me yesterday), it’s perfectly fine to smoke in restaurants, even when you’re eating. It didn’t bother me too much; in fact, it kind of added to the atmosphere of the place. With the old Japanese songs on the scratchy radio, I could almost imagine that I’d stepped back in time. Occasionally the owner would look out the front window for signs of more snow. On the way back to my hotel, I realized that every truck I’ve seen at construction sites has appeared as shiny as if it were still in the showroom.

Tomorrow night I’m meeting Arnd for dinner; other than that, I have no clue. Someone told me that “Tokyo is for shopping; there’s not much here for sightseeing,” but I don’t usually go for the sightseeing bits and like just wandering around “normal” places. I also like not having any plans for a change, just going wherever I like. Tokyo’s subway is very convenient and goes everywhere, and there’s something interesting waiting down every street and alley.

posted by Poagao at 10:37 am  


  1. if you have any leftover Krispy Kremes I will give them a good home.

    Comment by Prince Roy — February 6, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

  2. Wandering seems to be a good plan…can’t wait to see your photos. This blog did make me smile though.

    Comment by Hadi — February 6, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  3. Leftover Krispy Kremes? Ha, that’s a good one. I suppose you also want a unicorn?

    Hadi, I just finished up my 4gb memory card on my 20D and have 1gb more before I have to download the pictures to my computer. Hopefully some of them will be decent.

    Comment by Poagao — February 7, 2008 @ 10:29 am

  4. Cake donuts, eh? You know, those things aren’t even widespread in the US. I had never even seen one (growing up in NY) until I moved to California (where they exist in abundance).

    Comment by Bobby — February 7, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

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