The world’s largest fish market was our fragrant destination for the morning. Stephen and I had been to the outer markets before but for some reason (probably not reading the guide book properly) we had missed the wholesale markets completely. So today we were going to make up for it.
Tourists aren’t allowed in until 9am when some of the chaos has subsided (although a select 120 early rises can watch the tuna auctions at 5am). So we occupied ourselves walking around the sizeable outer markets where restaurants and retailers sell the freshest sashimi and sushi to the public.
It broke my heart that I couldn’t eat any of it so I consoled myself with freshly cooked scallops and squid on sticks. Thomas impressed us by sampling lots of the weirder or unrecognisable seafood at each shop. He might take an extraordinarily length of time to eat a meal but you can’t say he’s fussy.
There was a bit of organisation and reshuffling needed before we could enter at 9am. Using strollers was not allowed which meant that we had to carry it collapsed with us (thank goodness we had our light-weight Combi). And of course, we also needed to carry John. (He can walk just fine but I didn’t trust his hand-holding ability once I discovered just how busy the place was.) So Stephen was the pack horse, with the stroller, one of the backpacks and nappy bag and I was in charge of my own backpack and the children. I will be forever thankful that, for the time we were there, the boys behaved impeccably, because this place was organised craziness – definitely not for the faint-hearted. The fishmongers raced around the complex on these speedy electric trolleys and there was a constant stream of them traversing the main thoroughfare. You’d think you’d be safe escaping down the narrow aisles but no, they also squeezed down here too, meaning no place was safe to hide! Just to add to your tense level of concentration, the floor was uneven, wet, puddles everywhere and chunks of ice scattered about for just for added trip hazard fun.
But was it worth it? Heck yes! It was an incredible place. Every imaginable fish, crustacean or miscellaneous seafood on display – some alive in tanks, others in icy buckets, others already cut up. Hundreds of workers boxing up seafood, placing it on the back of a trolley and then having it whiz off to some other area of the market. Being a part of this labyrinth of organised fishy craziness was truly exhilarating. For just a snippet of the market, here’s a short video we shot when we seemed to be enough out of the way. http://youtu.be/0J0ZtMjKBMM
To keep the endorphins pumping, our next stop was the Ikebukuro Bosaikan Life Safety Learning Center. This is a floor of a working firestation that is devoted to surviving an earthquake. If you plan to live in Tokyo, you should visit here to get properly informed about what to do in such an emergency. There’s plenty of interactive stuff to do but the boys were too young for most of it. (10 year olds and over get to use a fire extinguisher.)
One thing that Thomas was able to participate in was an earthquake simulation. He and Stephen sat at a table and then at the press of a button, the ground started to shake replicating a 9.0 magnitude earthquake (the level that caused the 2011 tsunami). They had to climb under the table, put a cushion on their head and stay the duration. John and I watched from safety (another thing I was pleased I couldn’t participate in due to pregnancy). The shaking was incredibly intense. Showing at the same time on the wall to floor screen behind were real videos of the insides of buildings taken while an earthquake was occurring. You were able to see just how easily the furniture toppled and how easy it was for disaster to strike.
It was time to take a breather and have some lunch. The sun was shining and it was relatively warm so we found a square with a fountain and had our sandwiches. I mention this only because also in the park were other Japanese mothers with their children and we were relieved to notice that they did in fact have to chastise – and in some cases, actually shout at their kids. Up until this point we had never seen a Japanese child misbehave and certainly not tantrum. We were beginning to believe that the Japanese held the secret to impeccably behaved children and they weren’t sharing it with the rest of the world (or at least us!)
Our quest for the ultimate cherry blossom bloom was still not complete, so in the afternoon we headed to a 15th century garden, Korakuen, pretty much in the centre of the city. It was surrounded by highrises and a theme park with a roaring roller-coaster called ‘Thunder Dolphin’, but there was some element of peace and tranquility in the grounds.
The many quaint and varied bridges throughout the park plus the carp in the water were enough to entertain the boys while we were on the hunt for the elusive perfect bloom. In the back of the park was a grove of plum and cherry trees, most of which we were told only blossomed that day. Give it a week and we would have caught them in their full glory but it was enough to see their potential.
The weather had turned and on our return to our home base of Shibuya, it was raining decidedly. After a meal of sushi and fried fish for me (Thomas surprised us again with loving salmon roe sushi), we watched people negotiate the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world … with umbrellas. We marvel at how, despite the population density, everyone still manages to have their own element of personal space. There was no jostling or tutting and as far as we could see, no one lost an eye.