Monday, November 21, 2016
Continuing to look a few years back into time, we started our morning by going to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This market was amazing, but unfortunately, was closed in 2018. When we were here in 2013, there was a sign that showed small children getting squished by heavy equipment, so even though this sign was gone, we knew we needed to be vigilant. The streets are narrow and forklifts, fish trucks, and other equipment zips through with little patience for pedestrians. Luckily there were a few streets lined with booths that were a little more kid friendly, so we picked up some fancy panda/fish mochi that the boys were enchanted with.
After wandering around a bit, we decided it was time for breakfast, so of course we got sushi! The kids were skeptical, but it really is the thing to do at the fish market. The best places all had lines that were much longer than we cared to stand in, so we picked something else that looked reasonable. While we waited for our food, we decided to start teaching James to use chopsticks. He tried, but he spent most of the trip either eating with a spoon or his hands. Too bad we didn’t know about the lever arm training chopsticks at the time, they come in both children’s and adult sizes and are specific to right/left handed people. The ones with the animal clamps on top are cute, but we didn’t find them nearly as helpful. John had mastered the art of chopsticks on our 2014 trip to Beijing, so he was mostly good to go.
Once the food arrived, John decided that the rice and whatever non-seafood topping he had ordered was delicious, but he refused to try the sushi. James decided he liked a couple of things and the rice, but gave everything else away. Jeremy and I ended up with a pretty good breakfast!
Now that the kids stomachs were full, we went back to the shopping area and found the cookbook that I had bought on our 2013 trip to Japan. John admired the knives and the gaffs, which are basically a pole or bat with a hook on the end. The bat is used to knock large fish unconscious (you really don’t want a 100+ lb. fish flopping around in a boat with you), then you use the hook to scoop it out of the water. James found some Japanese style erasers that he really liked. They come apart like a puzzle and a bunch of the kids at his school had them, so he selected a set of sea creatures. If you are looking to get some in the US, see if there is a Daiso Japan store near you.
When you look certain ways, you definitely know you are in the middle of a major city, but as you wander you can still enjoy the tranquility that defines a Japanese garden.
I particularly loved the nearby koi pond, John liked the markets that were filled with katanas (Japanese samurai swords), and shuriken (Japanese throwing stars). He could have spent all day studying the various weapons.
By this time, the kids were getting hungry again, so we found a place that had sushi (yes again) for me and Jeremy, Japanese curry for John, and noodle soup for James.
Next up was Akihabara Electric Town, which we thought the kids would love, but when we arrived, we were disappointed that the toy situation wasn’t as good as we remembered. On the other hand, if you are an adult who loves anything electronic, this is the place for you.
The kids lost interest very quickly, but were cheered when James found a “Mr. Doughnut.” My memory of doughnuts in Japan in 2013 were quite horrid, but James really wanted one. The doughnuts didn’t taste like cardboard, so he was happy. In general American food in Japan tends to have less sugar (baked goods), less cheese (pizza), and more oddities than one might expect. For example, in 2013, pizza was very popular, but the displays in the windows sometimes had a fried egg or fish in the middle. That seemed to have changed by 2016, but we warned the boys that even if they ordered something that should be familiar, it may not be what they were expecting.
One of the best parts of Japan are the vending machines that you can find every couple of blocks. Not only do they have the standard cold drinks, but when we’ve visited in the fall, they also have a decent selection of hot drinks. There is nothing like hot milk tea on a cool fall day to keep you going. We spent way too much money on the vending machine, but with all the walking we were doing, it kept the kids happy. James was very happy with his hot green tea, where John preferred hot chocolate, a hot lemon honey drink, or a soda. When we visited in 2018, it was late spring, approaching summer, and the hot drink selection was limited to non-existent. Hopefully it is a seasonal thing.
We decided to go to the famous Yasukuni Shrine and Yushukan War Memorial Museum. This site is quite controversial since they have 14 class A war criminals enshrined alongside 2.5 million other people who died for Japan. Even so, we decided that it would be worthwhile to see the Japanese perspective on this history. It’s notoriously more positive than it should be, where bad behavior is either glossed over or excused.
In addition to the Yushukan’s controversial WWII displays (rationale for Pearl Harbor is interesting), their coverage of the Nanking Massacre and other Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, etc. history was significantly off. This was a bit over the boys’ heads, so we let them enjoy the displays without pressing the significance of misleading history as much as we would have if they were in middle school or high school. They really enjoyed the room with a tank, aircraft carrier weapons, and other big war equipment. The kamikaze aircraft was also a big hit for them, particularly when we explained what it was used for. Awkward, but fascinating.
The kids were tired, but we were trying to stay awake and not give in to jet lag, so we marched them to the Imperial Palace. So peaceful. Except the boys were melting down. If this sounds like a lot of walking, it was. We had gotten one of the boys a fitness watch, so he delighted in telling us how many steps we were making him walk. On this trip, a low number was in the 30,000 range, and at least one day, we crossed the 40,000 mark by quite a bit. For whatever reason, we didn’t take any pictures while walking through the best part, but we captured a few things on the way there and on the way back to the apartment.
On arrival at the hotel, we decided to see if we could find some Japanese anime (cartoons tend to cross all language barriers for the boys), but instead, we came across sumo wrestling. The kids loved it! I think they were amused and confused about why two very large and almost completely naked men would try to pick each other up by the malwashi, or loin cloth, that defines their uniforms and throw the other on the ground. In any case, it did the job of keeping them awake while they rested their feet a bit.
We attempted to get dinner nearby, but everyone was tired and grouchy, so we ended up not being able to agree on a place. In the end, we went to a 7-Eleven (they are everywhere in Japan) and picked up some snacks. I always like the prepackaged, individually wrapped mochi that they sell.
By 7:40pm, I was so tired that I was starting to feel nauseous. I managed to stay awake a bit longer, but eventually I succumbed to sleep.