A Beatles band in Tokyo, wild Shinjuku and the amazing Tsukiji Fish Market
TOKYO - I spent part of Monday wandering around the crazy shops of Shinjuku, which has a series of cool alleyways/narrow streets in addition to the high-rise, electronic-advertisement postered stuff I expected. Mind you, there was plenty of that. I got lost a couple times but ended up finding a nice shopping area that included a Top Shop and some other nice stores.
The barrage of lights and sounds, however, is quite something. I stepped into a pachinko parlour for just a minute and felt like I was living inside a 747 engine. I don't know how anyone can stand the noise, but they were lined up in front of most of the machines and didn't seem to take notice. I also must say I don't at all get the anime thing. Those strange-looking little girls with the westernized faces and big eyes give me the creeps. Still, it makes for a fascinating stroll, and if I wanted to have everything be like home I could simply have stayed in Toronto and gone for a walk in Leslieville or something.
The best part of the day was a 5:30 a.m. (yikes) trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market on the edge of downtown. It's the largest in the world, and words cannot describe the chaos and the sound and the action that goes in that place. Tiny forklifts dashing here and there with the latest batch of snapper or shrimp, the cacophony of the live tuna auction (it's not open to the public any longer as it got too crazy, but they snuck me in for a brief peek). The massive tuna'heads were what really grabbed me; just incredible. There were hundreds if not thousands of them lying all over the place, and you could look down and see that afternoon's sushi almost ready to go.
I got to taste some snapper that had just been caught a few hours before, and while I'm not usually one for sashimi at 7 a.m. I gave it a go. I also spotted large hunks of balleen whale on ice, something the PETA people would NOT be happy about. There also were wriggling fish I couldn't name, sea cucumbers, slippery eels, mackerel and more tuna. Outside, you can get a glimpse of the place where they dry small bonito, then smoke then and slice the pieces into bonito flakes, which are used for making stock the way we would use chicken broth and such. Fascinating to watch.
The vegetable market is more open to the public than the tuna auction, and it's almost as impressive. There were spears of asparagus as wide as the bottom of a baseball bat, as well as two-foot-long green onions, luscious pears and tiny limes that are quite prized in these parts.
I watched a man package some enormous, purple grapes with a care and style most of us wouldn't dream of. Heck, I wouldn't spend that kind of time or effort wrapping my wife's anniversay present. But these grapes were lovingly wrapped in pink tissue paper then placed in a beautiful box. The Japanese love presentation, not to perpetuate a stereotype, and a lovely bunch of grapes is just as much a piece of art to them as a painting. And good on them, I say.
Following the tour, my guide, provided nicely by the folks at the very chic Park Hyatt Hotel in the Shinjuku area of town, insisted I try some fresh sushi. I love the stuff, but usually not at 8 a.m. Still, I was game. I didn't expect eight pieces and six rolls and miso soup three hours after downing some croissants and toast and coffee for my first breakfast of the day, but there you go. I wasn't hungry again until nearly 5 p.m. But I couldn't have had sushi for dinner if you'd paid me.
SHE LOVES YOU HAI, HAI, HAI
With nothing big scheduled for my last night in Tokyo, and not feeling up to anything late, I took in a Beatles replica band in the Roppongi District. The bar is called The Cavern Club, one of the Beatles first live concert sites in Liverpool, and I think the band carries the same name. It was a fairly quiet night in Tokyo, with perhaps 20 or 30 people in the audience. It costs a decent amount of money, about $30, to get in, and there's a one-drink minimum with beers costing about $9.
There actually are two such bars in Roppongi, the Cavern Club and Abbey Road, but I opted for this one as it seemed manageable to find on a map. And that's not easy in a city like Tokyo. Anyway, I was a touch skeptical, and it threw me when they did some John Lennon solo stuff for the first couple songs. Nice jobs on both Starting Over and Beautiful Boy, but it wasn't what I came for. Pretty soon, however, they were boogeying to Don't Let Me Down and Strawberry Fields Forever, which had some killer drum work. They absolutely nailed Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight and I was really into it by then.
The four guys in the band speak little English, but they've got the words for the Beatles catalogue down pat, and the main singer does a very credible Lennon impersonation. They don't look like the Beatles, of course, and they wisely don't try to dress the part. They also have a keyboard player instead of three guitar players, but it helps with tunes like Strawberry Fields, and the keyboard player also did a jazzy riff before the guitar solos in Carry That Weight.
Overall, I can see it as a great spot to hang out with English-speaking friends or to feel a little bit at home when you're on the road. Quite enjoyable. Next time, Abbey Road!