Adventures of the 2016 Sakura Tour to Japan: Making our Way Through Crowds in Tokyo

Our tour officially began in the morning on the second day with everyone in the lobby ready to dart out the hotel and explore Tokyo. It was perhaps due to jet lag that everyone was full of energy and ready to go out. We left our hotel earlier than planned and caught a train to the Tsukijishio station for the famous Tsukiji Fish market.

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at the crowded train station (photo by Eliane Herzig)

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a fuzzy capture of our group laughing in the crowded train car to the Tsujiki fish market. (photo by Elaine Herzig)

It was barely 9 AM the same hour that offices in Tokyo open for employees, that we caught ourselves in a jam at the Shinagawa JR station. It was so crowded that we had to rub between people. We made our way down to the platform that was so full of office workers, men and women dressed in dark suits and standing in line, waiting to jump onto an already crowded train car to their place of work. We swarm through the crowd to our train car with people already packed inside like sardines in a can. We felt as if a train conductor pushed some people into our full train. We couldn’t raise our hands to sign instead we kept an eye on each other and of coursed, we smiled and laughed our way through. We got off to transfer to a subway but we found the crowd to be much more tense with people waiting in line by the stairways, instead, we got out of the station and took taxis to the fish market. But what we didn’t know was that our taxi driver would drop us off at different corners. Luckily we were all on the same side of the road and found each other after a few minutes of peer search. Technology also was of some help, too.  Thank God!

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A fishmonger and a fish (photo by Elaine Herzig)

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The bluefin tuna is ready for the market (photo by Muriel Freedman)

Next, we entered the fish market, the wholesale area specifically. We arrived shortly after the auction, which had begun earlier around 5 AM and was limited to 60 persons per day. Fishmongers were moving fresh fish from the auction floor to their stalls in the wholesale area. We walked through narrow pathways and passed hundreds of stalls that sold various kinds of fish, shellfish, and seaweed or kelp. We watched them prepare the fish with sharp knives, cutting through fish, slicing the fish meat, removing bones and packing them in containers for shipment to loyal customers. For the most, we saw a lot of blood and intestinal waste is thrown onto the floor and washed away with a water hose. It was kind of disgusting to look at but that’s the fish market.  Gradually the wholesale area turned busy with the odd looking motorized carts that make a 360 turn with its body instead of wheels. The whole cart turns to change direction. They were taking over the floor and drivers are a bit impatient that we were in their way. They blew their horns only to find that we responded to people who waved at us to move. It was time for us to get out the place for a new insight of Tokyo.

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These crazy motorized carts that can make a full 360 turn with its body, not wheels to change direction. These drivers are impatient! (photo by James Revell)

 

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The black tooth lion at the Namiyoke Inari Shrine. (photo by Elaine Herzig)

We left the fish market stopping by the Namiyoke Inari Shine that was just outside the market. The shrine was built was built on a water edge from a landfill. The shrine means “protection from waves”. It became an unofficial guardian shine for the marketplace and its traders. Every year there is a festival associating with Namiyoke that includes dances with the two large lion masks seen at the temple. The ritual dances plead for “no waves”. One of the masks portrays a lion with black teeth. It’s the most photographed lion in Tokyo.

Following the Namiyoke Inari Shrine we walked through another market with restaurants. A lot of the stuff sold were fish products from the market and utensils for fish cookery. Strange looking food items, fresh produce; pickles and sushi were also found along the store sides. We took photos of the foods, gadgets and actions as we move out the area walking towards to Ginza that was a few blocks away and is one of the world’s most expensive real estates.

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The famous Wako landmark in Ginza. It’s one of the oldest department stores in Ginza. (photo by Peggy Prosser)

In Ginza, we window-shopped and browsed in some stores. We saw a paper store, Japanese bakery and used the restroom at Ginza’s finest department store, the Mitsukoshi before our lunch appointment at the Ginza Isomura Honten. There we had a delicious Kushiage meal.

Our lunch energized us back onto our feet for the rest of the day’s tour. We took the subway to the Tokyo Skytree. This time, there wasn’t a crowd in the trains like earlier in the morning. Each one of us got a seat on the subway all the way down to world’s second tallest tower structure. The Tokyo Skytree is Japan’s newest broadcasting tower with an observation deck. Its full height is 2,080ft. The observation deck is a glass tube with windows that looks out to Tokyo. The sight is spectacular. On clear days one could see Mt. Fuji in the backdrop. But dang, we missed that.

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Looking down from the glass tunnel to the greater Tokyo (photo by Peggy Prosser)

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At Asakusa 

While looking down from Skytree we saw our next destination, Asakusa. We left the tower and traveled in the subway to one of Tokyo’s oldest districts. The main attraction is the Sensoji Buddhist temple that was built 600 years ago and the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been around for many centuries, providing visitors to the temple with new gadgets, some snacks, and souvenirs. We walked through Nakamise exploring the things for sale and stopped at a wooden billboard that showed an illustration of the Seven Lucky Gods.  Peggy explained that one of the seven gods of fortune, Ebisu is believed to be deaf because he is described as a character who doesn’t respond to his name, misunderstands the other gods and misses events.  And Ebisu is the only one of the seven to originate purely from Japan without any Hindu or Chinese influence.

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Peggy points to Ebisu and signs that he is deaf. (photo by James Revell)

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The Asahi Beer Headquarters (photo by Peggy Prosser)

Then we moved towards to the Sensoji temple where we watched people make an offering and said prayers. Then we took an exit through the Rokku Entertainment District, an old red light district to the end of Sumida Park. There we discussed the strange yellow colored tower with a white top and with a big yellow tadpole looking sculpture at its side. We discussed that it was a chemical or medicine company. One person responded it was a sperm bank. Eventually, we learned that it was the Asahi Beer headquarters and that the tall tower portrayed a glass of beer with white foam at the top and that the yellow tadpole looking sculpture was a drop of beer.

Our tour ended with a social event at Fusao, a deaf-owned izakaya (tavern) in Okubo near Shinjuku. We ate on the tatami floor and mingled with Japanese persons who knew some ASL. The group also met with the owner where we also had a group photo made outside of his izakaya.

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Group Photo at Fusao Izakaya. (photo by Michael Keferi)