Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tsukiji Market

For several decades Tsukiji Market has been considered the best fish/seafood market in the world. Daily auctions bring thousands of merchants from all over Tokyo, Japan and around the world. The auctions begin around 04:00 which is before many of us consider getting out of bed and before some of you get home from the clubs. They sell thousands of pounds/kilos of Black Tuna, Tuna, octopus, swordfish, seabass, mussels and so much more. When you arrive at the market the first things you see are hundreds of trucks and mini-trucks or forklifts that zoom around.
You must be very aware of these men because they are
there to do their job and if you get in the way *BAM* you get hit. I have heard of times when tourist are hit because they are paying attention. It's part of the risk of going into someones workspace and messing it up. Because that is basically what all the tourists are doing. We are in someone else's office. Could you imagine if people came to your job, took picutures of you working, got in your way and believed that they should be there. I would be pissed too and if someone got hurt, I wouldn't care. If you plan on visiting, be respectful of the workers or else you deserve what you get.

Around every corner is something special and new. Fish and seafood I have never seen befor. I felt like I was swimming in the sea. Except I was walking and the fish were all dead. Well, at least most of them were about to be dead. If you want fresh fish this is the place. Men will be slicing giant pieces of frozen tuna and swordfish with large bandsaws.It sounds like you are in a lumberyard instead of fish market. Other men are using giant swords to slice large chunks of thawed tuna. The knives are so
sharp that with one pull it cuts through the flesh like a blade cutting through water. Amazing to see. I have heard stories from my japenese frieds about fights in the stalls of the Tsukiji Market between the workers. They talk of times when the men are too cold and angry to deal with problems so they take these sharp hooks used for pulling tuna around and slap them into each other's calves and rip them back out again. It is a bloody and nasty mess. Men are carried out on carts and return months later and many times they never return. Men will lose half of their legs because of the infections, never walk again or die because of several slashes and loss of blood. It is not a place to mess around. These guys are businessmen but take there livelyhood serious as well. So my advice is to visit in the Spring, Summer or Fall when all of the dockmen are happier. NOT THE WINTER, PLEASE, FOR YOU SAFETY AND MINE.

If you want to get fish here you can't. You have to buy it outside of the market where there are stalls with hundreds of little shops selling the same thing for a slightly marked up price.Outside each of these shops are little tables with samples. Some samples of sashimi (raw fish) not sushi (raw fish with rice) and some with vegitarian item for free. They are here to get you to come in and buy. You can actually get pretty full just trying everything as you walk by. But the best part about waking up at 5am or so to go the Tsukiji is the eat the fish. There really is nothing like eating sashimi or sushi at 7am. It is such a refreshing taste and you can feel the difference in the texture of the fish and the taste when it is merely hours old. Plus you get to wash it down with a beer. Ahh the morning beer. Reminds me of college and waking up to a cold beer in the cooler from the night before. Talk about the good life...this is it. And to top it off this market is only a 15 minute walk from my house. So nice to get up early on a Saturday and walk for fresh fish anytime i want. So when you come visit me soon I will make sure to get you there. I've been a couple times with friends and alone and really love the fish and nice walk along the Samida River at 6am to begin the day. See you soon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

To the top of Japan and back

Sunday I woke up at 4:30 at sea level. Outside my house is the Samida River. My apartment is left of the small building that is lit up nicely in the middle. And next to the river is a nice river walk in which i run, bike and just hang out. Well, there is monument that marks sea level, directly in the middle of the photo. This point is the historical marker that represents where Japan measured sea level in Japan and around the world. So, it is safe to say I live at 0 ft. or sea level. My plan Sunday was to take a train to Shinjuku from Hotchobori (my station) and then catch a bus to Fuji. By now you have realized, or not, that I planned to climb the tallest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji. Mt Fuji's summit is at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet to you Americans). We finally arrive to the mountain after a 2.5 hour bus ride. It was nice because I met some really nice people and hopefully they will become friends after our trip. We got the the trails at 9am. I picked up a hiking stick that usually is used for the trip down to help with pressure on your knees. This stick can be marked for all the stations you pass with brands, however the mountain is officially closed due to repair of safety stations and amount of ice and snow, but we went anyway!! So needless to say there are no mountain men to mark are triumphs at each station. We jump several gates and barricades to get to the path to take us up the mountain.

Now many people believe that since so many people climb Fuji that it is easy. I am here to tell you it is not. People die up there. Falls, slips. depleted oxygen and many other reasons. It is a high mountain and needs to be taken seriously. If you plan to get the top in October then you need to be prepared for many changing temperatures. Hot, Warm, Cool, Rain, Ice, Snow and just friggin cold. All in a few hours. So layers are essential. I think the temperature was about 10*C when we began. The hike started out great. Beautiful day with no wind and very few clouds. Picturesque view of the smaller mountains below and a grand lake resting in the distance. We started the journey up the mountain at a good pace together with about 30 people. The pack quickly separated and us faster climbers moved on ahead. We were given oxygen cans to help with the acclimation of the climb into higher altitude. You may laugh but if you don't use the Oxygen...you could begin to lose you mind. You climb too fast with out taking in oxygen and you are done. They will have to carry you done the mountain.

At time the pathways up were quite easy but most of the time is was zig-zaggin and I was climbing straight up to make it to the next station. Now, like said it is not an easy climb but it is not difficult either. You have to pace yourself and give yourself the right amount of time to make it. At times I doubted that I was going to make it to the top, like everyone else on the trip. You bust you ass up the first 4 hours and realize now it gets hard. SNOW, rain, ice, and sleet slap you in the face. Ice forms on your backpack and flakes off when you reach for water. Looking up makes you feel like you have gone nowhere and gives you a quick feeling of dizziness and forces you to look down again. At times for me I felt strange. I could hear and feel my heart beating outside my coat and that was with 5 layers of clothing on. It was tough but worth every bit of the mental strain and physical. Sometimes I swear rocks were growing legs and walking away. That meant I needed to get some more O2. After the 3000 meter mark I felt like It was going to be no problem. I thought only 776 meters to go. Easy, right? Wrong! Then the rocks and the steps came with ice, wind and more snow. Finally it all paid off. They final gate was just ahead and then if felt like a surge of power came over me and I knew I was at the top. What a beautiful feeling it was. The view was not good at first cause there was
only about 20 meters of visibility. So we had to wait for the clouds and snow to clear to see the crater at the top of Fuji. We went on to the summit after viewing the crater and that was the pinnacle. I brought along my Emporia State University Pennant to show props to my university. I may be one of the only ESU alum to climb Fuji.

Next was the the hard part. Coming down. Because for everything that goes up....it must come down. You may think that coming down is easier but it's not. Gravity does help but the pressure you put on your knees, quads and hips is intense. Not to mention that we had to be at the bottom earlier that expected. So that meant we had to run down. Yes... run down. Not an easy thing to do for a fella with bad knees and hips. I kept singing Jane's Addiction while running...."Coming Down the Mountain" it reminded me of a road trip with some fellas from Warsaw. We were told we had to get down in 2 hours from a point in which it usually takes 3 hours. Of F*** we said and that's when we took off in leaps and bounds never straightening our legs for 2 hours. We stopped a couple times to rest and many times I felt like staying on the mountain and really had no will to continue but I knew i had to get down or I would miss the bus. We all were in the same boat and just pushed each other on until we finally reached the bottom. But, the wait was not over.

We found out the bus had been called and was going to be late because some people we hurt and too far away. One woman had to be carried down the mountain piggy-back on Ricky, the organizers back. So we waited in the cold wind and freezing rain. Now heat and standing still. Toes beginning to get numb and body shutting down from 8 hours for intense strain. All layers of clothing soaking wet but not from the rain and snow but from the sweat. Drip, Drip, Drip off my brow. My stocking cap was like a leaky pipe. I couldn't take it off cause it was the only thing keeping my head from freezing. We waited 1 hour and 20 min for the bus. I was pissed off cause there was no need to run down the mountain. I was going to pay for running the next couple days.
When the bus finally arrived I felt like I was in high school again. It was just like finishing a football game on a trip to Beloit,Kansas knowing you just played you heart out and now you have to sit for 3 hours to get home and rest. But this time it wasn't my 18 year old body recovering. It's a damn near 33 yr old body (Oct 9). But like I said before, it was worth the pain I am suffering today. One of the best things I have ever done. And I met some great people along the way that I know I will see again. Thanks alot Ivo, Mike, Andy & Tim. It was a great trip. Now back to Sea Level.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Finally Back

Long time since I have had time to write. So much has happened since then. I had a good friend visiting from Chicago. If you of you have read write ups from the past you will remember Yvonna my close friend I met in Chicago. She and her mother arrived here at the beginning of September and stayed for two weeks. We spent a lot of time together visiting places and trying new foods. Having some fun everywhere we went. Most of the time they were on their own while I was at work with the kids. I would come back to a home full of people. Now my flat is not big but it was so nice to have someone to come home to. It's been a long time since that happened. That's another write up. Anyway we visited the beaches in Kamukura. It was a place I mentioned in a Tokyo Dream...I think. We met up with a friend from work named Anastacia. She and I became friend and spend time together when we have a chance.

Anastacia showed us around her home town area and some great places to get free food while walking around. There were pickle stands, yes, pickle stands to try different types of pickled veggies. Then there were nut stands too. Different flavored nuts. Ha Ha Mark I know, keep it clean you dirty mind. We checked out the surfers and wind-surfers. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time.

I then took them to Akihabara, Electric town. Oh yeah one of my favorite places. I have been there so many times I can go there in my sleep. I love the Japanese way of buying stuff. Instead of giving you the discount they give you points on top of the discount. Then when you want to go back to buy more stuff you can use points for instead of cash. Brilliant! I bought a TV, 42 inch that is, and DVD player and stand and in return I got about 50,000 yen worth in points. That got me a new Karwin-Kardin Ipod player that rocks. It got me a new Ipod for my classroom and more. And I still have about 25,000 points left. About 250 usd. So it's a good thing. I get top of the line stuff at cheap price and stuff for free. I love it.

Now on one of the last days of Yvonna and her mother's visit, we met up with AJ and Ai. These are some friends i met here. Aj took us to a great sashimi place. I love sashimi. It is pieces of raw fish. No rice just fish uncooked. Love it. We had some great stuff. Things i never thought i would eat. Not because of taste or thought of the taste but of the political incorrectness behind it. It wasn't planned on my part and I do feel bad about it but it happens. Anyway, after eating out we went back to the house for a bit to clean. We then decided to head out and we were stopped by the locals for a Bom Adori. Which is a dancing festival. They pulled me out on the dance floor and I had a good time. Yvonna later came out we circled around the group as the only Gaijin (foreigner. Here I am after with the elders and the mayor who looks like he is throwing up some gang signs. They men wanted a picture with Yvonna cause she was so beautiful.

Ok. I need to go. I will catch you up on more in a bit. I got some blogs about Tsukiji Market and Mt. Fuji to write about later.