Day 2 – Tsukiji, Ginza, Shibuya
We decided to dedicate our first whole day in Tokyo to Ginza and its surrounds, ticking off what we could and coming back another day if there was still more to see. We are both enthusiastic walkers, so we thought that where we could, we would avoid paying for the subway (using our JR passes to get as far as we could on the JR line, and then just walking the rest of the way. The JR line stops at Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara, Ueno and Tokyo, plus quite a few more). This saw us leaving the station at Shimbashi and walking about twenty minutes to our first stop, Tsukiji Market. (To clarify, it is entirely possible to catch the metro all the way to Tsukiji – we just chose to save our pennies and get a few extra steps in instead. After all, with all the delicious food about, we didn’t want to go home and be confused with all those sushi rolls we had eaten!)
The Tsukiji Market was an extremely interesting experience. Until we got there, we didn’t actually realise the tension that surrounds the presence of tourists at the market. I would suggest others went there expecting hostility from the locals, and to be polite, respectful and courteous at all times. After all, these merchants have absolutely nothing to gain from the hordes of tourists being there, and absolutely everything to lose from the disruption we cause. We saw a sign somewhere describing tourists as an ‘unwanted phenomenon’.
The market itself is pretty fascinating. You can’t actually go into the wholesale area until after 10am so we spent the first half an hour or so wandering the outer market. There were various stalls selling stuff like crockery, dried fish, knives and heaps of different sushi and sashimi places selling expensive but extremely fresh delicacies.
The wholesalers’ area consists of a million different types of sea creature (mostly fish) available for sale, as well as merchants hard at work filleting and packing up the fish. Some of the bigger fish are absolute monsters – tuna that were about my size, and would weigh about 200kg. Steer clear of the forklifts and other motorised vehicles, because they certainly won’t steer clear of you. In fact, I think the drivers enjoy coming deliberately a little too close to tourists, just to remind us who’s boss! Photography is frowned upon, so if you want to take any photos you definitely need to be subtle. It is also possible to walk through the fruit and vege produce market, which is just like any other produce market really – but bigger!
From the markets we headed towards Ginza, a highly polished shopping district with all the high-end designer stores, cutesy cafes and some interesting galleries. We moseyed around the shops for quite a bit longer than I anticipated (once you start it’s hard to stop) but we definitely found time for a pitstop at the Lindt Café, to enjoy some scrumptious cake and well deserved hot chocolates.
After having one more pitstop at the Tokyo Ramen Street in Tokyo Station, we headed past the Tokyo International Forum (a highly impressive piece of architecture) to the Imperial Palace. I hadn’t realised quite how restrictive our views would be – unless you are doing a tour, your view is mostly limited to two bridges (the iron Niju-bashi and the stone Megane-bashi) and the Fushimi-yagura watchtower in the background. This is partly because the emperor actually still resides there, which I guess is as good a reason as any! It has impressive grounds: popular with locals for running as it is very peaceful. On the way home, we decided to stop and check out Shibuya. We had wanted to visit Shibuya by night because we wanted to experience its buzz and eccentricity at its finest. We weren’t to be disappointed, the place was absolutely nuts.
We arrived at the train station and made our way directly to the free d47 museum. The theme of the museum changes regularly, and its name stems from the 47 prefectures of Japan always being required to contribute to the current exhibition. The exhibition we saw was based on the idea of ‘problem to product’, meaning that each district had to identify something that is seen as a problem (for example, vegetable waste or coral dying) and turn it into a product worth selling (hand creams and coral infused brown sugar). It was well worth a visit, despite only being displayed in Japanese (we had a lot of fun figuring out the problems based on the product). The Travel Design Store located right next door is also very cool.
Probably like every other tourist who is experiencing the Shibuya Crossing for the first time, we felt the need to cross back and forth several times before we truly felt like we had experienced it. It is said to be possibly the biggest intersection in the world, with over 1000 people crossing it at once during peak times. So many people, yet somehow, they all seem to elegantly side step one another and avoid colliding – as though it was a pre-choreographed dance!
The areas surrounding the Shibuya Crossing are all very lively (namely Shibuya Centre-gai and Spain-zaka), with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars to choose from. They are pedestrian only streets, making exploring all the more enjoyable. I would definitely recommend visiting here at least once (in fact, I would personally consider staying here if I were to return), and if you do only come once, make sure it is at night.