No fish left in the sea

I spent last weekend in Tokyo and I loved it! Its posh department stores and restaurants in Ginza, its trendy cafes and shops in Shibuya and Harajuku (this even though I am an old timer), and its traditional Japanese restaurants in Asakusa, to name a few of the key sources of my love for the capital of Japan.

However, by far the most striking experience I had in Tokyo was the Tsukiji fish market.

Some of you might view going to a fish market a bit like going to the butchers or an abattoir, and you are right – that’s what it is, kind of. But if you are prepared to eat octopus sushi, tuna sashimi, raw sea urchin, salmon soup, oyster tempura, grilled mackerel, deep fried white bait, eel on a skewer, pan fried perch, prawn cocktail, or to open a tin of Whiskas for your feline friend, I think one should be prepared to understand (and ideally see) where that food comes from and accept the responsibility that your (or your cat’s) diet will mean that marine creatures will be caught and killed for your benefit.

To try to get a better understanding of this, I had an early start and met my Japanese friend in the foyer of my hotel at 4.40am. He had kindly offered to come to the fish market with me before heading to work straight from the fish market. Since the tube wasn’t running that early in the morning, we walked for 20 minutes to the fish market and got there at 5am when the ticket office for the tuna and sea urchin auction was due to open. They only let 150 visitors observe the auction, which starts at 5.25am.

When we got to the ticket booth, we learned that the booth had opened already at 2.30am and that by 4am all the tickets were sold out, and that we were thus not going to witness the extremely expensive black tuna or sea urchin changing hands by way of some elaborate hand movements indicating bids and prices.

Disappointed, we walked around aimlessly trying to avoid being run over by very busy men on battery powered turret trucks which looked like a cross between a forklift and a petrol barrel (see short video below).


By coincidence we came across one not–so-busy man, sitting on a crate of fish and my friend asked him if there was anything interesting to see at 5am instead of the auction that we had missed. Apparently we were welcome to go and have a look inside a huge, intimidating looking warehouse full of men, boxes of fish and turret trucks.



So we walk into the warehouse, again trying not to get run over by the guys on their trucks or clog up the narrow walkways. I’m taking photos of fish, squid, octopus, turtles, and shell fish in boxes and fish tanks, and on tables and trolleys, and of sellers and buyers negotiating (see photos).














There were piles and boxes of fish everywhere in this gigantic warehouse whose extremities were unknown to us. I had never seen so many fish.  I started to have an unnerving thought. Tsukiji fish market is just one of several fish markets in Tokyo, and there are many more fish markets in Japan, and Japan is just one country in Asia, and Asia is just one continent. These types of fish markets take place in thousands of places in the world. And they take place every day! I could but think that there must be no fish left in the sea! It’s all on tables and boxes in fish markets like this! Or revolving around sushi restaurant counters or being covered in batter in fish and chip shops.


When the tuna auction had finished and the tuna was brought to the market







After having had a look around the market, we decided that we had seen enough and wanted to head back to the hotel, but the warehouse was so big that we couldn’t find our way out. Eventually, my friend asked directions from an elderly man loading his turret truck. We were gobsmacked when the guy glanced at us from underneath his eyebrows and then offered to give us a lift to the closest tube station in his truck. At 6am these workers are super busy. I don’t think they would generally be willing to operate a taxi service for lost visitors. So, we were extremely grateful (and very excited!) when we hopped on the back of the truck and off we went.


When we cruised out of the warehouse, I noticed many tourists (none of whom were using a similar taxi service as us!), and said to my friend that it is weird that none of the other tourists came into the actual fish warehouse to have a look. That, funnily enough, we seemed to be the only tourists there.

He then admits that the guy who had instructed us to go in had done so because my friend was wearing a suit (as he was going straight to work from the fish market) and the guy had said that even though strictly speaking we were not supposed to go in, the staff would think we were there on business! Never have I felt more like a gatecrasher! But at the same time I was grateful to my friend and his suit for having experienced something I’ll never forget – the content of the entire sea on tables of a fish market and the ride at the back of a barrel on four wheels.


I have mixed emotions after seeing the fish market.  Part of me is happy to have seen first hand where our food comes from. However, it does make me think seriously about how much I actually enjoy eating fish. Do I love it so much that I am prepared to support the fish industry in their capture and killing of fish? Aside from the suffering that the fish endure, I am also concerned about the hazards for humans of eating fish (e.g. due to levels of mercury) and the environmental impact of fishing. One to ponder I think.

Citybreak + kids = disaster

IMG_7435We went to Tokyo for a short trip a couple of days ago. I suppose that most people go to Tokyo to see the subway/Tokyo Skytree/Tokyo Tower/Shibuya street crossing etc, and yes we saw most of those famous sights, but the ‘sight’ that our children and I really wanted to see was the Moomin café which we had read about in the paper back in the UK. It sounded so Japanese: having a Moomin themed café aimed at adult customers, in which solitary diners share a table with one metre high stuffed Moomin soft toys.  Many (adult) Europeans would find it slightly awkward to sit in a public place next to a stuffed children’s toy, but not the Japanese! I guess they like the fact that no small talk is required, but that you don’t feel like you are having your meal on your own. Whilst living in Japan we want to learn about Japan, its people and culture and what better way than to experience this slightly peculiar coffee session.

IMG_7424  IMG_7428So, on our only non-travel day of our Tokyo trip, the plan was that we’d go to the Skytree in the morning and the Moomin café in the afternoon.

The day didn’t turn out quite like we wanted; for some unexplained reason, it seems our days never do (perhaps the fact that we have two kids explains a lot)!

The misfortunes started already on the lift on our way to breakfast in our hotel. Both our daughter and son ran for a stool in the corner of the lift to sit on. In the process, our daughter tripped over and banged her head against the lift wall. Tears were inevitable.

After breakfast we headed to the Skytree, the tallest building in Japan (and second tallest in the World) (see photos below).



On the way there, we saw the Asahi beer headquarters and our son appropriately asked why there was a big (golden) poo on top of the building. I leave it to you to form your own opinion as to whether the piece of art on the Asahi building looks like a flame (which is how it is marketed) or, in fact, a big golden poo (see photo below).


The kids were rather badly behaved, possibly because city breaks do not generally allow for young children to let out steam and because they find many citybreak sights as interesting as an astrophysicist would find small talk. While in the Skytree, our daughter ignored our advice about monkeying around, and hung off of a railing and banged her bottom lip on a perspex screen. Luckily (a) she didn’t hurt herself too badly and (b) the Japanese had made the screen strong enough that she didn’t plunge 600m to the ground. Tears were (again) inevitable.

The journey from the Skytree to the Moomin Café was long and painful, partly because our unfamiliarity with the Tokyo subway (tube) meant we at some points ended up practically walking  to our destination. I mean, you get off at a station to change for the next line to find that there is a sign directing you back on the street for a 950 m hike to the next station (this is particularly annoying when Google maps estimates that there is about 1000 m walk to your destination). And partly because our kids carried on with their inappropriate chimp-like behaviour.

In addition to their overall behavior, we have a particular problem with our kids touching every surface they encounter! The dirtier the surface, the better! So, at one point we found our daughter with her fingers knuckle deep in a drain and 15 minutes later on her knees, sticking her hands behind a row of chairs on a tube platform. Her hands (and knees) were black with God knows what (see photo below).  Our son’s expression says it all.

IMG_7413When we finally, after an hour and a half journey, got to the Moomin café, my husband and I were hoping that the café also had a licence to sell wine (or Valium) so that we could reward ourselves for surviving the trip there. But luck was not on our side. Not in terms of the wine or indeed the Valium. And actually not in terms of the coffee and cake either. You see, when we got there, we were told that the café was closing in 10 minutes for a private party and that we would not be able come in for even that 10 minutes and drink our coffee (or wine) in one gulp.

FullSizeRenderYou can imagine, we were nearly as disappointed as Kanye West at the MTV music awards when Taylor Swift won the best female video, although we didn’t go and have a rant at the people who had booked the restaurant shouting that we should have been served, because we had had the hardest journey there ever. I think the biggest reasons for our relatively placid response to the fact that we were not to sit and dine with the stuffed Moomin characters was that (a) the waiter was ever so apologetic and even followed us outside to give us some complimentary Moomin sweets, and (b) adjacent to the café, there was a Moomin bakery, which meant that we didn’t have to leave the Moomin valley completely empty-handed. Instead of fulfilling our original plan of having a cup of coffee and some Stinky and Snorkmaden chocolate buns and Hattifatten sausage rolls we bought some pastries for us to sample when we got back to our hotel.



Before we went back, we decided to go for some Korean food. We really like Korean food although the food in this place was pretty average. I think my husband liked it better than I did – I can’t say that ice cubes in my noodles is my favourite thing. Speaking of ice cubes, our daughter continued to behave like a baboon and managed to fall backwards off of her chair and drop a glass full of ice on the floor. I bet the staff and our fellow diners were as happy to share the space with us as they would have been sharing the space with a pack of farting Dalmatians and their nervous owners just before they go on stage at Crufts. Having said that, Korean people would probably salivate at the thought of Crufts more than a Saint Bernard would when offered a Hattifatten sausage roll.

The day of misfortune was complete when we got back to the hotel and my husband went to get a bottle of wine that we had left in the fridge (to finally reward us for surviving a full citybreak day with two kids) and we realized that we had accidentally placed it in the freezer compartment. We could but drool over the block of frozen wine in the bottle. So near, yet so far.

If you try and tell me that you actually enjoy city breaks more with small children than without I think there is something wrong with you.