After a few days in Tokyo we realized that there is very little left from the Tokyo that we were hoping to find, the Tokyo of the Edo era. In the search for something a bit more traditional we considered popping over to Kyoto for a couple of days but we quickly discarded it because just the train ticket was over 200€ per person, way above our budget in this trip. Looking for other alternatives we run into Nikko, a small town to the north of Tokyo, perfect for a day trip.
Just the train journey was refreshing, perfectly laid shopping districts were replaced by perfectly organized rice fields and tall building were replaced by traditional Japanese two storey houses. Nikko itself is a cute and quiet little town, but it doesn’t have too much to offer. It’s the proximity to Japan’s most lavish shrines and the mausoleum of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu what keep the constant flow of tourists visiting it. Multicoloured carvings, heavy ornamentation make this shrine complex impressive, but the enclave is what makes it specially beautiful and mystical. Like almost every temple or historical building in Japan the shrines in Nikko were perfectly restored or were being restored… what has made them lose a bit of their authentic feeling. We couldn’t agree on what’s better, to leave them untouched so they keep that enchanting beauty of things from the past, or renewed so we can try to imagine how they looked like when they were built.
We were a bit worn out after one week in Tokyo always on the move, but that didn’t stop us from planning a visit to the Tsukiji fish market. And you are asking, why do these two want to visit a stinky fish market? Well for two reasons: 1. it is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, 2. visitors are allowed to visit the tuna auction halls during the morning auctions. The auctions start at 5.20 and only 120 people are allowed in, what meant that we had to wake up at around 3.30, take a taxi to the market and queue for one hour. The first thing that struck us the most was that the tunas were frozen and that they were coming from all over the world, even from Spain. The buyers go around the auction hall inspecting the quality of the tuna. They check the texture, the smell, the colour of each one of the frozen tunas until the bell rings and the bidding starts. Hands up and down, bidders and sellers making almost imperceptible gestures, sold fish being marked… everything happens in seconds and once the bidding is over everything goes quiet again. I was shocked when I found out how much buyers get to pay for a tuna… they have even reached the astronomical amount of around 600.000€ for a 270kg beast, what means more than 2.200€ per kg of tuna!
After the action of the auction, we did what was my number 1 thing to do in Tokyo: A sushi breakfast. Yes, SUSHI BREAKFAST! Tsukiji fish market is the Mecca of the sushi, and Sushi Dai one of the most acclaimed sushi bars in the market. I didn’t care that we had to queue for almost 2 hours, I had to try it. As soon as the three of us were sited the show started with o-toro, the fattiest of the fatty tuna. So tender, the whole thing melts in your mouth without having to chew it. Suzuki (sea bass), anago (sea eel), tai (red snapper), magurozuka (marinated tuna)…. 11 pieces of the freshest fish accompanied by an utterly delicious miso soup that brought us on a trip to heaven… I can’t really put the taste into words. By far the best sushi I have ever had!
Once the unusual breakfast was over, poor David had to go back to work. And we, well we… after stumbling a little bit around the fish market and taking a few more pictures… emm… we collapsed at the lush green grass of Hamarikyu garden, just 5 minutes from the market.
The 30 mins sweet outdoors nap gave us enough energy to reach Asakusa, where we were going to try the Japanese style spa, the Onsen. Onsens are traditional Japanese hot spring baths. The water of this public bathing places is believed to have healing properties due to the minerals found in it. The onsen in Asakusa is one of the few real onsens remaining in Tokyo city. Traditionally men and women used to bath together, but that’s not the case any longer and the onsens are divided into two, one for the ladies and the other one for the gents. The etiquette states it clearly, you must enter the bathing area completely naked. The only things that you are allowed in are a tiny little towel and shower gel to wash your body before entering the pool. I found the showering routine very curious as the don’t shower standing, the shower sited in a little plastic stool. We spent two hours soaking the goodness of the waters, Isma while watching the sumo with the men and me trying to understand what the ladies were gossiping about. Totally recommended!
After the glorious break at the spa we were ready for the Karaoke night that David and his co-workers had organized. 4 moths in Asia and this was our first Karaoke!! Karaoke is the national number one hobby in Japan. There are countless karaokes all around the city, and all of them jammed with people, specially in the weekends. It’s a serious money making business! We had a light start, but after a glass of wine, the costumes were on and we sang and danced like maniacs! Loved it!! The star of the night was Amy, David’s Japanese colleague, you could tell it wasn’t her first time at a Karaoke.
Visit our flickr gallery for more pictures!
From Tokyo to Nikko by train (2h 30min) – We took the Tobu Nikko line in Asakusa. Only the first two wagons of the train are the ones that make it all the way to Nikko. We paid 1320 Yen per person one way.
Sushi Dai – Located at the Tsukiji fish market, here you will eat the best sushi in the world! The 2h queue is worth it! The set menu included 10 pieces (chosen by the chef) + 1 of your choice (which can be o-toro). We paid 3900 Yen per person.
Nikko Combination ticket – This combination ticket covers the entrance to all the temples, to the Japanese garden and to the museum. It can be bought on site at the temple complex. It’s worth it getting it as you will pay more buying the tickets independently. The ticket costs 1000 Yen.
Jakotsuyu Onsen – This onsen is set in the heart of Asakusa. One of the few traditional onsens that are left in Tokyo. The entry costs 450 Yen (200 extra for the sauna). Remember to bring a towel, shampoo, shower gel and flip flops, otherwise you can buy everything there.