During the last week of April, Sachiko Inomata also invited me to join her for another outing on a Tuesday morning at Tsukiji Market. Sachiko said that she goes there several times a year to stock up on special items. The market opens to wholesalers at 3:00 a.m. and to the public after 9:00 a.m. We started out early and took the Toei Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station, which features colorful murals and the pungent odor of fish which fills the air way below ground.
Boisterous and sprawling, the Tsukiji Market (Jonai Shigo) covers over 56 acres of land bustling with bikes, motorcycles, small trucks, machinery, throngs of people, amidst mounds of styrofoam crates and cartons. As we walked amongst the aisles of stalls in the massive warehouses, I saw fish and seafood that I never knew existed, nor could I imagine eating. Apparently there are over 450 types of fish and seafood represented and a visit here is not for the squeamish or vegetarians! Yet, the market is a popular tourist attraction and I did enjoy the energy, excitement, visual and sensory stimuli. The outer lying market (Jogai Shigo) is composed of blocks of restaurants, vendors and food stalls selling: fresh and frozen seafood, including sea vegetables; cooking utensils, especially knives and dishware; dried foods, such as, bonito, grains, beans; pickles, nori, ocha, seasonings and dozens of other delicacies. Moreover, it was fascinating to see a multitude of exotic sources from the sea that are the basis for Japanese cuisine.
Sachiko and I of course had fresh sushi served up on large banana leaves at one of the narrow food stalls. After our morning meal, Sachiko picked up bundles of fresh bonito flakes to take home to her family. She said that this particular bonito were the best quality and gave me a few packages as a gift. I have to agree with her–I have been sprinkling the flakes on salads or mixing them into soup broths, adding a delightfully distinct flavor to my meals. To my surprise I get a burst of energy, which I’ve found is from the rich source of B vitamins that are inherent to the flakes.
As we set out to explore Jogai Shigo, we briefly visited the Namiyoke Inari Shrine (c.1657) which has been a fixture in the marketplace for almost 350 years. Namiyoke–“protection from the waves,” and Inari — “God of commercial prosperity and safe operations at sea.” Nevertheless, this shrine is designated as the unofficial guardian for the marketplace and traders. The red and black male and female lion heads (incarnations of Inari) are the highlight the annual “Lion Festival.” Sachiko lamented that the entire market and environs would soon be relocated to another part of Tokyo. This I couldn’t imagine, as there seemed to be so much history here.
Later, around twelve noon, Sachiko and I somehow ended up at a traditional Japanese tea house in Ginza where we had bowls of delicious sweets beans with cups of green tea. A very healthy dessert at the peak of the day!