Tokyo Day 3

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, November 13, 2006

We woke up early with plans to go to the fish market...and when I say early, I mean eeeeaaaarly, like 4:30 a.m. Why in world would we want to do that? Well, this fish market, called Tsukiji, is the largest fish market in the world. And it gets started early, about 6 a.m., but the giant tuna auction starts around 5 a.m. Nearly all of the restaurants and distributors acquire their fish from this daily market.

So we headed out before dawn, took a brisk walk in the cold morning air to the appropriate metro station, hopped on, and hopped off at the metro stop closest to Tsukiji, where we were met with a sign saying "Fish Market Closed Today." Quite disappointed (but knowing we could try again tomorrow), we plopped down on the floor, pulled out our guidebook, and re-planned our itinerary.

Dane had something on the list that was really important to him. For those of you who have seen the movie, Lost in Translation, the hotel where they stayed is the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. It is very fancy, extremely tall, and was listed in the book, A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. And Dane really wanted to check it out. So we were back on the metro and then wandering the chilly streets, by now in daylight (although it was a very cold and blustery day). I wasn't quite sure what to expect or what exactly Dane was seeking to see, and I felt very conspicuous in the glamorous surroundings, but we slipped into the hotel undetained. The floor descriptions at the elevator listed a bar/lounge on the 41st floor so we went up and walked out into a large room. Three of its four walls were solid glass windows, overlooking the city. It was like standing on the edge of cliff at the top of the world.
I knew Tokyo was a large capital, and we had read that a quarter of Japan's population lived in or around Tokyo, but I was still surprised to see its expanse. It stretched in all directions, fading into the horizon. High-rises were everywhere, and I could recognize them as such, yet they seemed dwarfed by our position elevated so far above them. The shadow of the building in which we stood crouched over the others like a giant aided by the low-lying morning sun. So many buildings, so many people, so many lives. It's difficult to fathom. We are a mere speck in space and time.

Now I'd rather have been viewing a crystal blue ocean or the green of some unscathed paradise, yet I could still appreciate this exceptional panorama. And the coolest part was that along the distant horizon we could spy a protruding white peak, Mount Fuji. It is often shrouded by a haze of fog and pollution, but we had caught it on the perfect day at just the right hour. The lounge was nearly empty. Only a few of the waitstaff silently flitted around wiping windows and straightening chairs. They seemed unmolested by our presence, so we sat, still and quiet, practically pressed against the glass, hypnotized by the miniscule movements below, like one who detects his own heartbeat when completely lost in meditation.

We finally wrenched ourselves from the window and re-joined the world at ground level. Our next stop was Meiji Temple and its park grounds, which are a noteworthy area of forest within the city center.
Meiji Temple itself is visited on Sundays by parents presenting their children. I imagine this is sort of like a christening for us, except they do it when their children are considerably older. So once again, we were lucky. We happened to visit this sight on a Sunday, and happened to be entering the area of the temple as two brides were being paraded out of temple after their wedding ceremonies, and dozens of children, dolled up in traditional dress, were lingering outside the temple surrounded by proud family members and flashing cameras. It made for a fantastic photo opportunity.

We finished our afternoon at another temple, called Sengakuji. It was dedicated to some loyal men, during the samurai era, who gave their lives to honor their shamed lord (and by this term I mean like a chief not a god). The temple was not unique, but the trip was made worthwhile as we witnessed the visitors offering incense and paying their respects to the shrines of the nameless men.

I was exhausted when we got back to our hostel, but in that joyful way, like a child who had played to her heart's delight all day long. It had been another day full of happy surprises and unexpected glimpses into Japanese life.
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