Welcome To Tokyo!
This is an image of night-time in Tokyo…a gorgeous scene in a wild place…which leads to a story about a Tokyo cop encounter…that’s just ahead, but first, enjoy this image below:
This is what we think of as “paradise”. idyllic, serene, peaceful – like I said, PARADISE. Have you ever wanted to escape there? Live on a beach, watch the sun set, and forget about everything else?
Maybe head out in your skiff to catch a few fish, which you can cook up on the beach, using palm fronds as an outdoor smoker? Of course you do…what can ever go wrong in a place like this?
But look at that small island just a bit more closely – what sort of iphone reception do you think you will get here? Will you be able to post to Facebook and Twitter? Where EXACTLY is the grocery store, refrigeration, WINE? Even in paradise, I guess, there are issues to face..that is why the best travel books look at the colorful, funny and annoying aspects of paradise as well…such as this one:
Getting Stoned With Savages – Maarten Troost. Published in 2006
I have posted about Troost’s first book,” The Sex Lives of Cannibals”, where Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. “Getting Stoned with Savages” again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa, battling feral dogs, machete-wielding neighbors, and a lack of beer on a daily basis, Maarten Troost was in no hurry to return to the South Pacific.
But as time went on, he realized he felt remarkably out of place among the trappings of twenty-first-century America. When he found himself holding down a job—one that might possibly lead to a career—he knew it was time for him and his wife, Sylvia, to repack their bags and set off for parts unknown.
“Getting Stoned with Savages” tells the hilarious story of Troost’s time on Vanuatu—a rugged cluster of islands where the natives gorge themselves on kava and are still known to “eat the man.”
YES, “EAT THE MAN!”
Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. When Sylvia gets pregnant, they decamp for slightly-more-civilized Fiji, a fallen paradise where the local chiefs can be found watching rugby in the house next door.
And as they contend with new parenthood in a country rife with prostitutes and government coups, their son begins to take quite naturally to island living—in complete contrast to his dad.
Just like his previous work, this is a hilarious, well-written account of “living in paradise” – a great travel book!
NOW, LET’S HEAD TO “SKI-GEE!”
Tsukiji The Fish Market at the Center of the World – By Theodore C. Bestor – published in 2004.
I’ve been told that “SKI-GEE” is how you pronounce “Tsukiji”, the world’s largest fish market, located in Tokyo. Here is a view from the air:
And here it is from outside, the bustling crowds ready to head into the market to bid for some fish:
Located only blocks from Tokyo’s glittering Ginza, Tsukiji–the world’s largest marketplace for seafood–is a prominent landmark, well known but little understood by most Tokyoites: a supplier for countless fishmongers and sushi chefs, and a popular and fascinating destination for foreign tourists.
Early every morning, tens of thousands of tons of seafood from every ocean of the world quickly change hands in Tsukiji’s auctions and in the marketplace’s hundreds of tiny stalls. You can wander for hours through row after row of stalls, some clearly “Mom and Pop” type shops:
I know because I’ve eaten in several of these tiny stalls – especially the mini-sushi bars that line the outside of the fish market…here is one of the plates I had for breakfast last summer:
The stalls serve sushi, but also steaming bowls of noodles, rice with any sort of seafood imaginable, and of course I went into the one you see here to get some of that deliciousness for myself:
Be aware that I quickly discovered they speak absolutely NO english, which made my attempt to order a bowl of fresh sea urchin and yellowtail over rice quite comic: the two elderly japanese women behind the counter didn’t think I knew what I was ordering, so the two women just kept speaking VERY FAST JAPANESE to me – getting louder and louder as I grimaced and shrugged and pointed to the urchin. Finally they pulled out some for me to taste, and when I smiled and nodded, they made me my breakfast, and it was delicious!
You can also just walk through the stall and buy all sorts of food from street vendors, like these hot fish cakes – the world’s original “fish sticks”:
I ended up eating sushi four mornings in a row for breakfast…how can you NOT, when the sushi bars ring the fish market and offer the freshest fish you can eat?
The Tsukiji book’s Author Bestor–who has spent a dozen years doing fieldwork at fish markets and fishing ports in Japan, North America, Korea, and Europe–explains the complex social institutions that organize Tsukiji’s auctions and the supply lines leading to and from them and illuminates trends of Japan’s economic growth, changes in distribution and consumption, and the increasing globalization of the seafood trade.
As he brings to life the sights and sounds of the marketplace, he reveals Tsukiji’s rich internal culture, its place in Japanese cuisine, and the mercantile traditions that have shaped the marketplace since the early seventeenth century. A really fascinating book, especially since I’ve been lucky enough to go there several times…which leads to my unique experience with the Tokyo Police:
My Tokyo Police Experience!
On my last trip to Tokyo, just three months after the earthquake and Tsunami, everyone was a bit subdued: a fair number of the bright Tokyo lights were dimmed or off, a way to save electricity.
We were filming a series of stories – both at the fish market, and in some of Tokyo’s entertainment districts, where we filmed with local “cosplayers”, who showed us cafe where you are served by girls dressed in “Cosplay” outfits…lots of fun…
We stayed in the Shinjuku district, home to the world’s busiest train station…and home to the Kabuki-Cho entertainment district, bustling and full of life, lights, and lots of crazy businesses like this one:
These businesses are NOT for foreigners – in many cases, foreigners can’t even go in – but all the lights are fun and crazy…making for a a visual feast at night!
And on this trip, I saw Mt. Fuji from my hotel room for the first time….
Daytime Tokyo is much different than night – here is the view from my room, looking down at the Shinjuku train station, and north toward Kabuki-Cho and beyond – and the direction I would be walking:
It is this Tokyo that I like to explore, and always do it during the day, when I can take pictures and stroll the neighborhoods, which are much less hectic than the nightlife…one day I walked in the direction of the picture above – through a sleepy Kabucki-Cho and north…coming across fun businesses like this curry shop – you know, for “curry in hurry”:
I also came across a small shop that sold me fried beef cakes:
I also came across ads like this one – anyone want to tell me what they are trying to sell here?
VENDING MACHINE MANIA!
You should also know that there are vending machines EVERYWHERE in Tokyo – I mean on every single block, many times in packs like this:
They are filled with water, iced coffee and various drinks – like this COFFEE JELLY-
It’s like coffee jello…fun and refreshing in a “Coffee jelly” sort of way: also, there are virtually NO garbage cans in Tokyo except where the vending machines are located – nobody walks and drinks in Tokyo, you buy your beverage at the vending machine and you consume it there…you won’t find anyone eating or drinking on the subways or streets either…that is one reason it is so clean in the city…
So here is how my Tokyo police encounter began. I went for a walk, beginning about 10a…I usually will walk for several hours. After wandering through a Tokyo neighborhood like this, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a police car following me…moments later it pulls alongside and both Officers get out. They speak NO English. They motion for my ID, which I give them: I always carry my passport with me, whcih they motioned for me to put in the Officer’s HAT. Then they have me empty my pockets, which I did, putting it all into the hat. They patiently go through my wallet with close scrutiny of EVERYTHING – my credit cards, business card, insurance card, fascinated by all of it. They speak to me in Japanese, and even thought I try to understand what they want, it is mostly shrugging and pointing.
I look at them and shrug when they talk to me, they keep looking at my stuff for about five more minutes, and then they hold the hat out for me to take all of my stuff back…then they motion I can go…
So why did they stop me? I’ll never know…It was 1p in the afternoon, it was just a normal neighborhood I thought, and there was nothing about the neighborhood that seemed out of the ordinary – maybe because I was the ONLY foreigner in this area?
The most embarrassing part would have been if I was detained for WALKING – so there you have it, my Tokyo Police experience…if anyone with Tokyo experience has a theory about why they wanted to see my ID, let me know. I have filmed four separate times in Tokyo and have never had an encounter with the Police…
That said, I still love the place, the people and the lights!