Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

JAPAN DAY 1: Shiodome, Tsujiki, Imperial Palace, Ginza

I'm baaaaaack. I am about to spend several days detailing my trip. I saw so much and more importantly, ate so much, that it was almost ridiculous. I have to share, because I loved Tokyo. Everything in the world is contained in this megacity and I will do my best to convey a tiny fraction of it with my photos. We will also eventually be putting all of our photos (well, not all ... erm ... 800 of our photos, but the best selection anyway) onto Flickr and I'll link to it when they are there.

The first thing I took a picture of was the toilet in our hotel room. Yeah, I was that impressed. This is the first time I have gotten to use the Japanese-style high tech toilet and it is fabulous. First of all, I didn't think I would like a warm toilet seat, because I thought it would be too much like sitting down right after someone else had got up. I was wrong, though. The warm seat is awesome. You also have your shower spray and bidet spray that is completely adjustable by you. The best models also have music or a water-flushing sound that goes off while you're using the facilities so that there are no unpleasant noises during your bathroom experience. The very best ones also have a deodorizing spray. I want one. If only I wouldn't essentially be giving an awesome gift to my landlords by purchasing one.

As is recommended, on our first jet-lagged morning when we couldn't help but wake up early, we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is a super-huge fish market where the early morning hours see the buying and selling of every kind of fish, from all over the world. The market also is home to auctions for produce and other sundry goods. The general public is not allowed into the morning tuna auction, where outrageously beautiful tunas are sold for astronomical prices. We did, on our way in get to witness an auction for bok choy and I would never have imagined that the innocent vegetable could cause such a frenzy.

I felt very much like an intruder at the fish market. You literally walk in through the loading and unloading zone and have to dodge little trucks that are whizzing around picking up and dropping off merchandise. Once you get in, you just wander the endless narrow aisles between the thousands of stalls and look at the delicacies on offer. All the while, fisherman, fishmongers and locals are shoving their way past you as they don't really have time or patience for your gawking. Here you can watch the newly purchased tunas be processed efficiently into lovely red steaks for purchased. You can find any type of seafood: scallops, fish, eels, shellfish, roe, turtles, crustaceans and more.

Once you get back outside you find another selection of market stalls selling various items and the restaurants. Here are several crowded little sushi shops selling fresh sushi sets straight from the market. You wait your turn in line and then are hustled in to get 8-10 pieces of sushi for about $10 and then hustled immediately out. I'm not about to eat 10 pieces of sushi any time but much less at breakfast. J. wanted to go, but not by himself and not so much at 7 a.m. If you're a sushi lover, I would say this is a must, though. I've been by a lot of good sushi places and never have I seen lines like this. And the sun had barely risen!
Instead of going for the raw fish breakfast, we decided to wander back toward our hotel in Shiodome and look for some kind of cafe in which to get a Western-style coffee and bread item breakfast. To our delight, we happened on a Doughnut Plant in the Carretta Shiodome building, in a sort of mini-American corner right next to a Nathan's hot dogs and a Tully's coffee.

We each got a coffee and doughnut. I got the Valrhona chocolate doughnut although I was mighty tempted by the seasonal special "sakura and ann" doughnut, which was a pretty pink doughnut with dried cherry blossoms on top. I wasn't sure how I felt about flowers on my doughnut though and I also wasn't sure what the "ann" part was. It seemed to be some kind of jelly filling. I can tell you that I liked the doughnut much better than I would have liked the sushi. I'm also not too sad I passed up the special sakura doughnut. I would soon discover that special cherry blossom stuff was EVERYWHERE and that I have a weakness for pink pretty things and had a hard time passing them by. I would acquire plenty of cherry blossom things in the days ahead.

Next we walked over to the Imperial Palace to look it over. Most of the grounds were closed, but we got to see the moat, with some pretty bridges and buildings and you could peek inside the gates. We also got to catch our first sight of cherry trees in full bloom, but you'll see plenty of cherry blossom pictures in upcoming days.

From the Imperial Palace we walked over to Ginza for some shopping, stopping on the way at the 100% Chocolate Cafe. We realized we hadn't eaten lunch yet and were about to eat our second breakfasty chocolate of the day, but hey, it's vacation. We went for it. I got the simplest "set," which was some baguette slices and my choice of chocolate cream. I got the banana cinnamon, which was every bit as delicious as it sounds. J. got a pastry filled with the banana cinnamon cream and a coffee for his set. This place, by the way? Was immaculate, and as soon as you walk in, people rush to help you. It was another introduction to the dedication to service in Japan that helped make our trip so great.

They also have 56 types of individual chocolate squares for sale, grouped by either what country the cacao came from, what the type of dairy is, or what the flavor is. I was most intrigued by the flavors so I went for lemon salt, lavender, and black pepper. I haven't tried mine yet, but J. and I shared a "Vanilla Spicy" flavor and it was a treat. Vanilla flavored chocolate with some heat to it.

After the cafe, we headed over to Ginza for the fancy shopping. We went into one of the giant malls that can be found all over Tokyo, the Mitsukoshi and headed downstairs to check out the depachika, or food hall. Basically, there are millions of food counters all with delicious looking foods and millions of people walking around buying and buying and buying food. The first floor you come to is desserts and confections and the second, below it, is savory food. Our mouths were watering and we wanted to purchase our lunch here, but quickly realized that there was nowhere to eat the food. People were taking it home or back to work with them. So we didn't get our lunch at the depachika ... yet.

The Mistukoshi was also where I also learned that everything is available in Japan. Things you thought were long gone are still readily available here. Things you thought were never available are available here. Examples: You can still buy your mini-skirts at the Mary Quant store in Japan. Mary Quant! I didn't know she was still alive. Some research tells me that she is, but a Japanese company now owns her brand. You can also still buy Monchichis at the toy store. Monchichis! The thumbsucking monkey things. I thought those died with the 80s, but I was wrong. And, in the Misukoshi, there was a whole floor devoted to this:

Those guys up there are Moomin characters. The middle one is the Moomin. The girl with the bun is a mymble called Little My and the guy with the hat is a hippie-drifter guy called Snufkin. They are characters in a Finnish series of books. My grandmother got me some of these books at a garage sale a long time ago and I have always loved Moomins. But I thought myself and some Finnish children were maybe the only fans of Moomins. I was wrong. Japanese people love Moomins. And this department store had a whole floor dedicated to Moomins. You could get any kind of Moomin product you like, including a Moomin firewall for your computer. I really couldn't let this pass me by, since when will I ever see Moomin stuff again? So I bought some Moomin biscuits and Moomin candy.

Since we didn't get our depachika food, we ended up wandering around looking for someplace to eat in the expensive Ginza district. Since we didn't want to spend a lot of money, we settled for having afternoon tea at Marriage du Freres instead of a meal. That was a little weird since we realized that it was our first day in Japan and we had eaten no Japanese food! We were sure we would remedy that that night at dinner, but the jet lag got the best of me and I slept through dinner. But don't worry, you're going to see tons of Japanese cuisine on other days.


Knowing your propensity for all things pretty n' pink, I was re-reading the line about you passing up the donut to make sure I read it correctly!

If Ed had been there, he would have gone for the sushi at 7 am--no problem. He loves sushi. What a freak.

Get typing girl--we want more!

said by Acme Instant Food at 9:28 AM Delete

Can you believe it? I was kind of sad later about not having the pink donut.

I hope future posts will be better. I am still in the throes of jet lag and I realized while writing that our first day was not that spectacular, food-wise. There is some pretty amazing stuff coming up, though.

said by KT at 9:39 AM Delete

"An" is a sweetened red bean paste commonly used in Asian desserts. The sakura/an donut combo is really tasty.

said by Chubbypanda at 5:34 PM Delete

East Coast breakfast in the far East-love it! I just skimmed and now I'm going to go back and read thoroughly. More pictures please!!

said by furry_feline at 6:43 PM Delete

KT, when are you and J coming to Seattle??

said by furry_feline at 6:47 PM Delete

We want to come! We have to recover from this vacation before we think about going away again ...

said by KT at 7:14 AM Delete

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