Tokyo. A name that conjures technology, fashion, modernity. A capital city renowned throughout the world. A city that is on pretty much every ‘must-see list’.
Well, we were here. We couldn’t quite believe it, but we were.
As with most capital cities around the globe there was an immediate buzz as we stepped from our Shinkansen.
Immaculately suited and booted men strode the pavements; the crossings.
High-heeled women towered above you (literally, I think 3 inch heels are a minimum requirement for any women waking the streets of Tokyo!) and clipped serenely down avenue after avenue.
And in response scantily clad teenage girls – eager to express their femininity – scurried from mall to mall (3 inch heels still a requirement!); cuddly toys hanging, bouncing from rucksacks and purses. In parallel teenage boys expressed there ‘masculinity’ alongside a myriad of other identities.
Lights screamed out from every window, every billboard; lit up every potentially dark alley and threw a cacophony of colour into the night time sky.
All of this I had expected. I knew Tokyo would hold in abundance. Turned up to ’11’ compared to any other city!
What I hadn’t expected was the beauty to be found in Tokyo’s skyline. Harsh lines complemented gentle flows and curves, creating a balanced vista in an otherwise cluttered space. As if the silence of the skyline became broken by crescendos and diminuendos.
And sometimes, like a single note perfectly played, a building stood alone. Mesmerising.
And so we spent our days strutting our less chic, more shabby, travel gear amongst this glitz and glamour. From Shinjuku to Shabuya. From Ueno to you know? Places in Tokyo. 😉
But as our final day rolled around one place remained to be seen. Tsukiji. The world’s largest wholesale fish market. And the only place (that I know of) where you can watch a tuna auction…
So, with alarms clocks blaring and a fitful night’s sleep behind us, we were crawling out of bed and heading through the morning chill to this one-of-a-kind market.
Bundled out of the taxi onto a cold pavement. Bundled into a warm room. Barely 4am in the morning and already a queue for the auction. But we were given a green bib – indicating we would be watching the first auction at 5.25… Great. That’s only like an hour and a half away.
We sat. We waited. We chatted with our fellow ’early risers’. We watched. We laughed at tongues lolling from slumbering mouths. We wondered, ’how can they sleep like that?’.
And then it was time. Doors flung open. We stood up. We rushed to get blood to return to sleepy limbs. We shuffled and we were there.
Tuna lay before us as far as the eye could see…
Lined up in rows, ready for their roll call. Ready for the show to begin.
In the chill we stood there; watching the icy air rise from the frozen bodies on the floor; watching the scene unfold before us; watching torch lights searching the flesh for hidden answers.
It was just another day for all those on the floor. Those not caught up in the ’tourist pen’. Laughing, joking and then getting down to business was the order of the day. How does this feel? Is the texture, the colour, the smell of this right?
Palates perfected from years of practice discerned the prize catch from the pelagic proliferation.
Suddenly, a bell rang and it all began. A whirl of hands, nods, gestures erupted in the crowd of gathered merchants as the auctioneer emitted yells and mumbles, in a indecipherable language, at an even more indecipherable speed.
And before we quite knew what was happening it was all over. And we were being ushered out into the frantic world of the fish market. It was a strange place, were men in overalls whizzed about on what can only be described as… R2D2!
It was an incredible sight and I feel privileged to have witnessed it just once. However, it also saddened me a great deal. The hall, as full of tuna as it was, felt somewhat hallow. As if the same hall of generations before had been filled with a richer prodigality.
Whilst the images I gleaned show mighty fish, the other end of the hall was filled with tuna too small. Tuna that should not have been caught. Tuna that had not had chance to reproduce and fill the ocean with its progeny.
What is the true state of our fisheries? How long can we continue to catch this mighty fish, and all its brethren, at the rate at which we are doing so?
There are too many of these questions. Too many concerns.