I don’t linger for long in the actual fish market - most of the action happens here around 5am - so I make my way to the Tsukiji Outer Market.
There's so much here I don't really know where to start. I pause for a while at a store selling knives - the storekeeper uses a duster to remove miniscule traces of dust from the already spotless implements. Then a nearby pottery store grabs my attention - I imagine thin slices of the freshest fish only caught this morning presented immaculately on these dishes, each a little work of art, soon to line the tummies of those who can afford it.
It's only been two days, but the Japanese attitude to food and dining is seeping into my consciousness. I find myself paying more attention to what I eat, the way it is presented, the freshness of each morsel I ingest. With this thought in mind, I follow advice from the Lonely Planet and go in search for the requisite sushi breakfast and according to them, "the freshest available probably anywhere in the world". With my ongoing cold still addling me, I decide to try my luck at finding some hot (cooked) food on the side as well.
I fail. Miserably.
What I get looks like this:
I'm sure there's a much nicer name for the pink stuff at the top of the photo, but it was essentially chopped up raw tuna mince. The smoked mackerel occupied the tiny (but lovely) little blue receptacle on the far right. So, desperately channeling the best of Japanese dining sensibilities, I think about the presentation (well, this was a hole-in-the-wall eatery so not much to contemplate there), then about the sensation of the food in my mouth (bad choice: don't go there), then about the freshness of the produce (erk! even worse). I give up, turn Singaporean, eat up (my mum's voice from my childhood ringing in my ear "don't waste food! there are starving people in Africa!"), pay, and walk out with relief.
Hokay... so maybe I could've done better there. I suddenly feel a sharp pang of missing for my old friend J, who normally lives in Kyoto but who is on her way to Hawaii right now. (J if you are reading this, I truly wish you were here with me - I so need a Japanese-speaking friendly guide!)
So after walking around like a sotong (pun fully-intended), I make my way to Asakusa, home to Senso-Ji, Japan's oldest Buddhist temple (built in 628AD). It's bordered by a tremendous gate, Kaminarimon, which looks like a really popular meeting place for all and sundry. Beyond the gate lies Nakamise-dori, a lovely shopping street leading to the temple. Tradition and kitsch abound here. I am tempted but decide not to get a Hello Kitty lip balm (what irony! Lip balm from a silent cultural icon that has NO MOUTH! How's that for an anti-feminist statement?), but do fall prey to a lovely shop selling bags made from the unlikely pairing of army-green canvas and delicate kimono fabric.
I spend some time wandering the grounds of Senso-Ji and neighbouring shinto shrine Asakusa-Jinja. I love how two shrines dedicated to different religions can co-exist so comfortably side by side, each attracting its own pilgrims. I read in the Japan Hotel Association's Japan Guide that most Japanese have a tolerant attitude toward other religions as long as they are not too extreme. If only the rest of the world could adopt this attitude.
I spend the greater part of the afternoon here. Before entering the temples, I clean myself at a chozuya (a trough of water) using a long-stemmed ladle. The water is bitingly cold but leaves a refreshing tingle. I return to the hotel in the late afternoon for a nap (the cold has now turned into a cough, darnit).
Then at night, I head for the neon headiness of Shinjuku (while D is feted at what sounded like this amazing Japanese traditional club with groomed gardens in an old stone building). Apart from discovering the subterranean delights of the Isetan food hall (where bento boxes are so miraculously presented I scarcely dare to touch them), I chance upon the Muji store. Hello there!
It's morning in Tokyo now. I can't sleep 'cos the cough has now turned into wheezing. But I'm not complaining. If anywhere has the power and spirit to cure, I think it's right here.