28 June Tokyo: Tsukiji, Roppongi, Shimokitazawa

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We headed out late, still late, to Ginza to Tsukiji to the fish market. Arriving we were immediately distracted from our goal by a magnificent deco Hindu-style building, Shinran’s special place in Tokyo. Shinran founded Jodo Shinshu Buddhism 800 years ago and his building is very nice. He died aged 90, January 16 1263.

We didn’t wait around to hear the drums and only hoped that whatever event was about to transpire was going to be loud and have music. The is something nicely democratic about this building: it has an administrative air and there is also something odd about having the sacred spot taken by a piece of architecture, a temple in the temple, a pavilion of gold and clearly an empty pavilion – an unpeopled celestial palace is the mise-en-scéne for the sacred performance. This has interesting ramifications for spatial design.

Then we asked and were told where the famous fish market is. As usual we fought the tide of those already leaving – being that we were so late. Blocks of food stalls specialising in seafood, alley-ways packed with small eateries, stalls which appeared to have begun as temporary and become permanent without forgetting there beginnings, so cobbled-together, bricolages of whatever was to hand now forced into semi-permanent service. Wabi-sabi alll over – the aesthetic of imperfection.

We resorted to the great large ? and enquired of a charming woman of a certain age as to the whereabouts of the largest fish market in … the world? … she obliged, asking where we were from, we countered, asking where her favourite place to eat. She said, Secret! But in the spirit of the thing told us.

Little by little, she said, All the fish market stalls will be packing up by now. This was the case, but the chaos of airport-style dalek-carts and polystyrene and washings and light fixtures and exhausted fishmongers and the architecture of the place were quite as compelling as any fully functioning operation might have been had we arrived earlier.

After the endless warehouses of the market, we crossed back into the labyrinth of the service precinct, finding at last the recommended traditional sushi restaurant. Outside sat a queue sheltering from the presently persistent rain. No, we decided to double back and go the loud brash basic place which sold bowls of rice and cuts of fish. This place was pumping and the front guy MD was all over the performance side of things, joking it up with the old biddies and shouting it out into the crowded umbrellas passing by. The wait wasn’t long and the food was by far the best so far for us. The rice perfect. The miso rich. The tea cold. And the atmosphere lively.

We trained to Roppongi for the Musée Mori and enjoyed a playful exhibition of children’s experiences of the world. The highlight was the work where children had participated in suggesting their hells and built them in paper and papier maché – the best hell the hell of hearts everywhere for those who neglect their study because they are thinking of a loved one; hearts squeeze their souls and bodies flat until these become toppings for soft-serve ice-cream – finally dripping off the melting soft-serves the only reprieve for these poor ones rendered two-dimensional beings by their love interests.

The gallery ticket involved another Tokyo-from-a-height experience – another view, another day: from floor 52 this time. Thence to Tokyo Midtown, a square tower, ostensibly for some shopping, but all we bought or could afford were an avocado, bananas and orangina at Preece’s. So we went home.

From home we ventured out bound for Shimokitazawa for dinner and found a cool place serving Okonomiyaki and Manjomiyaki – both of which our waiter looker-after-er cooked for us on a hotplate built into the table. (He asked where in Japan we are going – turned out he is from Kurashiki, one of our destinations. When we said it looks beautiful, he answered, Thank you very much! As if we’d said he looks beautiful.)The former was delicious; the latter interesting for introducing us to a cuisine that lets you lick your spatula to get the crunchy bits. We drank Shochu, mine called spicy, J.’s with lemon soda: sweet potato rough vodka to the taste, but good. Now tumbling down to bed…