My last night in Tokyo I wound up at dinner with Yuka, Yuki, Yumi, and Salvador (spot the outlier) at my favorite restaurant that Yuki found: 野菜の王様, King of Vegetables, in Hibiya. We’d visited the other location in January, and I was so excited to see vegetables that we went again.
My last day in Tokyo dawned hot and dry. I thanked my generous host Hitomi profusely and headed out for some errands. I stashed my bags in a coin locker at a central station and headed out for Kappabashi, known as “Kitchen Town” for its profusion of shops for restaurants and kitchens. I was on a mission for my friend Andy to find him a knife.
Just a few kilometers down the road from JAXA where I’d spent the summer of 2011 was 天文台通り, “heaven language hill avenue”. By some combination of my lack of kanji comprehension and the supreme focus of my colleagues, no one put one and one together and so during my first seven weeks in Japan I managed to be unaware of the proximity of the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan. I fortunately sat next to Ito-san at the ACM banquet, and he offered to give me a tour of the facilities. I went back to see my old lab at JAXA, talked about the high quality of rice from Niigata, and was picked up by Ito-san in the midst of a rainstorm to visit NAOJ’s campus.
At a dark and rather unfortunate hour on a Thursday morning, Tatsuya and I drove from Kokubunji into Tokyo proper to go to the Tsukiji fish market. Most of the main sales occur before 6 am, so waking up before dawn at 4 am is a prerequisite if you want to see giant fish being sliced by large knives. By the time we reached the market, the sun had risen and it was already intensely humid. The first thing you notice about Tsukiji is the smell: not of fish, but of gas odors mixed with rotting vegetables and general grime. All manner of vehicles cluster around the entrance to the market. Continue reading →
Fruit is astoundingly expensive in Japan. It’s about 380円 for a peach, roughly $5 at today’s exchange rates. Want a box of figs? That’ll set you back 800円 or so. Such a contrast from the Middle East, where you could pick up a huge box of any sort of fruit for the equivalent of three or four dollars. Watermelon in the land of milk and honey? About 11 cents per pound. As for figs, you could just eat ones the size of an apple off of your friends’ trees or in vacant lots for free.
In Tokyo, an average small watermelon, or suika (西瓜, すいか, or スイカ), will set you back around 1,500円, in the neighborhood of $20. The further from Tokyo you go towards the hills, they approach 2,000円! And this isn’t for a particularly large watermelon! At least they’re not exploding.
Why, you ask, an entire post dedicated to costly fruit? Last Tuesday, our lab group drove and biked up to a spot along a river near Okutama west of Tokyo for an afternoon of grilling, swimming, and otherwise being outside of the city. The cold river was a relief after the intense heat of Tokyo. We spent hours hopping into the water, splashing in the shallows, and watching teenagers haul their friends into the river.