April 12, 2008
On the advice of the guide book, we got up at 5:30am one morning to make a visit Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, and what great advice it was. Although there is a wholesale fruit and vegetable market attached, the main attraction is the fish and seafood market. It’s not an “official” tourist attraction, but there’s nothing to stop visitors mingling with the early morning bustle of the wholesale auctions (whole tunas can go for up to ¥1,000,000) or walking amongst the hundreds of small stalls were workers divide, prepare and sell smaller lots.
In stark contrast to the vast majority of the rest of well-organised, efficient and tidy Tokyo, Tsukiji is reminiscent of a shanty town, a myrid of small shacks and lean-tos under a large, low-rise warehouse roof. This, and the fact you can wonder unhindered amongst the traders, is the charm of the market. I can’t help thinking this will be lost entirely when the market is relocated to a brand new proposed sight on a reclaimed island south east of the current location, probably by 2012. The metropolitan government wants to reclaim the existing location for redevelopment as part of its bid to host to the 2016 Olympics – the proposed larger new site will no doubt be characteristically better organised, efficient and tidy, but its raised “viewing gallerys” designed to segregate tourist and trader will lead to a sanitised experience. If you’re in Tokyo before it moves, catch the old market whilst you still can.
Update: According to the economist, from April 1st new viewing restrictions have come into force at the existing site.
April 12, 2008
We almost accidentally stumbled upon the Tokyo International Forum on the first day proper of the trip, after walking around the largely underwhelming public areas of the Imperial Palace Gardens.
I’m getting increasingly interested in architecture and had purchased a couple of books on Japanese architecture before leaving for Tokyo. Opened in 1996, the forum was designed by the Uruguay-born American Viñoly. Its boat-shaped main complex is an impressive earthquake-resistant elliptical glass megatruss. Inside, the main concourse is flanked by wood paneling 4 stories tall, unbroken by windows or doorways save one main walkway, in stark contrast to the vast amount of glass opposing it.
The quality of the materials was breathtaking and its hard to picture the complex as already 10 years old – I’m sure it looks as good as the day it was completed.