It was our last day in Japan. We felt a mixed bag of emotions because we loved Japan and the time we had here. But, we are also so excited to go to China, experience Chinese culture, and see some family (Haley’s Dad and Step-Mom). So for our last day, we decided to hit the Tsukiji fish market for most of the day.
We got there around 11 so that we could see some fresh fish and be there during the hustle and bustle. We didn’t want to get there at the crack of dawn because we wanted to have a full day and not be totally exhausted for our last few hours. We arrived and walked past the fresh oyster stalls and crab balls that smelled so delicious. All the food was hard to pass up, but we wanted to get our bearings and see how big of a space we were working with before we committed to the first tasty thing we saw. Further, into the narrow alleyways, we passed a dumpling and steamed bum stall that we couldn’t pass up. We each had a BBQ pork steamed bun and a shrimp dumpling for 6 Yen total. The pork was sweet and tangy and the bun had an amazingly soft texture. The dumplings were on par with the others we have had, but you could tell the shrimp was incredibly fresh. We kept walking and came across a stand with some vibrant and juicy strawberries. They had one type that looked cartoon red and another that was pale red, almost white. We were confused because why would they but these unripe strawberries up against the blue ribbon strawberries they had? We got a stick with three red and three pale because I wanted to see if this was a different type of strawberry or if it really was just underripe. First things first, that bright red strawberry was one of the juiciest, strawberriest-strawberries we have ever tasted. Next was the pale one. I was expecting this one to be hard and sour and just not good. After biting into it, I was shocked. It was juicy and flavorful and had a slightly sour note that Haley and I really enjoyed. After the fruit stand, we stumbled upon a traditional knife shop that was making Tokyo style sashimi knives and other cool knives. I have always wanted to get a sushi knife made from Japanese steel in the traditional style, but I never had the opportunity. I figured that the famous Tsukiji market would be a fine place to buy one! First, I considered getting an all-purpose kitchen knife so that I could use it more often, but I really wanted the unique looking Tokyo style knife. “Tokyo style” means that it came to a square point and looks like a long rectangle with an edge that can slice through fish like a hot knife through butter. So, I went with the less practical but more unique blade and I can’t wait to use it.
After the knife store, we walked to the edge of the market where we stumbled upon a wagyu beef store that sold and cooked an M4 steak right in front of you. That sounded like an experience we couldn’t pass up! We picked out the most marbled piece we could find. As we watched the man cook it, our mouths began to water and we couldn’t wait to devour it. He cooked it to a perfect medium rare, cut it into slices, and handed us a paper plate loaded with the tastiest beef on the planet. We walked a few feet to the metal table they had set up for people like us who couldn’t wait to cook it at home for themselves and wanted it right then and there. We said “cheers” to the first bite, and once that meat hit our tongues, the fat started to melt and the meat was so tender that we didn’t even need to use our teeth. That was some delicious market meat, that’s for sure. After savoring our steak we wandered a little more and came across a tamagoyaki stall. We stood and watched a master make the tamagoyaki, Japan’s famous rectangle shaped egg omelet. We were in aw watching him expertly flip the omelet every time. We had tried tamagoyaki at the conveyor belt sushi places but they were serving it cold and we just thought it was “ok.” At the market, they were serving it hot and fresh and we fell in love with it. It is easily 10 times better hot. I joked with Haley and told her I have no clue why they would do the tamagoyaki such a disservice by ever serving it cold. After our amazing tamagoyaki experience, we decided to head out of the market and towards the hostel because we had a big night ahead of us. But on the way back to the hostel, we passed a champagne bar and we couldn’t resist going in to have a toast to our last day in Japan. We each ordered a glass and some cheese to pair with it and just sat by the window taking in the view and thinking about how lucky we are to be able to do a trip of this nature.
Tonight was the night that we booked a fancy nigiri sushi dinner where the sushi master makes your dinner one piece at a time. We sat at a bar just a few feet away and watched the whole process with our jaws on the floor. We booked the dinner at 6 o’clock, mainly because it was the only reservation available, but we didn’t mind because we had an early morning and the dinner was scheduled to take two hours. When we arrived, we were the only customers in the restaurant and it stayed that way for the whole dinner. I’m not sure if we were there during a slow, weekday night or if they only book one dinner per time slot, but we really enjoyed the individual attention. We watched the masters prepare our fish: presenting and describing the fish, cutting a slice off in one fluid motion, grabbing the perfectly sized handful of rice, placing a fingertip of freshly ground wasabi, painting the soy sauce on top, and creating one harmonious package each. We learned that, in Japan, the higher-end sushi restaurants keep their rice at body temperature. So when we eat it, the sushi rice melts away in your mouth allowing the sashimi to shine. At this restaurant, we definitely noticed them doing that because every couple of pieces, they would call a runner to bring up more rice. This was hands down the best sushi experience we have ever had and truthfully we might be ruined for sushi back in America.
After dinner, we strolled back to the hostel and mapped our way to the airport and figured out the logistics of getting there. We felt good about our plan, packed up, and prepared to leave Japan. It was bittersweet because we had so much fun in all of the cities, even though we have many more new adventures to come. Japan is truly an amazing and beautiful place with incredibly friendly people. We would highly recommend traveling to any part of Japan if you ever get the opportunity.
Until next time,
Justin and Haley
All photos were taken by Justin Ruck