So next week I will be returning to Japan and figured this would be a good time to think about my first trip there about 2 years ago. Japan is one of the spots that I am positive will always remain vivid in my memory. The combination of culture, atmosphere, strangeness, and relentlessness of the place is like a constant headbutt to my memories. I still find myself thinking back to the trip on random days and just smiling.
The first activity I remember well was Tsukiji fish market. When you are jetlagged on your first few days there is no better activity than a free one that takes place around 4am. How it works is like this. You show up at a ridiculous hour, I think we got there about 3am and hung out with the other jetlagged frontrunners. Then they give you bright vests so everyone knows you’re there only to watch and you can witness the Tuna auction.
I’ve never see tuna this size personally but the whole experience was pretty surreal….and also appetizing. After that they walk you through the market and the closest analogy I can think of is a beehive. There’s so much going on while you have to pay close attention to your guide while he tells you when to stop and go to avoid a fatal fish collision. After you finish walking the market they set you loose and we decided to walk into a sushi restaurant right next to the market to get it as fresh as possible.
The food was amazing and I can safely say it’s the most fun I’ve ever had while jetlagged.
The next activity I want to mention is Robot Restaurant. Anthony Bourdain did a segment on it in Parts Unknown which spurred us to try it and well…it was majestic. I think this picture will just about sum up the experience with me giving too much away.
Now, the primary reason we ended up going to Japan was because I wanted to go to a sumo tournament on my birthday, and it did not disappoint.
I think I can safely say sumo wrestling is the greatest sport ever created. I spent 8 hours watching sumo wrestling and drinking sake that day and it is my fondest birthday memory. While the amateurs wrestled in the morning we could sit right up next to the arena with just the right amount of fear of being crushed to really keep the sport interesting. We had to go back to our normal seats later on when the headline matches started up but that just gave a good scope of it all.
The final match was an undefeated Mongolian against a 10-2 Japanese wrestler and the Japanese wrestler ended up winning in true underdog fashion and the entire stadium went nuts. Chairs flew, drinks spilled, I cried tears of joy.
We also took a day trip out to Kobe to sample some true Kobe beef. Now I know a lot of people say they’ve tried this but it turns out you haven’t. The authentic Kobe beef is only in Japan and maybe 2-3 other restaurants on the planet. There’s just a lot of loopholes to what people can call their meat. I found this out after thinking I had tried it already in Hawaii and it turns out I was just gullible.
Next up, Nara. This is the city that just lets deer wander around willy nilly and they are very bitey. If they know you have food prepare to get mobbed and bitten in a generally adorable fashion.
We also did a day trip out to Kyoto which was really just a beautiful city. It has giant bamboo chutes, an iconic Shinto shrine, and of course monkeys!
One activity I don’t see mentioned all that often is the photo booths. Entire floors of arcades can be dedicated to perfecting the art of the perfect photo booth experience. We had one such experience where I happened to bump into some sumo wrestles while wearing my photo shoot attire.
I’m going to have a rough time trying to beat my last Japan trip next week, but I think based on how much shame I have lost since then I will definitely be able to do it.