Tokyo 2020. As I write this, the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games ought to have been in full sway, knocking our socks off with pageantry, pride and prowess.
But, as the Japanese proverb goes, we learn little from victory, much from defeat.
And so we can all look forward to a re-staging in 2021, which will probably feel like multiple years rolled into one. Probably.
Until then, it’s not such a poor substitute to look on trips past. I’ve been thinking back to my Japan adventure, which was two years ago this month. An experience best summed up in one word: HEATWAVE.
Though I enjoyed my time in Tokyo, I must confess that, through a combination of the humidity and bleary tiredness, I didn’t always ‘make the most of things’. But I did still come across some remarkable places.
I touched down on 2nd July, two days’ sleep down. I’d left London on 30th June and en route had spent a crazy joyride of a day in Hong Kong. Instead of a layover, I opted for a night flight to Tokyo.
Like any dutiful first time visitor might, I’d planned to head to famous fish market Tsukiji straight off my flight, knowing it would soon be moving to new premises in Toyosu. But when I reached my room at the Kimi Ryokan I could no longer fight the urge to sleep. I broke my ‘no day naps allowed’ travel rule.
When I did leave the ryokan to explore, it seemed too late for Tsukiji so I settled for a wander in that general direction, without much of a plan. I later after that you could go around Tsukiji later than generally advertised. My inquisitiveness had just been lacking in the heat and humidity. I longed to be out of the sun’s grasp, nothing more.
But, as often happens in my life, food came to the rescue.
I had made a note of a small sushi restaurant on the outskirts of Tsukiji’s market. Pushing my luck as it was getting late for lunch, but with a rumbling stomach to rival a marching infantry of soldiers, sought out Sushi Katsura. Gloriously, it was – just – still open.
I was their last lunch guest. Menus are in Japanese only, but I knew that ichi means one so I swiftly pointed at the Ichininmae menu. I was sat at the counter, able to witness the itamae sushi chef’s delicate and precise handling of each piece of raw fish that I was about to receive. He exuded the calm demeanour of a man wedded to his craft.
Onto one end of a bamboo leaf went the maki roll, cut into six (the familiar kind with specks of cucumber and pepper inside), the line-up gradually expanding with each new nigiri sushi, until I had 15 pieces. Now, it’s relevant for me to say at this point that I’m not the world’s best eater of raw fish, but whatever the chef laid down I would have eaten out of politeness.
I needn’t have worried. Every morsel of nigiri sushi was phenomenal!
The palest, most delicate of ebi prawns, flush-pink and generously sliced maguro tuna, shimmering hamachi yellowtail fish. Those were the ones I knew I’d like, but even the saba mackerel (with a regal dollop of wasabi) and tako octopus nigiri were unceremoniously devoured faster than you can say arigatou gozaimasu. All thrown together with neat scrapings of gari ginger and lashings of soy sauce, accompanied with alternate gulps of miso soup and green tea.
While I might have missed out on visiting a world-class tourist attraction, here I’d encountered some of the highest quality fish from that day’s catch at Tsukiji.
A golden experience, worthy of any summer Olympics.