Day 13, Saturday, July 8
On our last full day, we were determined to get to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, said to be the largest fish market in the world. We cattleprodded the children up earlier and were able to get out the door at around 9:30. It took about 45 minutes to take the two trains to the closest station, leaving us with a short 7-minute walk, according to Google Maps.
Travel tip: Google maps is invaluable. Most of the time, it’s dead on with trains, train stations, walking routes, and buses. Once in a while it’s a little off, and that can be a pain. Still, the worst things we encountered were the wrong platform indicated for a train or neglecting to inform us that the train we were boarding was an express that would take us 5 stops beyond our intended destination. But for a place a complex as Tokyo, it was great. I don’t know how tourists navigated places like Tokyo before Google maps.
We got off the train and could immediately smell a hint of fish, even though we were several blocks away. The station was crowded with tourists all with one thing on their mind: fresh fish
We didn’t need google maps to tell us that the ant-like trail of tourists was headed toward the Tsukiji Market. We knew what to expect, after watching several youtube videos, so we avoided the crowds by electing to spend more money for a table and some air conditioning. We ducked into a kind of makeshift restaurant and ordered large bowls of fresh tuna over sushi rice. This was breakfast. Geri got the bowl that was half maguro and half uni. It cost more than if we had eaten from the stalls lining the street and alleys around the market, but we didn’t care. It was still a lot cheaper than what we’d pay for the same thing in the US.
Once on the street again, we tried one of the famous egg/omelets on a stick. We split two of them, and they were huge. We got some sweet mochi with strawberries and were then officially full. Still, we walked through most of the market marveling at all the fresh offerings.
We took the trains back to Odaiba where we hit the mall to do some shopping. At around 4, we decided we needed to blow some serious money on something we hadn’t had yet: Kobe and/or Wagyu beef. We did some research back at the apartment, relishing the huge air-conditioner, and headed out for an early dinner. We had brought one nice outfit each, for an occasion such as this. I put on a nice shirt. Geri and Audrey put on summer dresses. The boys changed their underwear.
We headed to Ginza, an upscale part of town, to a block with a few different options. We scoped out the menus at two places on one block, and settled on a place called, Heijoe, which I liked because it sounded like the Hendrix song. We were prepared to spend whatever it took. It was our last night in Japan, and we had spent a lot less money on food than we had anticipated during the trip. So let’s just do it.
The restaurant billed itself as an “aged beef specialist” with large cuts of meat hanging in a display window outside. With no reservations, we got a big table with two grills built in, and ordered two platters of meat. One Kobe sampler and one Wagyu sampler. Most people know about Kobe beef, but we didn’t know anything about Wagyu before this trip. Apparently it’s a Japanese kind of cow known for its ridiculous amount of marbleing. The A5-rated Wagyu beef is supposed to be the best beef in the world.
We suppressed tears of joy as the waiter brought both platters of various cuts of meat which we could grill to our satisfaction and dip (or not dip) into various light sauces. The Kobe beef melted in our mouths with a complex beef flavor. The Wagyu was all that and more.
Owen and Ethan liked the beef, but Ethan was in one of his “I only want ramen” moods, and Owen was starting to come down with something, so they didn’t eat much. This actually saved us about $75 because we didn’t have to order another platter after polishing off the first two. The entire meal was about $100 less than what we would have paid at an American Ruths Chris Steakhouse.
With three of us struggling to stay away from the bright light of heaven beckoning from inside an impending food coma, we staggered to the streets of Ginza and went to the gigantic Uniqlo store that was 12 stories of inexpensive clothing. We all bought a few shirts and pants, none of which cost more than $15. By 9pm, Ginza was shutting down. We didn’t want to call it a night like this on our last night, so I suggested we take the train to Shinjuku to see the lights and hit the town one last time before we went home.
The boys looked to be dragging, likely because of hunger. Owen gets in a wicked mood if he doesn’t eat, so I figured we’d get him a snack on one of the side streets. Once there, the boys argued over whether they should get ramen or katsu. We passed a busy corner, and a dude called us over. “Good food,” he said pointing to the building. We looked at the restaurant he was standing in front of, and figured, ok. But then he walked us around the corner to another place. Ah, the bait and switch. But he showed us a menu that had everything. This should have been a red flag, but I saw ramen and katsu on the menu and agreed to go in. Owen was about five minutes from turning into a gremlin.
The basement restaurant was normal looking, but Ethan pointed out a glaring red flag: There were only non-Japanese inside. Still, the waiter was friendly. We ordered the fucking ramen and forced Owen to order some curry. I ordered one order of sushi. Geri ordered a beer. It was decent food.
And then the place seemed to clear out. Our waitress of indeterminate non-Japanese Asian descent gave us the bill. It was for way more than we calculated. There was a $22 “service charge” and two different taxes or tips at $5 and $3 each. $30 more than what we had ordered. We demanded to know what these charges were. The woman barked at us, “Service charge!” No more friendliness. She also pointed to the five tiny bowls with noodles she had placed before us, saying they cost money, though she couldn’t tell us where on the bill this was.
We had been swindled. If ever there were an argument against traveling with children, this would be it. Geri and I, on our own, would never have even entertained the idea of going to shitty place like this. But because we kind of overshot the palettes of the boys by about 10 miles with the beef dinner, and they were fading fast because of the 2 weeks of travel and very little food that night, we settled for the place. And got ripped off.
$30. Whatever. We were still way ahead of the food budget for the trip. Pro tip: never pick a restaurant, bar, or club that has a guy trying to pull you in. Not even if you have hungry, cranky kids in tow.
We made it back to the apartment at around midnight. A little miffed at being swindled on our last night, we were still feeling ok because were looking forward to going home. We had seen so much of Japan. We had learned, firsthand on this night, some of the dark side of Japanese culture. We were going home with a balanced view of Japan, having seen the beauty, the history, and some of the shortcomings. My shoulder still ached from the subway a couple days before. I went to sleep with images of samurai forests, Nara shrines, endless rows of food, a pro-Trump yakuza, and a $30 service charge swirling in my head.