Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsukiji Fish Market, Matcha Sweet, and Japan's workplace

It was a rainy and cold and windy day today. From the late morning, it started snowing. Why do I need to see wet weather even after running away from London?

Morishita-san took me to Daiwa Zushi (its review at, Japan's no.1 (according to Zagat Survey a few years ago) sushi restaurant at Tsukiji Fish Market. When we arrived at the place around seven in the morning, more than 20 people were already queuing. After waiting about two hours in a miserable weather like in London, we finally got in. We ordered omakase course (eat whatever the chef serves). How much do you think the course costs? Just 3,150 yen (16 pounds or 29 US dollars)!

In front of Daiwa Zushi with Morishita-san and other people queuing

The first pair of sushi was chu-toro (mildy fatty tuna) and squid. Squid was brilliant. I usually don't like squid sashimi, but this one was delicately soft. The second pair was tuna and shrimp. Brilliant again. Meantime, a waitress served us miso soup with white fish. It's fantastic, too. The third batch was a char-grilled shrimp head (without rice, so it's not sushi, technically). This was a revelation. The fourth batch was gunkan maki (fighting-ship-shaped sushi roll) of sea urchin accompanied with fried egg. This was the ultimate extravagance: even nori seaweed was perfect. The fifth pair of sushi was sea eel and kanburi, which is the name for yellowtail in the winter: they become fatty in order to preserve warmth inside the body. This was again fantastic. The final batch was three sushi rolls (tuna, fatty tuna, and salmon roe). As sea urchin was so impressive, we ordered extra ones (700 yen per piece).

I was extremely happy while I was eating. This is something you never enjoy when you live in London. Happiness never comes from eating.

After strolling around Tsukiji market and taking away for lunch Yoshinoya's gyudon, a rice bowl topped with soy-sauce-marinated sliced beef, which is currently available only at Yoshinoya's Tsukiji branch due to the ban on importing beef from the United States, where mad cow disease broke out a year ago, we headed for Shiodome, the latest redevelopment area of Tokyo. This area was not that impressive except for Caretta Shiodome, one of many shopping and restaurant complexes in this area. On the 46th floor were a couple of cool bars including so/ra/si/o/ (its review by Metropolis Tokyo magazine) and Hibiki. It's a pity that it was in the morning when we arrived there.

The purpose we came here was to try matcha (strong green tea) sweets at Saryo Tsujiri on lower ground floor two. Morishita-san tried its original store in Kyoto a few weeks ago and wanted to have matcha parfait again. It cost 1,365 yen (6.5 UK pounds or 12 US dollars), quite expensive for sweets in Japan. But it was worth trying. The whole mixture of a variety of sweets was excellent: in a tall glass, it's got (from the top) matcha whipped cream, matcha ice cream, matcha kasutera (a kind of cake originating in the Iberia Peninsula), sweet chestnuts, honey-dipped satsuma, shiratama (sweet dumplings made from sticky rice), anko (red bean jam), plain ice cream, and matcha jelly. All come in a compact size. (See its photo.) Coldness of ice cream and warmth of kasutera cake, deep sweetness of matcha whipped cream and mild sweetness of shiratama dumplings, a variety of textures ranging from satsuma orange to chestnuts to anko jam, this subtlety is what's good about Japanese sweets, something you never get in Anglo-Saxon countries. Amazing. I was enormously impressed. No doubt there was a queue of ten people when the shop openned at 11 in the morning.

I'm very much greatful to Morishita-san for taking me to these two excellent eating experiences. Let's meet up again next time in Seoul! (He's moving to South Korea in a few week's time.)

In the evening, I met up with Takeshi at Fonda De La Madrugada, a Mexican restaurant in Harajuku. Whenever we meet up, we go to a Mexican restaurant ever since I introduced him to Mexican cuisine and tequila.

Once entering this restaurant, I lost a sense of where I was. The dining space was on lower ground two, looking like the inside of a cave. The waitress who served us was (probably) Mexican. There was also a mariachi (guitar, accordion, and percussion). Before I knew it, I had spoken in English when I asked something to the Mexican waitress. :-)

Takeshi is a fledgling lawyer. His life was incredibly busy: everyday he comes home at 5 or 6 in the morning and goes to the workplace by midday. He has a girlfriend, but he has almost no time to meet her, only calling her for an hour in the early morning. He told me how outrageous his boss was. One example: they went to a karaoke bar with other colleagues including female personal assistants. It was already in the early hours, but his boss wanted to move to an another bar. He asked Takeshi to ask the PAs to come with them (Takeshi has no choice but coming with his boss). Takeshi asked the PAs, "Would you like to come with us?" His boss got angry. "What are you talking about? You must say, 'You are coming with us, aren't you?' I'm deeply disappointed at you."

His boss is rather exceptional. But this kind of experience with your collegues in the workplace is not that uncommon in Japan. A couple of my Japanese friends quit thier jobs because of this sort of outrageous working environments.

Still, Takeshi said he had been learning a lot from his boss and other senior colleagues. He'll be working with them in coming years. I'm quite sympathetic with his idea. The most important thing in life is the pursuit of your career, even if your private life suffers. Maybe Westerners (especially, Continental Europeans) don't understand this, but my Japanese friends (and myself) tend to be like this. It's not that all Japanese are like this. We always complain that very few people understand us. That's how we are linked up. That's an essential part of our outlook on life.

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