SAS Japan

While docked in Yokohama, we had the opportunity to either travel with the ship to Kobe, or overland by ourselves. I chose to travel alone, and ended up spending time in Tokyo, Shizuoka, and Kyoto. Following are some of my personal highlights from the trip.

Tokyo: Tsukiji Market

We woke up at 2:30 am with a mission: To be one of 120 people who are allowed to observe the Tsukiji Market tuna auctions every day.

Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world. North America’s largest is the Fulton Fish Market in New York, but they only do about 13% of Tsukuji’s trade volume. Much of the seafood that feeds Tokyo every day is sold through Tsukiji.

The tuna sold in the auction often weigh over 500 lbs, and were roughly 2/3 as tall as the people bidding on them. Before the auctions, all of the restauranteurs went through the massive warehouse-type storage room wielding a type of hook and a flashlight. They would inspect the outer and inner flesh of each fish using their hook – examining carefully the color, texture, and possible defects.

The auction itself was a bit of a mad frenzy. The auctioneer began yelling in a rhythmic voice, and the people involved in the auction began bidding with subtle hand motions. One signal was lifting a finger up; another was brushing their hand aside. I asked the locals standing next to me what exactly was going on, but they didn’t know themselves. The final auction I watched was for 10 of the biggest tunas, or 2.5 tons of meat.

Shizuoka: Mochan’s Wish Club

Before our voyage departed people posted in a Facebook group their plans for independent traveling, looking for people to join them. Most events were very expensive and/or overly touristic, but I immediately signed up for a homestay with Mochan.

Mochan’s life is Couchsurfing. He has been hosting people for over 10 years, and even met his wife [now pregnant] through it. His life is showing the world a little bit of Japan – his town of Shizuoka. He’s a hilarious, boisterous fellow who knows everything there is to know about his country. We asked him how many languages he spoke, to which he replied [in extremely good English], “Only Japanese”.

Mochan owns a bus, and uses it for showing large groups his country. All 20 of us piled in it, and with him we discovered Japan. While with him we took part in a tea ceremony, had a picnic at Mt. Fuji, visited an onsen, and spent four days traveling with a local.

Kyoto: Kimono & Silk FIeld Lab

My final day in Japan was spent as a field trip with my cultural anthropology class, studying kimonos and silk production in Kyoto. We explored different kimono styles and levels of formality throughout the ages, but the most fascinating kimono had to be the jūnihitoe.

Jūnihitoe translated to English means literally ‘twelve layer robe’, and was worn only by the court-ladies. All kimonos (and every layer of the jūnihitoe) are made of silk. The innermost layer is white, followed by color-coordinated sets of kimonos.

The jūnihitoe pictured weighed about 30 lbs, but they can often weight up to 40 lbs. It is nearly impossible to walk, and movement inside is extremely limited.

Being dressed in jūnihitoe is highly ritualized. Two dressers, one in front and one behind the court-lady, begin by bowing. The dresser in front may never stand, while the dresser in back is in charge of picking up each layer and helping drape the silk over the court-lady’s shoulders.

On another note…

Goodbye Japan; Hello China! Our ship is currently less than 200 kilometers away from Shanghai, and I will be stepping foot on land in the morning. While in China I will also be visiting Guilin and Hong Kong, and look forward to sharing stories and pictures when I’m back on the ship.

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