So I packed my bags and travelled to the city of Tokyo, one that I have come to love so fondly over the past few years. I have always taken pride in my ‘local’ knowledge, knowing the hidden alleys and corridors where, upon going, you would perhaps be the only tourist amongst the chattering, curly-haired ladies in their sixties, or if at night, the unbuttoned collars and flushed red faces of Japanese businessmen. This knowledge had been accumulated over the years through trips to this bustling city with my mother, who definitely taught me the art of walk-until-you-find-The-Amazing. (Of course, that is just an attitude we embrace trying to cover up the fact that both of us are simply too lazy to do any research and meticulous planning.)
Nonetheless, there were always stories still to be uncovered. One of these little gems is in Tsukiji fish market, the central hub for the world’s sushi sources. It’s a small sushi shop tucked in a small alley that I always mentally jot down as opposite the pottery shop, with a fairly modest customer capacity of perhaps 10, as compared to its larger raw fish compatriots in the main market. We’ve eaten at this place so often that the old man behind the wooden counter has come to know our faces and always welcomes us back. (Or perhaps, to him we are just memorable as the family whose spoken Japanese is just simply atrocious and he is just too polite to tell us to stop trying.)
So this time around, I was determined to find out more about this old sushi master. With my barely-amateur Japanese and his surprisingly-reasonable English, together this interview was going to work! That, and the world’s universal language, hand gesturing. It turns out that he wakes up at 4 every morning, goes to the market to source out the freshest fish, and starts his business promptly at 7am. The customers he attends to are mostly regulars, locals around the vicinity who step in for their quick fix of sushi and exchange of updates in life. His ability to speak English comes from the 2 year period where he trained in Paris, after which he returned to Tokyo and set up this shop with his wife. I used to believe that the woman I always saw serving the tables was his wife, but it turns out that she was just a helper. His wife usually helps out on the weekends, and he takes Wednesdays off to spend time with his family.
It astounds me the way he is so familiar with his customers and never fails to remember who likes what. He probably labels my dad Seared Tuna, me as Scallop and my sister as The Girl Who Loves Fatty Tuna, Fish Roe & Black Pepper Seaweed, the lattermost being a til-we-meet-next-time present he always gives my sister after our meal. He is probably one of the main reasons I keep going back to Tokyo. Although eating his sushi does play a part, it’s seeing that familiar stranger yet again that is most heartwarming. After all, something my parents taught me through the years is that one of the best parts about travelling is the chance to plant little friendships all over the world. Time to brush up on my foreign languages. Til next time!