Someone told me yesterday that beneath the banks and office buildings between Mitsukoshimae Station and Otemachi Station, hidden deep underground, the Japanese government grows secret rice.
Somewhere along the Ginza Line my train just powers down. All the lights go out, all of the computer screens switch off. The train drifts for a while in the direction of Ueno Station and eventually stops. The carriage is enveloped in darkness. The train is dead. Everyone remains silent messing with their mobile phones, despite the obvious sorrow of the situation. It is all very worrying. About five minutes pass and there is an announcement in Japanese, then nothing. A further five minutes and the train starts up like nothing ever happened.
As I exit Mitsukoshimae Station, I accidentally wander into an adjacent department store.
Inside the department store, there is a Mask Art Museum, and it is free. A nice but rather small exhibition. The store that houses the museum is incredibly upmarket. I ask politely if I am allowed to take photographs, and lucky for me it is fine. The exhibition actually ends today. Rather fittingly, all of the mannequins in this department store are wearing masks.
One thing I have noticed in Japan are the many strange museums, including the famous World Bags and Luggage Museum. A few other favourites of mine that I am yet to visit are the Gas Science Museum, the National Leprosy Museum, and the Parasite Museum.
Of Rice and Men
I wander around for a while looking for the entrance to the secret underground rice bunker. It takes a while but I eventually find a huge office building that has every window on one side completely covered in plants. On the other side of the building, I scare away an eagle pecking at a gold statue of Prometheus. This must be the place, I think to myself. It turns out it is.
Deeply tucked away in the second basement level of a huge skyscraper, they grow rice. I am not entirely sure why they grow rice, but people are free to come and see it. Huge natural light shines from above. Rice grows. From what I was told, this area stretches under the whole business district, although it doesn’t. The size of the area was heavily exaggerated to me. The rice isn’t really that secret either, it is not too well advertised, but no one is trying to hide the fact that it grows here either. I think it is actually encouraged for people to come here and learn about rice cultivation. Another urban myth shattered then.
After looking at rice for a few minutes, I decide to walk to the Imperial Palace. I am surprised just how close to each other the stations are in this area. Tokyo, Kanda, Shimbashi and Nihombashi are literally within five minutes walk of each other. Outside the Imperial Palace, there are about thirty elderly Japanese people sat painting.
The Imperial Palace is home to Emperor Akihito, he is the last remaining monarch in the world to go by the name of Emperor. There isn’t really much else to see at the palace. The grass outside cut immaculately. The water fountains spray jets of water about two meters into the air. I notice there is a great view of Tokyo Station from the Palace car park though. I wander to the nearby Ginza Station and take the train back to Asakusa.
I decide to inspect a potential apartment. Small apartments in Japan are ironically referred to as mansions. These one-room coffin apartments offer little to no space and an equal amount of comfort. Another phenomenon in Japan is the grouping of shops, whole areas dedicated to selling one type of product. The area where the apartment is housed is completely surrounded by funeral shops. There is one street where eight shops in a row all sell tombstones. I decide the area doesn’t quite feel right. Chimes sound from nowhere. Five times signalling 5 pm.
You Only Liver Twice
At 6 pm, three friends and I head to a nearby restaurant that serves Fugu. Jokes are made about toxicity, tetrodotoxin, paralysis, and death. In reality, Fugu poison is one-thousand two-hundred times stronger than cyanide; this is no laughing matter. The most poisonous part of the fish is the liver. Outside the restaurant, we watch our dinner for a while graciously swimming around in a tank. In a moment this beautiful Blowfish will be killed on our behalf; we sure hope it doesn’t have a taste for revenge.
There was a time when a Fugu chef would have to pass a training course of ten years before they were given certification to cook Fugu. These laws changed about three years ago, and now the rules state just a two or three-year course is required. We really hope that our chef today is of the older generation.
We take a seat in a tatami room. We order fresh Blowfish sashimi. We also order diced Blowfish sashimi just so I can make a pun about how we diced with death. Oddly, one of the options on the menu is hot saké with dried Blowfish fin floating in the liquid. “We only serve the finest live domestic tiger Blowfish,” says the menu. Served live? I certainly hope not. We wait anxiously for our food to arrive.
The poisonous fish is served in elegantly arranged translucent slices; it doesn’t look very threatening.
EAT FISH OR DIE TRYIN’
A taste for revenge would be an overstatement. A taste of anything would be welcome. The food is the freshest fish I have ever tasted, of course, it has been dead just minutes. The food is also the least tastiest fish I have ever had. It has no flavour at all; perhaps there is a subtle hint of death. I’m just glad we went to a cheap non-certified restaurant. It costs us just ¥5480 between the four of us for two dishes and four drinks.
I tried the sacred Fugu of Japan and all I got was this lousy anecdote.