A visit to Tokyo is, to me, incomplete without a stop at The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, better known as Tsukiji Market. Early mornings in the market are packed with people (employees, shoppers and tourists alike) and the energy and action is hard to match. Or you could be like me and accidentally end up in the market on a day it is closed. Whoopsie.
My only morning in Tokyo on my most recent visit was a Wednesday and the market is closed on Wednesdays in the summer. It was not at all what I had planned for. The stalls were all empty. The doors to the shops just outside the market were all closed. And it was awesome.
The emptiness was eerie in many ways. The stalls were, for the most part, ready to go except for their daily supply of fish. But other supplies were out and prepped for the employees. It had an apocalyptic feel in some ways, though it really wasn’t a bad thing.
Plus, I got to see some awesome art on the doors of a couple of the shops.
Don’t get me wrong – I would have rather that the market was open during my time there. But the closed version was pretty cool, too. Definitely an experience that most people don’t get to have.
My biggest complaint is that the breakfast sushi is much better on market days, though at least I wasn’t waiting in line to get mine.
Certainly not what I planned for, but also not the worst market visit I’ve ever had. Such is the fun which comes when traveling without too much planning.
More photos from the visit on Facebook or Google+.
In all my prior visits to Tokyo I somehow managed to never visit the Akihabara neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure why; after all, I’m a fan of electronics and random markets, preferably with small, crowded alleys full of random stuff. And Akihabara has plenty of all that stuff, plus lots of other shops to explore. Fortunately, my most recent trip gave me the opportunity to right this wrong.
We didn’t stray too far from the train station in exploring the area. Part of that was trying to not get lost (I did have a flight to catch not too much later) but much of it was because we didn’t need to in order to explore pretty much all the neighborhood has to offer. Right next to the train station is the warren of tiny shops, creating a maze of diodes, transistors, switches and just about everything else electronics junkies could want. Think of it like a super-sized version of the back section of a Radio Shack. There is one of everything there, including a lot of things you probably didn’t even know you needed. It took a lot of self control but I managed to not buy anything as I toured.
After the market area we aimed for Super Potato, one of the more famous shops in the neighborhood.
Super Potato is packed floor-to-ceiling with classic gaming goods. It is a chain of stores but the Akihabara location is the most famous and, once you find it and ride the elevator up to find the shop, it is pretty easy to understand why. The store covers three floors, all crammed with vintage goods. We started at the top and worked our way down; floor number 5 was the arcade. The dozen or so machines in the room leave it too small be a top-notch arcade. Unless, of course, playing 80s and 90s-era games is your thing. Here it is all about the vintage, not modern games. For a couple of minutes we played Varth, a 1992 game I’d never seen before with a decidedly 8-bit feel.
The lower floors are where the shopping really happens, whether it be for games, consoles or merchandise. There was a stack of 30+ GameCubes tucked in one corner. The shelves were filled with cartridges for everything from the Nintendo Family Computer (known as the original NES in the USA) to GameBoy to Nintendo 64, with plenty of other systems and eras mixed in. They had consoles for sale, too. I think a working GameBoy was going for JPY 7900, around $80. It seems that just about anything game related which was ever sold in Japan is available on floors three and four of the shop. Thousands of titles stocked the shelves; each game looking for a new home.
After visiting Super Potato it was on to the Hirose Entertainment Yard, known by the acronym HEY. This was another multi-story affair but quite a different experience from Super Potato. The floors were much larger and there was virtually nothing retail about the place; it was all about the modern games and the people who play them. Many of the guides we read suggested that HEY was one of the sites where we could find locals who are expert gamers. We went searching for such, in addition to dropping more than a couple of our own JPY100 (~$1) coins into the machines.
It was roughly noon on a Wednesday; that’s probably not prime gaming hours, but we found a few guys playing at HEY. Watching them was impressive. They barely moved, intently focused on the screen with their eyes darting back and forth but their bodies perfectly still. Their fingers tapped away at the buttons and the joystick moved but barely any other motion. It was somewhat surreal. Compare that to our play, where body english was a big part of our efforts. Then again, these guys got a lot more play time for their Yen so maybe there is something to it.
And then, alas, it was time for me to head off to the airport. Like many of my trips this was a quick one and I didn’t have time to explore more. No maid café nor cat café visit this time around; maybe next time. Also on the list for next time is a visit to the animation museum in the neighborhood. I actually really want to see that, unlike the cafés.
Here are some of the resources I used in researching the visit:
United Airlines is finally getting their 787 Dreamliners on to longhaul routes, starting with a flight on Monday from Denver to Tokyo. I booked my seat on the flight way back when it first went on sale and I’ve put up with the delays and schedule changes over the past few months. I’m very excited to be going on the route inaugural and I’m pretty excited to spend another day in Tokyo, a city which I very much enjoy exploring. But I’m also not entirely sure what I should do in town.
Because of the schedule changes and such I only have from 3:30pm on the 11th until 5:30pm on the 12th for my visit. Taking in to account transit times and such – and I do plan on going in to Tokyo rather than staying in Narita town – I figure I should have about 20 hours to explore. I’m also going to sleep a bit at some point, almost certainly in the Asakusa neighborhood. Still, I’ve got some time to schedule various adventures in to and I’m interested in what y’all would do if you were me.
Sushi at Tsukiji in the morning is almost a certainty, though I won’t be waiting in any long lines to make that happen. Plus, in my previous experiences, the places with long lines aren’t all that much different than the others. Assuming things go well with the inbound flight times I should be able to explore for a few hours on Tuesday night, though I’m probably arriving too late for happy hour in Yakitori Alley. And then I’ll have a few hours during the day on Wednesday to explore the city before heading back out to the airport for the flights home.
With the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner now in its 6th week and looking to stretch into several months the long-term impact on flight schedules is starting to build up. With no certainty of the planes reentering service anytime soon airlines are extending route cancelations or aircraft swaps, depending on the circumstances. For United Airlines the groundings are affecting a number of routes, even those not scheduled to operate on the 787.
United has officially removed the 787 from their schedule through June 5, 2013 (or they will be with this weekend’s schedule updates). The only flight on the 787 expected earlier than that is Denver-Tokyo, a route which was supposed to launch on March 31; the new launch date for that route is May 12th, a delay of 6 weeks. And that date is soft, depending on the 787s getting back into service. Because United has other routes scheduled to be operated by the 787 which are now being operated with other planes the ability to continue expansion efforts are also impeded.
United’s flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai, as well as Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, will continue to operate, but with the 777 rather than 787s. Flights between San Francisco and both Paris and Taipei, both scheduled to start in the coming weeks, are pushed back. Paris service is now slated to begin April 26th and Taipei is expected to start June 6th; these dates are several weeks after the originally announced route launch dates.
For me, the delay on the DEN-NRT flight creates a personal problem for me: I was supposed to fly on the inaugural. United is being quite flexible on rebooking and reroutes, including positioning flights to Denver, and so I now have to decide what to do. I’m still inclined to get the new line and I’d still love to be on the inaugural. Plus, I think I can make the timing work with another event near Denver that weekend. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I’m tempted to get creative on the way home, extending my mileage run. Maybe a routing via Honolulu? Or something else. Hong Kong or Singapore might be a bit too much, I think. I’d love to get the Island Hopper in there, especially since I’m on a B fare so upgrades would be easier, but I want to do that flight on the daytime, westbound version so that doesn’t work out for me. Any other suggestions??
Cranky Flier has a post out this morning suggesting that American Airlines really isn’t so weak in Asia. There are some interesting numbers in the post, and he does a good job of explaining how he got to those numbers. I’m a fan of that in many ways. Except for the part where I think he’s completely messing up where it really matters. He only considers flights between the US mainland and anywhere in Asia. That makes sense because that’s mostly where the business matters. But where he screws up, to me, is this assumption:
Lastly, I’m including joint venture flights operated by ANA under United and by JAL under American, because since it’s a joint venture, those flights should be considered their own. Sure, there is work to be done before the experience is seamless, but the path is there.
It is a nice theory, but it just doesn’t work. None of the three alliances have figured out the right way to run these JVs as though they are integrated operations. Mileage earning rules are mostly standardized now and fares are generally fixed. But operationally there are still differences. Ditto for things like frequent flyer benefits and recognition. Upgrades, for example, happen very differently (if at all) on partners.
The other thing overlooked is that coverage isn’t only about frequencies. Including JV partners American has service to Tokyo (NRT & HND), Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai. Both United Airlines and Delta have additional Japan destinations and United also has Hong Kong. And if the JV flights are excluded the number of gateways on the US side are notably higher for Delta and United.
American has some service in Asia. But they are nowhere close to the other two major players, especially on their own metal.
Wandering the narrow, dark, cramped, loud, wet aisles between the stalls of fishmongers at Tokyo‘s Tsukiji market is a time-honored tradition. Tourists flock to the site early in the morning; the Tuna auctions start at 6am, with previews open to the public starting at 5am. A breakfast of sushi (and a beer, if you’re so inclined) is a great way to start a day in Tokyo or to work off the after-effects of a late night out on the town. Alas, this tradition will be coming to an end in 2014 as the Tsukiji market closes its doors for good.
The market has been in operation for nearly 80 years and is bursting at the seams. The proposed new market will be 40% larger, covering more than 400,000 square meters of floor space. That’s roughly the same amount of usable space as the Boeing wide-body assembly building in Everett, Washington or the Willis Tower in Chicago. It is going to be HUGE. But it also is not at Tsukiji.
The facility will be built in the Koto ward, a few kilometers away from the current location. The city government unveiled plans late last month for the new site.
The multi-story, multi-building facility will be constructed to support the functions which the site has become known for. There will be dedicated areas for seafood wholesalers, middle-men, fruit and veggie shops and other commercial offices. Construction is not yet started, pending efforts to neutralize toxic substances in the ground at the new site from its prior days as a gas factory.
The wholesale section will be built with observation platforms for the tourists. This will undoubtedly make for easier operations at the market as the vendors won’t be fighting with the tourists for access to the same space. At the same time, however, it notably reduces the intimacy of the experience. And that intimacy is what makes Tsukiji awesome.
I’ve been to the market a few times now, basically every time I visit Tokyo. Wandering those narrow, dark, cramped, loud, wet aisles while fighting off jetlag and trying to remember that I’m in a place of business, not the world’s most interactive tourist site is both glorious and challenging, all at the same time.
I’ve attended the tuna auction just once but that was enough for me to recognize the significance of the tradition and also the major business being conducted in that frantic 20 minutes of shouting every morning.
(More auction videos in this post)
I’ve followed a whole fish through the market, watching to go from auction to wholesaler to a middleman to being sectioned for retail sale, all in just a few hours.
And I’ve seen some awesomely strange animals plucked from the sea and set out for sale.
The market is more about tradition than modern facilities today. It seems to run in spite of itself as much as it runs because of itself. And that is a huge part of what makes it wonderful. I’m sure the new facility will be beautiful. Functional, too. And it will probably make for a better business environment. But it won’t be Tsukiji. And that makes me sad.
I’ll be making at least one "farewell" visit to the market in April 2013. I may have to plan a couple more to help friends and family experience it before it is too late.
The route map for Hawaiian Airlines continues to expand westward. The latest addition to the carrier’s destination list is Taiwan with service expected to begin in July 2013. The 3x weekly operation will bring approximately 45,000 seats annually into the market. Taiwan is the eighth international destination announced in the past two years, all the result of the carrier taking deliveries of new Airbus A330 aircraft and growing their fleet.
For Taiwanese citizens a recent change to US immigration policies allows them to visit under the Visa Waiver Program meaning no need to pay the high fees or submit to the interviews associated with the visa issuance process. The exception applies for stays up to 90 days. And the new service from Hawaiian isn’t the only addition to the USA-Taiwan market. United Airlines previously announced that they would be shifting their connecting service via Tokyo to a non-stop operation from San Francisco starting in Spring 2013.
We had been sitting in the lounge for far too long, waiting out the overnight prior to our scheduled 5:15 am flight when the first TripAlert email from United Airlines rolled in: Our flight from Singapore to Hong Kong was going to be delayed approximately 45 minutes. With just over two hours on the connection that wasn’t catastrophic, but we soon realized that the 45 minute estimate was a pipe dream. And that was ultimately a bigger problem than not.
The transfer desk opened eventually and we went to get our boarding passes. It was then we were informed that our flights had all been changed and that we were now getting home about 5 hours late. Not the end of the world, to be sure, but when the plan was originally that we’d be home for dinner that was not such great news. Perhaps there was a better option available, one which would get us home closer to on time? It turns out that there was but United did not want us to have it. And I’m not so sure they were correct on that move.
My first try was to get us rebooked on the non-stop flight operated by Singapore Airlines. That was clearly a long shot and I didn’t expect them to agree to it. They didn’t. But at least they had a decent reason and they intimated that they would had our delay been more significant. All of the other options involved connections in Tokyo. Not awful as a routing, but the flights which got us home on time (or close to it) were not available. Well, they were, but not in coach and the folks at United were not willing to oversell the back or confirm us in business. Their view was that the five hour delay was acceptable even though there were seats on the plane and the delay was their fault.
Another in our group is flying to Houston. His upgrade on Hong Kong – Chicago had cleared well in advance. And there were business class seats for sale on Narita – Houston. But the rebooking engine skipped the natural, non-stop flight in favor of an extra connection which got in later and which had a 50 minute connection in SFO (not sure that meets the MCT, much less is reasonable). That wasn’t even a case of having to change the booking cabin. Fortunately that one was resolved pretty quickly on the phone.
And this is where the conundrum comes into play. I called in to the Global Services desk to try to get on those flights and was given a somewhat perplexing option. It actually was possible for them to force the seats available without a fare difference; I just had to redeem a GPU (f/k/a SWU). Even though the upgrade inventory wasn’t there the agent would be willing to force that open for me (pending approval by a supervisor). But they would not just do it on their own. In other words, I could either accept the 5 hour delay, getting home close to midnight, or pay up for the upgrade to force the issue. Which brings me to the crux of the issue: should I have accepted the "extortion" to get home on time or should it have been free?
Ultimately it worked in that I scrounged up the GPU and got the rebooking completed. And, yes, I’m going to be riding upstairs on the 747 rather than likely in a middle seat down the back somewhere. So I did realize value from the transaction. But I’m still not so sure that it was a choice I should have been forced in to or that the realized value of redeeming the GPU for the flight was what it should have been. Getting listed for the Singapore – Tokyo segment was not possible even though I was now redeeming the upgrade, and several passengers ended up clearing into both business and first on the segment. Assuming the next connection actually is on time I’ll still make it home for dinner, albeit an hour later than planned. But it came with a personal cost that I’m not so sure was reasonable.
And the ultimate irony is that the SIN-HKG flight ended up getting to HKG early enough that we probably would have made the connection anyways. Smart not to gamble on that, I think, but annoying when it cost us GPUs.
Looks like it is time to schedule a trip to Houston. United Airlines announced in an internal memo yesterday the routes they will be flying with their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. While the Denver-Tokyo route was the first to be loaded into the system for sale it won’t be the first operated. The plane will visit a number of other destinations in the coming months. Here’s what was written in the United Daily briefing:
The places we’ll go on our 787s
Amsterdam, Tokyo, Lagos, London and Shanghai are the first international cities we’ll serve with the newest addition to our fleet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This weekend, we’re loading the 787 into our schedule for the following routes:
• IAH to AMS (Amsterdam) between Dec. 4 and March 29, 2013
• Daily service between LAX and NRT, beginning Jan. 3, 2013
• IAH to LOS (Lagos, Nigeria), five days a week, beginning Jan. 7, 2013
• IAH to LHR (London Heathrow) between Feb. 4 and March 29, 2013
• Daily service between LAX and PVG (Shanghai), beginning March 30, 2013
The 787 will replace other aircraft types on each of these existing routes and will be reflected in our published schedules starting on Saturday.
The previously announced new service between DEN and NRT, which starts March 31, 2013, is already out for sale.
“The 787 is the right aircraft for these routes because of its many passenger-friendly amenities and superior operating economics,” Network SVP Greg Hart said. “With 50 787s on order, we look forward to the many new route opportunities that we will be able to offer to our customers in the future.”
As a mid-size aircraft with a long range, the 787 offers about the same capacity as a Boeing 767 but it can travel as far as the larger Boeing 777-200ERs. We will leverage the 787’s fuel efficiency and environmental advantages to serve markets that can’t support larger aircraft.
We will soon announce plans for 787 domestic flying, which will precede international flights.
No surprises here at all. The routes announced are in line with previous statements and rumors. still, nice to see it official. Bookings should open on August 25 for all these flights.
Hawaiian Airlines is growing their long-haul service offerings in a big way, with Auckland, New Zealand as the newest destination announced. The carrier will be offering service between the South Pacifica capital and Honolulu three times weekly starting on March 13, 2013. Flight schedules have not been announced but the carrier has indicated that the trip will be flown on their 767-300ER aircraft.
Auckland is the eighth new long-haul destination announced by Hawaiian since November 2010. Other options include Tokyo, New York City and, also starting in early 2013, Brisbane, Australia. These route additions have come as Hawaiian is adding to their long-haul fleet; they’ve taken delivery of several A330s over the past two years and eventually expect to have 22 of these aircraft in their fleet. Even with the scheduled retirement of the 767-300 fleet the new aircraft have opened up opportunities for Hawaiian to reach into new markets, something they are pursuing aggressively.
On both the Brisbane service starting in November 2012 and the Auckland service Hawaiian will be the only US carrier operating to those cities. They will also be the only US carrier flying to New Zealand; United Airlines recently indicated that they will scuttle their planned Houston – Auckland route before it ever takes flight.
The airline has noted the significant tourism opportunities in both directions for these destinations. Going after such markets is, in many ways, flying in the face of recent industry trends which have focused more on business-heavy routes. Given Hawaii‘s location in the Pacific and what destinations they have within range it is not surprising that they are going in this direction; there aren’t a lot of other business destinations to be found. Said CEO Mark Dunkerley in a statement:
New Zealanders are avid travelers and we believe the introduction of new nonstop flights with our winning brand of service will be welcomed in meeting pent-up demand for a Hawaii vacation. At the same time, our new service will offer Hawaii residents easy access to the natural wonders and Maori culture of New Zealand.
With 40,000 seats annually between the islands the opportunities for passengers to have these experiences is growing significantly.