Due to the fact that this world-largest fish market is running out of space for future development, and that the site of the existing Inner Wholesale Market is sitting on prime real estate land, the Tsukiji Inner Market or Jonai Shijo (築地中央卸売市場) is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu (豊洲) in this October. Handling over 2000 tons of seafood per day and employed over 60,000 staff, relocating the Tsukiji Inner Market is no small feat. Not catered for public visitors and tourists, the wholesale area is not an ideal place to wander around. No tourists are allowed before 11am according to the rules, and there is a limited number of quota for watching the famous tuna auction before dawn. Outside of the wholesale area, a few small lanes of restaurants are extremely popular with tourists. There are about two dozens of small sushi restaurants serving fresh fish just a stone throw away from the wholesale area. No wonder the most popular restaurants such as Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) are infamously known for the long queues, with some bloggers mentioning in the range of one to three hours of wait.
This time, we didn’t enter the wholesale area of the Inner Market. We didn’t want to stand in the way of the busy staff.
We walked to the lanes of eateries and sushi bars to hunt for a place for breakfast.
Japanese grilled omelette or tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) could also be found in the Inner Market area.
In 2014, we came to the Inner Market in early morning and had a bowl of chirashi for breakfast.
Other than chirashi and sushi, there were also other options such as curry and tempura.
The line for Sushi Dai went all the way to the other side of the building out onto the adjacent lane. It seemed like a two hour wait at least.
This time, we picked Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司). Daiwa Sushi occupies two stores so we thought the queue wouldn’t be too long. We wouldn’t mind queuing for a while to have a chance to taste the fresh nigirizushi or hand pressed sushi (握り寿司) from Tsukiji Market.
At the door of Daiwa Sushi, a staff was responsible to monitor the queue and direct the entering customers when seats became available in the restaurant.
Through the window, we could see a senior itamae (chef) and his apprentices busy preparing nigirizushi for customers.
We ended up queuing for a little over an hour before finding ourselves sitting at the bar seats of Daiwa Sushi.
The interior was down to earth. We sat by the corner right by a photo depicting the catch of a huge tuna.
There was only one nigirizushi (握り寿司) set option to order. Nothing fancy about the sushi, but the freshness of the fish and the vibrant market atmosphere made all the wait worthwhile.
After the sushi breakfast, we hopped to Aiyo Cafe next door for a cup of coffee.
The interior of Aiyo revealed a strong vintage atmosphere.
The entire shop seemed frozen in time since mid 20th century.
The staff were very friendly and spoke some English.
We had a good time exchange a few words with them while taking a short coffee break. After all, we were a little sleepy after the red-eye flight.
At another lane there were restaurants that offered Western cuisine. We thought of trying but were too full after the sushi breakfast.
We walked by an interesting sliding door panel leaning against a low wall outside the row of restaurants that offered Western food. Was the move to Toyosu already underway for some restaurant owners we did not know.
Judging from the mini figure that actually moved continuously as if devouring a bowl of delicious noodles, the door might belong to a ramen restaurant. After the sushi and coffee, we decided to move on to Roppongi for a dose of design culture.
Walking out of Tsukiji Metro Station, our attention immediately fell to the monumental Tsukiji Honganji Temple (築地本願寺) across the street. Design in mixed styles including Indian Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu, as well as Western Neoclassical influences, architect and Tokyo University professor Chuta Ito intended to steer away from the traditional East Asian timber architectural traditions. Instead, he traveled to India numerous times to visit temples, and brought home design touches from the birthplace of Buddhism. The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed the temple’s predecessor. The current Honganji Temple was built in the 1930s, and soon became a prominent Jodo Shinshu (浄土真宗) temple in Tokyo. We climbed the main stair and entered the main hall through an elegant doorway with beautiful stain-glass transom windows overhead. We were surprised to see a full house of audience in the cathedral-like main hall (even with an organ). Apparently there was a concert going on. A female vocalist was performing some kind of Western opera inside the temple.
The unique facade of Tsukiji Honganji Temple hardly revealed its true identity of to us.
The elegant stain glass transom over the doorway depict the Buddhist icon of lotus flowers.
There was a concert inside the main hall of Tsukiji Honganji Temple.
The architecture of Tsukiji Honganji Temple presents the trend of cultural fusion back in early 20th century.
Across the street adjacent to the Tsukiji Honganji Temple, we picked a small lane leading into Tsukiji Jogai Shijo (築地場外市場) or the Outer Market. Encompassing a few blocks adjacent to the Tsukiji Jonai Shijo or the Inner Market, the Outer Market is a popular tourism attraction. Catered for the public, small shops selling all kinds of culinary-related goods from dried seafood to kitchen knives and food stalls offering a wide range of snacks such as sushi and grilled egg, the pedestrianized lanes of the Outer Market is truly a foodie’s paradise. On this piece of reclaimed land (Tsukiji literally means reclaimed land), the eateries and shops of the Outer Market had long been providing a diverse range of food to the people of Tokyo since the Showa Era (1926-1989). The entire Tsukiji Market was in fact a consequence of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which devastated Central Tokyo in 1923 including the Nihonbashi Fish Market. The fish market was relocated to Tsukiji and began to operate in 1935 as one of the three major markets in the city. Already the largest wholesale seafood market in the world, the Tsukiji Market is running out of space for further development. Work of relocating the market has been undergoing for sometime. After several delays, it seems that the market is really moving to its new home in Toyosu (豊洲) this October. But that didn’t affect the bustling Outer Market as these few blocks of shops and eateries (and the loads of tourists) would likely to stay even after the move.
Street vendors appeared blocks away from the Tsukiji Market just outside the Metro Station.
A large fish painted on the building facade probably reminds tourists the direction of the market.
A relatively new market called “Tsuki Waza” will remain at Tsukiji even after the relocation of Tsukiji Inner Market.
The Tsukiji Outer Market is consisted of a few pedestrianized streets of shops and restaurants.
Katsuobushi (鰹節) is the dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna or bonito flakes commonly seen in Japanese cuisine.
Akiyama Shouten (秋山商店) specializes in katsuobushi. We couldn’t resist but got ourselves 500g of the flakes.
There are many small shops with all kinds of dried seafood and seaweed.
While it only occupies a few blocks, one can easily get disoriented in Tsukiji Outer Market.
Apart from the small shops, there are also indoor shopping arcades of food stalls.
We ended up get our first snacks from a street BBQ vendor.
Apart from seafood, spices can also be found in the Outer Market.
Tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) or grilled omelette is another popular snacks available at Tsukiji.
We saw about four to five stalls specialized in tamagoyaki. We tried two of them and they both tasted good.
After free tasting of black beans from Kyoto region we ended up get a pack home.
After all, tuna is still the king in Tsukiji. Quite a long queue of people were waiting for fresh tuna sashimi in front of this shop.
New indoor shopping arcades have been established in recent years at the Outer Market, perhaps as a gesture of confidence for the future of Tsukiji after the relocation of the wholesale Inner Market later this year.
After watching the sunrise over Old Bagan, we returned to Oasis Hotel for breakfast. Soon, our guide Win Thu came to join us and we headed off once again to explore the Bagan area. Before another series of pagoda hopping, our day’s first destination was the local market of Nyaung-U. As the main transportation and commercial hub of Bagan, the market of the river town Nyaung-U is a gathering point for the locals. Many locals from the surrounding villages would come for grocery and daily needs. Nyaung-U market offers travelers a great spot to learn about the daily lives of the locals.
We started our market stroll at the open wet market section.
It was great to see all the fresh produces from the area, as well as the smiles and laughter of the vendors.
Apart from produces, colourful flowers were also available.
Our eyes were overwhelmed by all shades of green.
Several kids were enjoying themselves behind the vendor stalls.
There were several vendors selling thanaka powder, a yellowish-white paste made from ground tree bark of thanaka trees. Thanaka powder is a very popular cosmetic paste which the local Burmese women put on their faces.
Moving away from the open area, we walked into the covered aisles.
The aisles were narrow and busy.
Also for sale included betel leaves, which the locals used to make paan shots with Areca nut and/or tobacco.
Bamboo shoots is a common ingredients for local cuisine.
A quiet corner of the covered market.
Some vendors had to attend to their stall and baby at the same time.
Many vendors were also having their meals at the stalls.
This shop had all kinds of dried fish.
In the dry goods area, merchandise such as clothing and slippers were sold along with spices.
In the covered area, there was also a small eatery.
Heading out to the open area where we arrived, we passed by more stalls selling local produces and spices.
Apart from temple and pagoda hopping, the Nyaung-U market certainly added an unique experience to our visit of Bagan.
Tourists and guidebooks often compare the ancient ruins of Myanmar’s Bagan with Cambodia’s Angkor, and so as their base towns: Nyaung-U of Bagan and Siem Reap of Angkor. Tourists arriving in Bagan may discover that Nyaung-U is nothing like Siem Reap. There is no designated Pub Street, massage parlours or fish spa for the tired feet. Several years ago we spent the night of New Year’s Eve in the Pub Street of Siem Reap, where bars and restaurants were packed with half drunk tourists. This time, we had an opportunity to spend Christmas Eve in Bagan. Unlike Siem Reap, Nyaung-U was much more peaceful. To celebrate Christmas Eve, we chose Sanon Restaurant, a social enterprise offering great food and non-profit training for the disadvantaged youth. After a satisfying meal, we walked around Nyaung-U to take in the peaceful atmosphere of the silent night.
On our way to Sanon Restaurant, we passed by a number of convenient stores catered for tourists. Most shops also offered e-bike rentals to tourists. Renting E-bikes is one of the most popular ways for tourists to do their pagoda hopping.
We were lucky to find a table after a bit of waiting at Sanon Restaurant.
The dining area was a pleasant open terrace.
We started our Christmas Eve dinner with a delicious cocktail.
We had a local dish: deep fried morning glory for appetizer.
One of our main dishes was also a local dish: Giant Irrawaddy Prawn and Catfish Curry. Flowing north to south, Irrawaddy River is the largest river in Myanmar.
After dinner, we walked past a book vendor in front of a restaurant. All books were non-fiction and half of them were in English.
It was a 15-minute walk from Sanon Restaurant back to Oasis Hotel. The street was peaceful and quiet. All actions seemed to be limited inside the restaurants and hotels.
Some of the local eateries were particularly busy, with customers gathered to watch football games on large televisions.
Located at a road junction, Sapada Paya stood quietly over Nyaung-U.
We stopped by a small playground at the base of Sapada Paya.
Despite there was no one around, up at the terrace of Sapada Paya we found a small altar with fresh floral offerings.
Finally we were back at Oasis Hotel, our comfortable base for our stay in Bagan.
No one was around in the garden of Oasis Hotel, though Christmas music was on.
We enjoyed a peaceful Christmas Eve and retired to our room early. The next morning we would get up before dawn. Our driver would pick us up to watch the magical sunrise over Old Bagan, probably the most well known and gorgeous scenery in Myanmar.
Considered as the first empire in Myanmar, the legacy of the ancient Bagan Kingdom is what drawn all visitors coming to the dry plains at the eastern bank of the Ayeyawaddy River today. With over 2000 ruined pagodas concentrated around a few villages, Bagan is truly one of the most wonderful place to visit in Southeast Asia. After seeing Shwezigon, probably the most active temple still popular with pilgrims today, we moved on to check out some of the less intact pagodas nearby.
The first was Htilominlo Temple. Built on the spot where King Htilominlo was chosen as the next king, Htilominlo was eventually named after the king himself. Topped with a sikhara, an ornamental tower originated from Hindu architecture in Northern India, the 46m pagoda is a majestic brick structure plastered with stucco carvings.
Built in the 13th century, the Htilominlo is about 46m tall. The temple was damaged by earthquake in 1975.
Among all the tourist souvenirs on display at Htilominlo, local puppets seemed to be the most eye-catching.
Well known for its detailed plaster work, Htilominlo is a popular temple among the 2000+ pagodas in the area. The sikhara at the top was under scaffolding during our visit.
There is one gilded Buddha figure at each of the four worship halls facing the four directions.
Each of the four Buddha figures is unique in appearance. Pilgrims usually visit all of them for the worship.
The four main worship halls are connected by vaulted corridors running around the core of the main structure.
The interior of the architecture is full of archways and vaulted corridors.
Some of the fading fresco can still be seen inside Htilominlo.
After an interior loop, we walked around the temple to check out its exterior decorations. Some of the beautiful plaster work and glazed terracotta plaques were still visible.
Across the road from Htilominlo, we reached a smaller building called Upali Thein. Built in the 13th century, this building houses some fine frescoes from the 17th century. The interesting roof battlements attempted to mimic a type of historical Burmese wooden architecture that can no longer be found today.
We were fortunate that the usually locked Upali Thein was open while we were there.
We wandered around a cluster of stupas nearby. These stupas varied in size and form, and were constructed in different eras.
In the past, constructing stupas in Bagan was considered a religious good deed of the donor. Stupa donors in Bagan ranged from businessmen to officials and even kings. Names and addresses of the donor were often presented at the entrance gate.
Constructing stupas was a competitive business in the old days among the wealthy class.
Today, most of the 2000+ surviving stupas and pagodas stand in partial ruins, except the most prominent ones that are still serving as places of worship for Buddhist pilgrims.
Centuries of competitive stupa constructions put Bagan at the top of the list of attractions for Myanmar.
Looking back at Htilominlo from afar, we could truly sense that our two-day feast of temple and stupa hopping would be a really special experience. Unlike Angkor in Cambodia where majestic temples are overtaken by the powerful rainforest, Bagan is a romantic landscape picture consisted of layers of pagodas scattered across the horizon.
For lunch, Win Thu took us to a local restaurant nearby.
There was no menu as all customers were given the same dozen or so small plates of local dishes and a large plate of rice.
Housed in a simple shed, the restaurant kitchen was filled with the scent of charcoal.
After a full day in Yangon, the second part of our trip would take us north to Bagan. In the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that united Myanmar. Near the former royal capital Mandalay, Bagan is over 600km north of Yangon. We chose flying to save time. There are several local airlines that offer the service. We picked Air KBZ, one of the guidebook recommended private airlines, and bought our tickets online two months prior to the trip. To maximize the time in Bagan, we chose the 7:15 flight and left Yangon’s Loft Hotel before dawn. We arrived at Yangon Airport in no time. After checking in, we had a noodle breakfast at a cafe in the boarding area.
Among several eateries we ended up sitting down at Gloria Jean’s Coffee in the boarding area for breakfast.
Black coffee and Shan noodles represented a set breakfast with a local twist.
Approaching Bagan, we could occasionally see Buddhist stupas in the landscape down below. We were pretty excited as we approached the ancient capital of the Bagan Kingdom, where thousands of pagodas and stupas once stood on the dry plains near the Irrawaddy River.
After a little over an hour, our plane touched down at Nyaung U, the main town in the Bagan area. Nyaung U was also where we would base ourselves in the next two days.
The Nyaung-U Airport is a small airport that served only domestic flights. Upon arrival, all passengers gathered at a room to wait for their luggage to be carried in by airport staff. After picking up our luggage, we walked out to the arrival hall and was greeted by our local guide Win Thu.
Win Thu took us back to our hotel Oasis Hotel to drop off our bags, and immediately began our Bagan tour by visiting Shwezigon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U. All visitors of the pagoda are greeted by the chinthes, the traditional leogryph guardians of temples in Southeast Asia.
We took off our shoes and entered one of the two remaining entrance halls. The entrance hall was crowded with pilgrims, tourists and vendors selling all kinds of religious offerings.
The entrance hall is a stone-paved covered walkway leading to the central pagoda compound and the gold gilded central pagoda.
Before approaching the golden stupa, we stopped by a pavilion with statues depicting the Buddhist story of the Four Sights: when the 29-year-old Siddhārtha left his royal palace for the first time and first met an elderly man, sick man, dead man and an ascetic. The four sights led Siddhartha to realize the real sufferings in life, and inspired his decision to embark on an ascetic journey towards enlightenment.
In Shwezigon, there are shrines dedicated to local deities such as the Nat God. Like many local deities, Nat predated the arrival of Buddhism in Myanmar and still remained popular today.
Completed in 1102 AD, the golden pagoda of Shwezigon Pagoda is believed to house a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha. The bell-shaped stupa represents the architectural tradition of the Mon people of ancient Myanmar.
Many visitors gathered around a tiny pool of water to check out the reflection of the golden pagoda. According to our guide Win Thu, the king also used the pool of water to inspect the construction of the stupa.
The pagoda has a central solid core, with steps at the four cardinal directions rising from the base up the terraces for pilgrim’s worship.
Shwezigon Pagoda is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the Bagan area today.
Win Thu led us to the back of the pagoda to check out the famous Chayar Tree. The tree is famed for its year-round blossom, unlike other trees of its kind which would only flower at a certain period of a year.
At the back of the pagoda, we also found a small building housing local deities that predated Buddhism in Myanmar.
Before leaving Shwezigon Pagoda, we passed by a number of small prayer halls that surrounded the golden pagoda.
We found our way back to where we came. It was time to move on to the next designations in Bagan.