A VISIT to the teeming Tsukiji fish market - the world's biggest - is free and is a must on any visit to Tokyo.
Like the hordes of people streaming out of train stations or its neon skyline, the scale and bustle of Tsukiji confirms that you are in one of the world's great cities.
The market is more like a city, spread out over 23ha and the workplace of about 60,000 wholesalers, accountants, auctioneers, company officials and distributors.
Almost 500 types of seafood are handled at Tsukiji every day, and more than 600 billion yen (about $8.9 billion) worth of seafood is processed there each year.
Below grimy steel girders polystyrene boxes are stacked high with every imaginable sea creature, prepared in every imaginable way.
Workers whizz through the narrow lanes on electric carts laden with goods, while chefs and retailers busily select the produce needed for the coming day's trade.
Chunks of octopus tentacle sit next to what seems like hundreds of prehistorically huge crabs in cramped glass tanks.
An ecstatic-looking pink cartoon whale, up there with Bambi on a level of innocence, entices passers-by to try a row of barbecued skewers.
As a sales tactic it comes as a shock, even in a city where the police force has its own cutsey cartoon mascot (the mouse-eared Pipo-kun).
But Tsukiji is far from the mechanical economy of a slaughterhouse - our group is stilled by the sight of a worker slowly slicing a massive tuna in two.
With his long blade and solemn, careful movements, the act takes on a ceremonial air and the care and attention demonstrate why it's impossible to find a bad meal in this city.
Tsukiji is an example of what Tokyo rewards most - observation.
When hours can be spent wandering a market or simply watching the flow of people at an intersection, accommodation really is just a place to lay your head.
- Where to stay: Capsule Hotel Asakusa Riverside: Offers male and female capsule dormitories, and friendly staff speak some English.
- What to do: Make an early-morning visit to the Tsukiji fish market, where hundreds of alleyways are filled with every imaginable creature of the deep - including whale. Afterwards pull up a seat at one of the market's sushi restaurants for melt-in-your-mouth sashimi.
* Nicholas Jones visited Japan as guest of Air New Zealand.
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