I’ve noticed that one of the first beers that I drink in any country is the one whose advertisement I see first. The ads for Asahi Strong Off on the subway platforms around Tokyo depicts your average businessman with an expression on his face of either drunken jubilation or gaping in a rictus of groin-tearing pain. It’s more than a little bit off.
Strong Off is a beer that promises all of the boredom of a lager combined with all of the alcohol from a stout. According to the can, it has 60% less carbohydrates which accounts for the “off” portion, the “strong” from the 7% booze kick. It’s a beer that says you remain conscious about your waistline while attempting to drink yourself unconscious.
I say: My kanji skills only extend to about 5 characters but I would not be in any way surprised if one of them on the can said “malt liquor”. This is not really even close to beer, closer to a thin alcoholic soap.
It also sells fat red chunks of whale meat. Not much of it though.
While the cubed cetacean is pretty hard to uncover (I only saw a single vendor), what does tend to get overlooked is that there is also a gigantic vegetable market next door. Compared to the speed and clatter of the neighbouring fish market, the vegetable sheds are downright sedate. Fewer forklifts and a general lack of food voyeurs striding amongst the hundreds of low rows of boxed vegetables than on the fish side.
The auctioning takes place on a set of bleachers in the middle of the warehouse, boxed vegetables opened in front of the crowd and quickly sold off.
A box of fresh wasabi root. The general quality on show is overwhelming (not that I’m a great pick of wasabi in particular) – but there does seem to be a clear reason for the premiums paid on vegies in Japan.
Whole frozen tuna on a forklift at Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo
I have no hope whatsoever for the future of tuna. The death warrant for Atlantic tuna was written at the last meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ensuring that current tuna stocks will have a 50% chance of recovering in the next decade. The tuna is one of the only endangered species that you could buy at the supermarket to feed to your cat or rave about eating a perfect red shard atop vinegared rice without social repercussions. I doubt this prevailing attitude will change before the bluefin and yellowfin tuna are well dead.
Roughly, three quarters of the world’s tuna is eaten by Japan and from four in the morning, it looks like roughly three quarters of the Japan’s tuna is at Tsukiji fish market in downtown Tokyo. Frozen torpedoes of fish are lined up in a warehouse for auction, a visual cliche of Tokyo that wrestles for space in travel brochures with Goth Lolitas and that busy intersection in Shibuya.
The auction rooms are currently cut off to tourists thanks to its popularity and the propensity of tourists to fall beneath forklifts. (It appears that the auction area is actually open to a limited number of visitors each day (Cheers, Akila) – I must have missed the cut). Austin Bush has some excellent coverage of the auctions. I concentrated on what happens next.
The areas where the middlemen transfer and dismantle the tuna is still accessible for death by forklift. Tuna are transferred from the auction area into stalls on handcarts yoked to the elderly, motorised gurneys which appear to be the offspring of a motorcycle and a double bed, and your construction-variety forklift.
Tuna are kept cool with blocks of dry ice while they await the bandsaw. The smaller stallholders break down their morning’s buy into component cuts, dividing the buttery belly cuts from the coarser red flesh. It’s a much less sterile process that I would have expected with tuna heads piling up on the concrete floor before the flesh is removed from their cheeks, collar and eyes.
Yes, I’m meant to be researching for a post I’m working on, but occasionally, YouTube spits out pure gold instead of the prosaic video which you seek. Above is James Brown advertising Cup Noodles. MSG-filled snackfood will never be funkier.