The 5 Hour Wait
The only piece of advice I could remember about the Tsukiji Fish Market was if I spotted a long line I should make my way to the back of it. It was 4:45 in the morning and I had walked two hours from Shinjuku to get here. My plane had landed a little after 20:00, I’d gotten to the city around 23:00, and with trains shutting down at 00:30 there was no option but to stay out all night if I was going to make it to the market early enough. So, with a friend from New York who happened to be visiting as well, we formed a small crew of acquaintances and hopped from bar to bar in Tokyo’s queer district. From Goldfinger to Adezakura to a club I was led to by the hand, I witnessed my incorrect assumption of a fully straight-laced culture dissipate around me. To the tune of Missy Elliot, no less.
Everyone knew I had one goal. A girl we met at the beginning of our night held my face in her hands several hours later, smiled, and said, “You want your fish now don’t you?” Was I so obvious? Taxis in Tokyo are astronomically expensive and I still had some time. It was 2:30 and there was no way I would make it to the tuna auction at this point if I refused to hop in a car, so I chose to see the city on foot as morning crept around it’s edges.
There was only one line. I didn’t know what it was for but I stood in it. Awhile later I asked around and was met with “Sushi Dai.” This meant nothing to me. An older, petite woman in a blue apron quietly walked in my direction.
“Hi, just so you know from where you are your wait will probably be about 4 hours.”
I hadn’t slept in a day and a half. I had some decisions to make.
Two girls, best friends from Australia, posted behind me.
“Do you know what the line is for?” they asked.
“Sushi Dai,” I responded.
“Oh, this is it!” one of them exclaimed. Clearly they knew more than I did.
“But just so you know I was told the wait is around 4 hours.
“What?!” they gasped, eyes widened.
Together, we all contemplated if it was worth it. They informed me this was supposedly the best shop at the market, the one place everyone desperately wants a seat. I checked the time. In 4 hours it would be 9 AM. If I got out of this line what would I do anyway? I had stumbled upon the premiere sushi shop in the most important fish market in the world after a two hour stroll through a massive city. Why leave?
As the hours ticked by we took turns stepping out of line for water and snacks. I became too attached to a small storefront selling O-nigiri, purchasing their blue crab in hour 2 and their salmon in hour 3. We marked how close we were based on people disappearing around the corner. Five hours later and we were finally sitting at the counter.
Yes, the sushi is wonderful. Do even the slightest Google search and you’ll find that out in seconds. That isn’t what makes Sushi Dai special to me. What makes it worth standing in line for five hours in the hot sun is the experience it’s chef Urushijara Satoshi provides. Sushi is, in my opinion, the sexiest form of nourishment on earth. Smooth pieces of plump fish fingered to curve slightly on rounded mounds of rice, the impact of wasabi clearing your airways. Honestly there is nothing better. Now, add to that a man who shows the most gracious hospitality to his guests, laughing with you the entire meal and clearly desiring for you to savor each moment, each bite, and there isn’t much reason to venture elsewhere. Sushi Dai is, in a word, genuine.