Whenever I get too cramped by this drafty little house I live in, I head down to the local Mister Donut. Mister Donut is a German chap who started the Mister Donut chain in Germany, and his photo is conveniently placed in every branch in Japan. The portrait of his geriatric face caught in the photo flash resembles nothing more than the kind of photo used at funerals. At any rate, they have a bottomless cup of coffee for 262 yen (app. $2.25 US), giving me hours to lose myself in Japanese essays on food, culture and history.
Having my first day off after three 9 hour days of straight English teaching with a 20 minute lunch break, I brought a book of essays by Haruki Murakami and a dictionary down to Mr. Donut and parked myself in a corner table by the window, watching the trains and cars go by.
As I was leisurely reviewing some new kanji I glanced out the window to a sight I had never seen before. A truck had pulled up just outside the coffee shop and parked close to the curb, and the driver in his faded blue company jumpsuit hopped out to unload the cargo. The cargo is what caught my attention though.
The back of the truck was a massive fish tank, cylindrical, but with round porthole windows that fish swam by. I craned my neck and saw that there was even a window into the cab so the fish could peer in at the driver. Talk about backseat drivers. "Fresh from nature to you: South Sea Live Fish Delivery" was written in big bold characters on the side. The driver opened a little hatch on the top and used a plastic collander to scoop eight or nine of the fish into a bucket. Once he had finished he locked the hatch and jogged upstairs to the restaurant. I sat, looking dumbfounded at the black outlines whisking around in their own habitat, smack in the middle of a busy street. They stared back at me in turn.
If there's anything more popular on Japanese TV than shows about cooking fish it's shows about catching them. Single massive tuna fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Tsukiji fish market are sent packed in ice water (not frozen) from all over Japan, but this is the first time I'd seen live fish delivery. What a way to go as a fish. Instead of being inelegantly slaughtered on a dock in Hokkaido and having your fresh carcass stuffed in a styrofoam container, you get the tourist experience of a lifetime, a driving tour of Tokyo's high end entertainment districts, a chance to peer out in amazement at these hairless apes that have remade the above-sea world into a skewed wonderland of ferro-concrete and neon.
While the water looked a little green, and the fish a bit crowded, I can't imagine it's any worse than the conditions on a trans-pacific flight in economy class. I'm reminded of that immortal scene in The Great Muppet Caper where Kermit, Fozzy and Gonzo are packed in crates in the luggage compartment of a flight to England, and when Fozzy asks: "Hey Kermit, where's the steward call button? I'm getting hungry.", Kermit replies: "Umm, I don't think they serve food in ninth class."
Definitely one of my top 5 favorite movies ever.