Hurry! Get there now! The world famous Tsukiji, Tokyo’s fish market is supposed to move to new premises at the beginning of 2017, so unless the government decides to postpone the move (due to the contamination of the new location) this could be your last chance to see one of the most amazing Japanese sights.
The fish market as stands today started operating in 1935 and is largely unchanged since then. It serves as the wholesale market for fish for Tokyo, but also has vegetables and fruit. It still is the largest fish market in the world.
For us our latest trip to Tsukiji started early, we wanted to be there before 6am. Be aware that most of the action at the market takes place between 5 and 8am, any later and the stalls will be closing down. At 4 or 5am the market receives shipments and the fish is then distributed to the middlemen, who then try to sell their goods to buyers from shops and restaurant in town. The fruit and vegetables arrive by truck and some are flown in from all over the world.
We still remember on our first visits where we were able to watch the tuna auction. Unfortunately due to ever increasing number of visitors the tuna auction has been closed for anybody other than certified traders, and now they are even restricting some access to the market stalls elsewhere, so beware of these. The auction was a spectacle to watch, hundreds of giant dead frozen tuna lying on the hall floor while the middlemen and buyers shouted their offers to the auctioneer. The tuna were sold surprisingly fast and then carted back to the stalls. A big tuna is as big as a small human.
Even if you are not able to watch the tuna auction, a trip to Tsukiji market is a must when in Tokyo. We always used to go on our first morning, when we woke up early from jet lag.
This time we noticed that there were a lot more foreigners walking down the little alleys of stalls. I could feel that some merchants were not as happy about us gaijins strolling past, but others did not seem to mind, even trying to get us to buy something to take home.
The stalls sell pretty much anything that swims in the sea and is edible. Some animals were still alive, either packed into polystyrene boxes or in water tanks. Others had been caught and then killed before they were shipped to the market. If you eat any fish, sushi or sashimi here in Tokyo, then it was most likely bought here at Tsukiji. Anything from sea urchins, octopus, shellfish, crabs, snails, shrimps…
It is very interesting to see how the women on the stalls (most of them are still family run) sit in their huts in one corner of the shop and deal with the money and payments, while the man are there to cart, cut up, prepare and sell the fish.
Seeing the bodies of big tuna lying on the tables, the man cut chunks off to be sold on, some shops even have big saws to handle the frozen tuna. We could have spent hours there just watching the people in the shops selling their goods.
However, as we strolled ahead we came out at the bottom end of the market, close to the Sumida river. Here we watched the turrets (carts) whizz by, not taking any care of anybody around them. So if you visit please be careful as accidents are not unknown! We strolled back towards the main entrance gate, past the fruit and vegetable market examining the exotic produce.
Somehow the fruit and vegetable market never seemed to excite us as much as the fish market. We have seen real wasabi roots and other exotic vegetables and fruit here though, that we were not able to see anywhere else.
Back out on Shin Ohashi Dori we headed east to the Outer Market. Our plan was to get a fresh breakfast of sashimi in one of the many restaurants there. We decided what we wanted to eat and sat down on one of the stools to enjoy our bowl of salmon and tuna sashimi on rice, fresh off the boat that morning.
As mentioned earlier, Tsukiji, is the mother of all fish markets and a must visit for anyone who visits Tokyo. It is a great place to come with older children and to show them the abundance of variety of fish we can eat, but you should also point out the impact the over fishing of our seas might have for their future. Also be aware, this is a busy working market and tourists are tolerated but not its main raison d’etre.
Taking small children is not advisable, and pushchairs are forbidden on the premises.