Visiting a fish market may not exactly be on your bucket list, but trust me, if you are in Tokyo, this is a MUST see! Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo is the biggest fish market in the world. It’s busy, vibrant and full of seafood not often seen elsewhere in the world. Tsukiji Fish Market it is a fabulous Tokyo market and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo.
It is a large sprawling wholesale market for fish, fruit and vegetables in central Tokyo. Lying between the Sumida River and Ginza shopping district, entry is free.
You can get to Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo from Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi and Hibiya Subway lines in six to seven minutes, or from Shinjuku Station on the Oedo Subway line in about 20 minutes.
Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo – OUTER MARKET
The Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo ‘outer market’ is where numerous wholesale and retail shops, as well as restaurants cater to the public.
You’ll find Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries and seafood. And also food like sushi and the popular bonito flakes (dried smoked skipjack tuna) too.
The outer market usually closes by early afternoon. It’s a great place to wander around, buy some wares or eat some local freshly cooked food.
Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo – INNER MARKET
The fascinating action happens in the ‘inner market’ at Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo. It is a Japanese institution that sells 2000 tons of ‘marine products’ daily.
There are up to 400 different types of seafood, from tiny sardines to 300kg tuna, as well as controversial whale meat.
To give you some idea of the size of this commerce, over 700,000 metric tons of seafood are handled each year at the three main seafood markets in Tokyo, with a total value of over 600 billion yen or 5.9 billion US dollars in 2013.
Let The Auction Begin
Around 3am the market vendors prepare for wholesale business. The highlight is the big seafood auction.
From 5pm the previous day, shipments come in by truck, plane and ship from all over the world.
‘Middle men’ run around examining the quality of the seafood and estimating prices prior to the auction.
Such is the popularity of Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo that the auction is restricted to only 60 tourists at a time.
There are two sessions a day, starting at 5am and ending around 10am. Bookings must be made well in advance if you want to witness this amazing event at Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo.
From around 9am, the inner market is then accessible to the public. There are approximately 900 licenced sellers with hundreds of small stands along narrow lanes lined by carts and trucks.
Rules Of The Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo
Strict rules are to be followed by tourists as the Tsukiji Fish Market is a serious commercial hub. The main rules are:
- Do not enter areas restricted to authorized personnel
- Do not obstruct traffic
- Do not bring large bags or suitcases into the market
- Do not wear high-heeled shoes or sandals
- Do not bring small children or pets
- Do not smoke
- Do not touch anything!
Whilst totally fascinated by live turtles poking their heads through nets, I transgres by stroking one on the nose and I’m abruptly reprimanded by the shop keeper – oops!
It’s around 10am and we are amazed by the intensity of the hustle and bustle. Seafood, both alive and dead, is for sale in abundance. There are many things we can’t recognise or name.
A large tub of wriggling eels captures my attention. It’s second only to the fascination and pity I have for the live turtles.
There are also live (and moving) molluscs, urchins, jellies and crabs that send a shiver down my spine.
The huge fresh and frozen tuna had already been cut with long Samurai-like knives or bandsaws and sold.
There’s blood on the floor, which the market works constantly spray down. So definitely wear sensible shoes and clothing!
The only whale meat we find is in small tins or tiny vacuum packs in the outer market. Apparently whale meat ‘scientific research’ is losing its popularity amongst many Japanese.
Sellers are feverously running around pulling old wooden carts or driving more modern electric ‘turret trucks’. Beware of the latter as they creep up on you in an almost silent mode. And they don’t stop for tourists so have your wits about you and get out of the way, fast!
Huge blocks of ice were still being cut by hand knives and axes, then put into old conveyor-style crushing machines, to end up in big tubs distributed to the sellers.
The market largely quietens down around 11am to noon. The main lanes are cleaned out with large sprinkler trucks spraying water, and the huge heaps of empty used styrofoam boxes are then heat treated and recycled. A few hours later, the cycle starts all over again…
RE-SITING THE MARKET
The Tsukiji Market has been at its current site since the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, which devastated much of central Tokyo. It was rebuilt and began operations in 1935.
However due to the ageing market’s infrastructure and in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics requiring prime land in the centre of Tokyo, a controversial move has been planned for early Nov 2016 to a new site in Toyosu, Koto.
So if you want to experience the market as it is and has been for over 80 years, in all its aging glory and traditional ways, plan your visit now before November. You won’t be disappointed!
Irene Isaacson visited Japan and wandered around the Tsukiji Fish Market at her own expense.
When visiting Japan, look out for the Matcha Green Tea product craze and be sure to try the green tea ice cream. Japanese toilets are a little mind boggling so here is a useful guide on how to use a Japanese toilet.