5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji
Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Contact | +81 3-3542-1111
The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is one of those bucket list items that needs little introduction. But the process to ensure a full-fledged experience is ever-evolving, further complicated by the fact that the entire marketplace is scheduled to move in late 2016 to Koto from its current Chuo ward.
Word is that the new grounds is more expansive and up-to-date, which could mean more to experience. But for now, anyone looking to get in that last trip to the historic Tsukiji site, here are some tips based on when we went in October 2015.
The tuna auction is the key attraction. While it requires you to arrive and wait at an ungodly hour, it also means that after viewing the auction you get an early look at the market and the surrounding restaurants.
Our hotel was in the Akasaka district, which meant a short 10 minute cab ride at 3: 30 am to make sure we got to the market by 4 am. Luckily our cab driver knew why four obvious tourists were looking for a ride at the wee hours in the morning, and it look little description for him to bring us to the market’s main intersection.
I hear that’s what cabbies usually do, which means a 3 block walk east toward the bridge where the actual entrance sits. It’ll be obvious when you arrive, even at that hour, because market staff members in vests are already anticipating eager auction-viewers.
You’ll be ushered into a small office-like space, where one of two colored mesh vests will be handed to you — that is if you’ve successfully made it in time to be one of the first 120 for the day’s viewing. They assign 60 people for the first viewing at 5 am and 60 for the next one at 5:30. We arrived at around 3:50 am and were already in the middle of the second pack.
After the initial relief of getting in, the waiting process begins. If you’re not one for sitting on hard office tiling for hours with a hundred strangers, you might have to rethink this idea entirely. Most end up falling asleep in uncomfortable positions. Some venture out to the closest 7-11 for coffee. But the room begins to stir when it comes time for the first group to head out, and everything happens pretty quickly from there.
The walk from the office info center to the auction space requires you to be alert. We formed a line and were instructed to briskly walk and stop and walk and stop on command as the guides watch out for the motorized carts whizzing by, driven by restaurateurs who clearly have the right of way.
The group will file into one side of the auction spaces, where bidders are already inspecting the dozens of frozen tuna laid out in groups across the floor. You’ll start thinking why you woke up so darn early to watch a bunch of men in rubber boots poke at frozen fish.
But then this cattle bell rings and a couple of the men step up onto their stools and start the auction process. Like the stereotypical auctioneer, the words being yelled out is nonstop. But it’s almost melodic. Sometimes a few auctions happen at once, which cranks up the noise level, but then it tapers down quickly when the last batch of (what it looked like to be the largest group of tuna) were auctioned off.
Each auction set comes and goes pretty quickly. Sadly, it seemed like there wasn’t much competition for the fish. The bidders pretty much lay their stakes on specific fish and simply lifted a finger when that one went up for sale.
You’ll get to stay 20 minutes or so. By the time you emerge from the auction area, the rest of the market will be bustling. On your way out,you’ll see bidders cart their winnings away, some lining up for the saw, others hauling the goods to their bosses. That’s when a lot of close encounters happen.
After getting ushered back to the side of the marketplace, you’ll hand in your vest and be free to explore the outer vendor area. Sushi for breakfast is obviously in order.
Daiwa is the sushi stop everyone talks about, and you won’t need a translator to spot it with the winding line outside of it at eight in the morning. But there are plenty of other vendors that will serve you some of the best sushi you’ve ever had without the wait.
岩佐寿しis one of them, on the northern edge of the market. This dozen seater is a no-frills sushi shop, and you’ll find yourself having one of the faster sushi meals of your life. The sushi chefs behind the bar move quickly, without hesitation like they’ve been doing this for decades. The sashimi is cut in a way that is actually a bit rough around the edges, literally, which has its own wholesale sort of charm.
Our flight was later that afternoon, so we had little time to explore the rest of the open market as the inner shops started business. That’s an alternative (some even say a better one) to the sushi restaurants because you can eat your way through the various stands and taste a wider range of catches of the day.
Sushi choices in Tokyo are endless, and Tsukiji lets you see the inner workings of this country’s hallmark cuisine. Even the business of it is an artful process, from factory to plate. Any sushi experience in the city would be incomplete without a trip to the market.