26 September 2013

Raw - Tsukiji Tokyo Fish Market

Bins of fish.

At the end of our 2012 textile study trip, DH and I, with fellow voyager Allison, explored the world's largest wholesale fish market, formally known as the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market but commonly called the Tsukiji Fish Market, after the Tsukiji neighborhood in which the facility is located. Built in 1935, the market has a unique curved layout originally configured to accommodate trains. Today - although the market is on the bay - the fish and shellfish arrive from other ports, by truck.

Aerial view of market. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market

The market, a short walk from the Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo subway line, is open to tourists. Early morning risers can try to attend the famous tuna auction, which begins around 5:30 am, daily except Sunday. Giant tuna caught in the Pacific and frozen whole are auctioned off for astronomical prices. Be aware though, that even if you get to the market early enough, admission to the auction is not guaranteed. The auction may be closed to tourists or attendance may be limited.

Entrance to the market.

Not wishing to awaken with the chickens at the end of what was an exhausting trip, we decided not to try and attend the early morning tuna auction but just to explore the market. Our small party of three was just the right size - market aisles are narrow, slippery, with motorized carts zipping everywhere. Do not wear sandals or open-toed shoes.  Harvard professor Ted Bestor's book, Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World, covers everything you'd ever wish to know about the history and culture of the market, and has a useful Appendix of travel tips, but check with your concierge or tourist info board for up-to-date information.

Tourist etiquette from signs at entrance to market.

Generally, vendors are fairly tolerant of tourists, but Western condemnation of certain long-standing Japanese practices - whaling, dolphin hunting, etc. -  can be perceived as a form of cultural imperialism and has perhaps led to an understandable wariness with regard to the Westerner's interest in sources of seafood.  Nothing is more central to a culture than its cuisine, and nothing is more central to Japanese cuisine than food harvested from the sea.

On the other hand, there is an understanding that sushi has gone global and, with Pokemon, is one of the most successful Japanese cultural exports ever.   It's only natural that sushi fanatics wish to make a pilgrimage to Tsukiji.

Octopus on ice.

Interior of the market.

Vendors maneuver a large slab of fish.

Fish prep station.
Cockles, I think.


Exterior of the market; truck being unloaded.

Traffic cop for trucks and carts.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, due to the large volume of vehicular traffic, as well as the astounding value of the land on which the market is located, the wholesale facility will be moved to a  new location, with some sort of smaller retail-only operation supported near Tsukiji.  I suspect that tourists will be allowed in the new facility, to be built on an artificial island in the Bay, but perhaps only along a prescribed route, or with other restrictions.  The move should be complete in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Fresh produce.

In addition to fish and seafood, there is also a sizeable produce market; one stop shopping for restaurants and serious home cooks. The image above features, from the top left and moving clockwise, bean sprouts, green onions, shizu leaf, grated carrots and lotus roots.

Empty produce boxes. I hope they recycle.

Dozens of small, nimble delivery vehicles.

Loaded and ready to go.

Adjacent to the market there are about 400 retail vendors and sushi stands, collectively called "jogai," literally "outside the market." One can buy everything related to sushi and its cousin sashimi here, and eat sushi 24 hours a day. 


Egg dealer.

Many kinds of seaweed.

Almost bought some to try - I'll eat anything, once.

One of many sushi restaurants.

Whet your appetite?

We finished our self-guided tour around nine and Allison, a very intrepid traveler, lined up for a sushi breakfast. DH and I wished her a safe trip back to the States, and went in search of our favorite Japanese Starbucks offering - muffins flavored with Earl Grey tea.

Ahh, carbs!

Book info - Bestor, Theodore C. Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World. 2004. ISBN 0-520-22024-2