The market was practically empty by the time I reached there. The shutters were downing and the shop owners tallying up the morning’s sale.


 It was my second day in Tokyo and the jet lag was finally getting to me. I had originally planned to wake up at about 07:00 in the morning and make it to the famed Tsukiji market for an early sushi breakfast. But when I woke up, to my dismay, it was already about 09:00 am. The dull rainy weather outside also didn’t help, but I still decided to stick to the plan and make it to Tsukiji.

The Tsukiji fish market is a popular destination and you will find it mentioned in pretty much every guide book about Tokyo. It helps that entry to the market is pretty much free. While the market is soon to relocate to a larger site in Toyosu sometime in 2016, it’s still a brilliant place to visit if you want to see how a wholesale fish market functions. It’s star attraction is the Tuna auction that happens early in the morning, which a lot of tourists literally queue up overnight to see.

I had already decided to skip the auction, with its sing song auctioneers, in favour of reaching the market at a more earthly hour. However, waking up late didn’t really help. I dashed to the metro station to catch a train towards Tsukiji, hoping that I’d reach there in time to at least see parts of the market before it shut down for the day. I would now miss the busy atmosphere of scooters and forklifts hurrying about the stalls, among the various buyers and sellers in the market, but I still hoped to be able to at least see some action in the market.

Tsukiji handles more than 400 different types of seafood from seaweed to tuna to crabs to prawns to even tiny sardines. Apparently about 600 billion yen1 worth of trading happens every year at the market spread across wholesalers, auctioneers and distributors. The entrance to the market however does not give any hint of the sheer vast scale of things inside. I managed my way to the “Fish Information Center” to enquire if the market was still open. Luckily it was, and so I made my way to see Tsukiji.

A Map of the Tsukiji Market
A Map of the Tsukiji Market

The market is most famous for its Tuna auctions that happen at the break of dawn in a closed off auction area. The auctions start at about 5:00-5:30 am, with tourist observers to an auction being limited to about 120 per day. The registrations for this privilege of viewing an auction, start filling in as early as 03:00 am and if you are late to register, you probably won’t be allowed to see the auction. The auction itself is a rather quick affair, but is different from normal auctions in the sing-song fashion employed by the auctioneers and the deft hand signals used by the bidders. Tunas at the auction sometimes go for millions of yen.

The wholesale area of the market is generally open to the public, and as long as you do not obstruct the sellers and buyers (maybe with your big giant backpack), tourists are welcome. It was to this wholesale area that I was making my way to.

Inside the market, it was quite evident as to how late I was. Most of the stalls in the cavernous fish market were closed or shutting down. Here and there a few stalls were still open, and attracted gaggles of late tourists like me.

I saw a practically empty market as I was late in getting to Tsukiji
I saw a practically empty market as I was late in getting to Tsukiji

I found several different types of seafood still on sale. The items on offer included crabs, various kinds of fish, salmon roe, squid and prawns to name a few. While the usually busy marketplace had kind of died down, there was still a lot of activity. Forklifts and small scooters drove by here and there, while in other places shopkeepers tallied the proceeds of the day or cleaned their shops.

A shopkeeper tallies the morning's sales
A shopkeeper tallies the morning’s sales
Crabs on sale at the market
Crabs on sale at the market
Prawns on sale at the market
Prawns on sale at the market
Some lovely fish roe
Some lovely fish roe
Assorted prawns at a stall in Tsukiji
Assorted prawns at a stall in Tsukiji
Huge crabs at Tsukiji
Huge crabs at Tsukiji
Finally some fish at the fish market
Finally some fish at the fish market

I found the entire experience of walking in a huge fish market quite interesting, even though I didn’t end up having that sushi breakfast or seeing the tuna auction. In case you are wondering how those Tuna auctions are like, here is quick glimpse:


After walking around for a bit, and getting a small glimpse into one of the largest fish market’s in the world, I finally departed, happy that I managed to see this traditional market before it shifts to its new modern digs in 2016.


More Information

Getting There

You can easily get to Tsukiji via the Hibiya Line on the Tokyo Metro. The metro station is about a 10-15 minute walk from the market. However if you want to catch the auction, remember that there are no trains between midnight and 04:00 am. So you may want to get a cab, walk or just stay near Tsukiji. A local Manga cafe would be an excellent low cost stay option.

When to visit

The market is usually open from 03:30 am to about 14:00 am, depending on the sections. The wholesale area is generally open to the public from 09:00 am, while if you register for the Tuna auction you can see the auction starting at about 05:00-05:30 am. The registrations are done at the “Fish Information Center”.
The market is closed on Sundays, National Holidays and most Wednesdays. Do take a look at the calendar on the official site to confirm if the market is open when you plan to visit.

What to do

At the market, you can take a look at the various wares on sale (and maybe even buy some), feast on fresh sushi for breakfast. The market makes for some pretty atmospheric photography opportunities.

The Ghosts of Kanmangafuchi
Tokyo’s quaint tiny drinking dens

References

  1. Tsukiji fish market. (2015, November 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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