Family experiences – A visit to Tsukiji Fish Market

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Another little adventure I had with my family during their time here was a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market.  It’s  someplace I’d always heard about during my 7+ years in Japan but never visited.  Like Kobe, Kyoto, Nikko, Osaka, etc., it’s one of those kind of places that all tourists seem to know about and make it a point to visit when they come to Japan.  I however, much like my embarrassing lack of Japanese, don’t know much about them. 🙁

At least I can now scratch off Tsukiji Fish Market off my list of places to see!  (still have a lot more places on that list though…)

You might wonder why a fish market, of all places, is such a popular tourist attraction.  Who would want to come to Japan just to go visit a smelly old fish market?  Not only that, but most people choose to wake up early (think 0500 in the morning) to come here!  You might think that only die hard fish aficionados make this trip – but you’d be wrong.  When we came (we also got up at the crack of dawn to make it to the market by 0600) there were all sorts of people there, including a couple of tourists who were even lugging their suitcases along with them (BAD idea by the way – you do NOT want to be bringing suitcases into the craziness that is the Tsukiji fish market).

The Tsukiji fish market is actually quite unique in its own way.  It happens to be the largest fish/seafood market in the world and Tsukiji alone (there are other, smaller, fish markets in Japan) handles upwards of 2000 metric tons of seafood PER DAY.  Aside from the huge seafood market, there’s also the auction that takes place in the wee hours of the morning – an auction that handles sales of fish that, individually, sell for tens of thousands of dollars.  Again, this is for ONE fish!  Early this year, one tuna weighing in at 128kg (basically that fish weighed about twice as much as I do) sold for a whopping 9+ million yen (so.. just under 100,000 US dollars?).

Tsukiji is quite a sight.  As previously mentioned, we got up early in order to make it to the market by 0600 (much of the activity in the market takes place even earlier simply because stores and restaurants need to buy their fish while it’s still fresh).  There were quite a number of other tourists, all of us with cameras snapping away at bins and tables groaning under the weight of so much seafood.

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The market is laid out such that one first passes the parking/loading area for the trucks of the restaurants and food delivery services.  Next one goes through a small area that sells various utensils and condiments (think knives, pots and pans, wasabi roots, etc.).  Emerging from that brings up the (very big) area where seafood of ALL kinds are sold.  Vendors are clustered so tightly together that it’s hard to navigate between the narrow little spaces available for walking through.

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You’ve got bins of shrimp, shellfish, slug-type creatures (extremely gross IMHO), eels, octopus, and all kinds of fish that I can’t even begin to identify.  You name the seafood, and you can probably find it at Tsukiji.  Finally beyond all that one comes to the auction warehouses.  Tourists are no longer allowed inside the actual auction areas, but you can still stand outside looking in and take pictures of the rows and rows of massive tuna.

Those fish are no lightweights.  They weight at least as much as I do (more often twice that!), and many are as big around as a full grown human.  It takes at least 2 men to roll a fish onto the carts.

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Speaking of carts, one has to keep on their toes when walking around Tsukiji because there are dozens of motor carts zipping from one place to the other, and the drivers aren’t patient!  I guess it’s understandable because they’re just trying to do their work and have to deal with nosy tourists standing around trying to get the perfect picture.  In fact, these tourists (some who do much worse than just taking too many pictures) are the reason the Tsukiji auction was closed off to the public temporarily last year.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like Tsukiji will be “revamped” and possibly relocated within the next few years.  It’s a shame really.  The Tsukiji fish market has been in its current location, operating much the same way now as it has for the past 75 years.  I’m just glad I got a chance to see it before it succumbs to “progress”.

I’m going to wrap this with pictures I took during our visit.  Apologies for any blurryness – I tried not to be too intrusive with my picture taking!  Also, we concluded our visit with a breakfast of awesome sushi…but I forgot to take any pictures. 🙁 So I included some pictures of a recent lunch I had with Tet at what I think is one of the best kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) in Tokyo! (and it’s in Tsukiji of course!)

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