The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (東京都中央卸売市場 Tōkyō-to Chūō Oroshiuri Shijō), commonly known as the Tsukiji Market (築地市場 Tsukiji shijō), is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. The market is located in Tsukiji in central Tokyo, and is a major attraction for foreign visitors.
The market is located near the Tsukijishijō Station on the Toei Ōedo Line and Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line. There are two distinct sections of the market as a whole. The “inner market” (jōnai-shijō) is the licensed wholesale market, where the auctions and most of the processing of the fish take place, and where licensed wholesale dealers (approximately 900 of them) operate small stalls. The “outer market” (jōgai-shijō) is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops that sell Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries, and seafood, and many restaurants, especially sushirestaurants. Most of the shops in the outer market close by the early afternoon, and in the inner market even earlier.
The market handles more than 400 different types of seafood from cheap seaweed to the most expensive caviar, and from tiny sardines to 300 kg tuna and controversial whale species. Overall, more than 700,000 metric tons of seafood are handled every year at the three seafood markets in Tokyo, with a total value in excess of 600 billion yen (approximately 7-8 billion US dollars). The number of registered employees as of 25 January 2010 varies from 60,000 to 65,000, including wholesalers, accountants, auctioneers, company officials, and distributors.
Amidst the chaos, tuna sit forlornly on a concrete floor as they wait to see which restaurants they’ll be making their way towards. Men with Kruger style fish hooks wait to plunge it into the gills of frozen specimen sold for tens of millions of ¥, and as one fish is auctioned off, the auctioneer takes a pause to breathe – and carries on as before while trying to flog the next.
Shrimp and prawns abound.
Upon viewing these Kruger hooks, and some of the weird and wonderful life forms being sold at one of the hundreds of tiny, family-run stalls, linger not, or not as soon as you arrive, for the auctions finish around 6:00am, and are best seen as early as possible.
Using the main access street off the car park at the rear of the outer market as a guide, walk as far into the market’s nether regions as is possible. This should bring you to a left-right street and just across this street are the outer auction sheds and the official (auction) viewing spot.
When viewing becomes a bit much for the senses, head back into the inner market, gaze at the overwhelming variety of things deemed edible, and snap away till your heart’s content – but please don’t touch; the reason viewing area limits were imposed a year or so ago – overeager visitors manhandling the produce.
Crabs at Tsukiji
A shade under an hour usually does to satisfy even the most inquisitive of visitor before most head off back towards the outer market so they can try to regain a little inner-peace over breakfast.
Any of the stalls-cum-restaurants serving raw fish combinations is a recommended pit stop at this juncture as you’ll likely be starving anyway and thus not too fussy.
End with a last session of browsing around the slower moving outer market with its veggies and pickles stores and even one trying to get rid of a stuffed panda and a couple of long dead crocs!
Sushi, pickles and beer! Beat that for an early morning surrealist experience!
Want to visit Tsukiji fish market yourself?
Click here, for more information about the tours I offer in Tokyo (among which one to Tsukiji fish market). Remember, if you want to see the tuna auction, we will have to be there around 3:30 AM or there won’t be any tickets available anymore. (taxi fare not included in the tour price)