A Tsukiji Fish Market Adventure
Tokyo is a city of big. Big buildings, big crowds and, big markets. The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji Fish Market, is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind, anywhere. As such, it’s become quite the tourist attraction, especially the tuna auctions and I knew when I was planning my 60 hours in Tokyo that it would be a must-visit.
I wanted to see the famed tuna auctions but logistics just weren’t on my side. I’d have to have been at the market by 4:30am to register since they only let in 120 visitors (two groups of 60) each day on a first-come, first-serve basis. I was staying in the Shinjuku area where the first train of the morning left at 5am. Cabs are crazy expensive and it was way too far to walk so I had to console myself with a later morning visit instead. If I went again I would plan ahead and stay close to the market the night before instead.
If you don’t make it for the auctions you can hit your snooze button like I did and catch some more ZZs since the inner market is closed to visitors until 9am. You only have a short window to visit since the outer shops close in early afternoon and the almost 900 inner market stalls close even earlier. Even though I’m never there to buy anything I always like wandering through fish markets to see aquatic life that differs from what we get at home. The markets with live fish in tanks are almost like aquariums for me. Edible aquariums.
While visiting the inner market be sure to keep your head on a swivel and do your best to stay out of the way. This is a working market and if you’re not careful you’re liable to get run over by one of the many turret trucks zipping around. If you’re travelling with children it’s probably best to hold their hand if they’re the kind to wander. You don’t want to distract the guy slicing up tuna with a bandsaw. More than a few times I wondered if I was really allowed to be where I was since it was all so industrial. Pro tip: don’t wear sandals unless you like potentially taking a foot bath in fish juice.
After you’ve wandered through the inner stalls it’s time to head back outside for breakfast. The star of the outer markets are the sushi restaurants. Be prepared for a long wait at the best ones as they’re very small. I spotted one or two that I would’ve been willing to wait for but I was running low on yen my last day in Tokyo and needed a place that would take credit cards so I bailed and went to what’s probably the equivalent of a chain. I’m no sushi snob and I thought my tuna plate was really tasty all the same, even at 10am. I’d never had nigiri before and I was a little nervous watching the chef slice the fish and form the pieces of sushi for me. I also admit to taking a deep breath before I put that first piece of tuna in my mouth. My breakfast plate was about $24 and I would’ve hated to waste it. I had nothing to worry about – the ōtoro, chūtoro and akami melted in my mouth.
I had sushi for breakfast and it was delish!
If you’re in Tokyo, the Tsukiji Fish Market is definitely something you should plan on visiting, but you may want to go sooner rather than later. There’s talk of moving the market by 2014, with a retail market a quarter of the current size of Tsukiji, making this tourist attraction an endangered species. Go while the gettin’s good!
Have you visited the market? Would you ever eat sushi for breakfast?