Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

Tsukiji is one of the largest fish markets in the world

Tsukiji is one of the largest fish markets in the world

One of the world’s largest fish and seafood markets, better known as the Tsukiji Fish Market, is located in central Tokyo.

The first market in Tokyo, then still called Edo, appeared in the 17th century. Near the Nihonbashi Bridge, fishermen from Osaka sold surplus fish brought in to supply the fortress at the invitation of Shogun Minamoto Tokugawa Ieyasu.

A central wholesale market was built in 1923 following the “rice riots,” when townspeople rose up against food shortages and speculative wholesalers. In large cities, by decision of the parliament, they began to erect special establishments for food trade. The Tokyo market was built in March 1923, and in September of that year it collapsed along with the central part of the city after a strong earthquake. The market was rebuilt already in the Tsukiji district.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 2

As a rule, even the largest fish markets do not attain the status of a local landmark and merely serve as a shopping outlet for seafood. However, the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, located in the heart of the capital, has become an exception, deserving huge popularity not only among thousands of customers, but also among guests of the city. More than two thousand tons of the freshest fish and seafood are sold daily at this largest fish market, which includes more than 400 different kinds of inhabitants of the sea depths, from healthy seaweed and cheap sardines to real seafood delicacies and huge carcasses of tuna. Even the name “Tsukiji” itself has a “marine” meaning, as it translates to land reclaimed from the sea.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 4

The Tsukiji Fish Market is located in the city center, just a short walk from the Tsukiji and Tsukiji Shijo subway stations. In essence, the market consists of two parts – the inside and the outside, but it is in the large inside market that all the major trading takes place. It is here, in the inner market, that the large-scale trading process unfolds, and there is a buzz of activity, trading, and multi-million-dollar deals. The working day at the market starts very early, around three o’clock in the morning the first workers appear. That’s why if you want to see Tsukiji Market in all its glory, you should come here very early, at least by 5 am. Of course, for some people it will seem like a real crime during the days of a well-deserved vacation, but believe me, such a grandiose spectacle that amazes with its scale is worth seeing with your own eyes at least once.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 3

So when the city is still slumbering in the darkness of night, the market is in full pandemonium. An army of thousands of workers scurries back and forth across the vast marketplace at a frantic pace. The workers haul fish carcasses, cut up blocks of ice, shout, laugh, cut up eels, and make even louder noises. In all this chaotic motion, there’s also room for electric trucks transporting raw materials for shipment. Watching this kind of activity, it’s especially easy to imagine a single, unknown energy driving the huge market mechanism in motion. Every day thousands of kilograms of seafood pass through Tsukiji Market, a small portion of which is exported, and the rest ends up in local restaurants in a matter of hours and, some time later, turns into gourmet dishes.

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Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 5

The key player in the sales process is tuna, a costly fish with a host of nutritional benefits. Thousands of giant carcasses of tuna arrive at the Tsukiji Fish Market every day, where they await the start of the auction. Sellers prepare for this action by examining in detail the quality of the raw material, and all carcasses are numbered to distinguish the best goods. To this end, each carcass is examined from all sides, lifting and dragging with special large hooks. True connoisseurs are able to detect subtle differences in quality by running their hand over the surface of the carcass and evaluating its smoothness and firmness. The fleshiest, thickest carcasses are the best.

The tuna auction begins at 5 a.m. Tokyo time sharp.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 6

The fish is offered for sale by those who buy it from the fishermen and is purchased by middlemen who later resell it to stores and caterers. Prospective buyers walk along the rows of tuna and look closely at each “candidate. Each carcass has its tail cut off and a lengthwise incision made to measure the quality of the raw material as accurately as possible. Buyers take a long, close look at the red flesh of the fish, pulling out and kneading the pieces, choosing the best option. After a while, the signal is given for the auction to begin, and the bidding begins. The tuna owners shout out a price, and the bidders make barely discernible signs with their hands or their eyes.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 7

In just a few minutes, another batch of tuna passes into the hands of another buyer. Watching this process from the sidelines, it can be extremely difficult to make sense of what is going on. The customers may seem distracted, preoccupied with their own thoughts, but they are firmly in control. With iron restraint each of them is holding out to the last, waiting for the maximum price decrease, but the degree of risk is high – at any moment the chance can be missed, and the freshest tuna would pass into the hands of another bidder.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 8

At the end of another bidding round, the frozen tuna carcasses are loaded onto pallets, washed, sawn into bars, loaded into electric trucks and shipped for shipment. By the time the Japanese capital’s offices are just beginning a new work day, Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is already finished: the last batches of processed fish are loaded into refrigerated Styrofoam containers and delivered to the customer’s door.

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The second, or outer part of the Tsukiji market is oriented toward the retail customer and is more entertaining. Compared to the inner market, there is less hustle and bustle here, which makes it possible to stroll quietly through the rows of shops and explore the assortment presented there. But despite the thousands of small stalls with an abundance of all kinds of goods, you can still find wholesale stores here as well. In addition to the variety of bright, unusual and diverse representatives of marine life on the shelves, there are other food products, as well as pottery, cutlery, cooking utensils – in short, everything to cook your own Japanese food, and thousands of other small things. And, of course, the Tsukiji Outer Market will give you the opportunity to try a variety of local dishes. All thanks to the many fish restaurants and small express eateries that exist here, most of which specialize in making sushi.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 10

Currently, about two thousand tons of seafood a day are sold at the market. Almost 90% of all wholesale seafood in Japan is concentrated in this place. More than 60 thousand people work here.

Tsukiji Fish Market. Tokyo

Having been in Japan for a little over two weeks, I can safely say that food is just as important to the Japanese as culture or history. It’s something they are very proud of because the cult of food here is highly developed and you can literally eat delicious food at every turn. Historically, the Japanese have had a lot more seafood in their diet than, for example, Europeans. Therefore, the best, tastiest and freshest seafood can be found precisely in Japan. And not surprisingly, Tokyo has one of the largest fish markets in the world – Tsukiji. It is known far beyond the borders of its country, and the range of its products is legendary. And since we really love fish and seafood, Tsukiji was the first place we visited in Tokyo. We were very lucky that the hotel was relatively close and we could walk to the market.

Japan’s premier fish and seafood mecca

History of the market

Mentions of a market in Tokyo where Japanese fishermen sold their surplus catch date back to the 17th century. It wasn’t until 1923 that they realized the market had to be built. And 6 months after construction, it was completely destroyed due to a massive earthquake. It got its present appearance in 1935, and the Tsukiji district was chosen as the location. There were rumors that the market was going to be moved to another area in 2015, but as of August 2017, it was still where it has been for over 80 years. More than 2,000 tons of fish and seafood pass through this market every day. And here you can be 100% sure that the fish you are served is the freshest, because the huge flow of tourists keeps the goods from getting stale on the counters.

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The stalls at Tsukiji Market abound with the freshest seafood

How to get to Tsukiji Market

The easiest and cheapest way to get to Tsukijishijo station on the crimson Oedo line is to take the subway. Note that this is the station you are looking for and not Tsukiji, which seems to be more consonant with the name of the market. The station is 100 meters from the main entrance of the market. If you take the subway, it will probably cost you up to ¥560, depending on the distance of the station you get on. If you choose a cab, it will cost ¥500 just to board and ¥450 you will pay for each subsequent kilometer.

The tuna head is the symbol of Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market Opening Hours

The market is famous for its nightly tuna auction which begins at 03:00 am. So if you want to get there you will not only have to get up early and maybe even stay up all night but you will have to wait in a long line of people who want to see the action. Each day no more than 120 tourists are allowed into the auction. This is done so that they do not distract the sellers and buyers from their main task – bidding – with their cameras and questions. After all, restaurant owners and wholesalers from all over the country come here to buy the freshest and tastiest tuna.

If you’re not ready to get up that early to look at the dead carcasses of healthy fish, then arrive at the market by 08:00 – 09:00. By this time the place is teeming with life, with lots of different seafood and fish for sale and all the cafes and restaurants, so come here very hungry, because this is where they serve the best sushi and sashimi in Japan. Fresher fish than here is only found in the sea.

We did not get to the tuna market, but judging by the photos, it looks like this

As a rule, the market is fully working until lunch time, at most until 15:00. However, the rule is: the earlier you come, the more interesting you see and eat. We went to Tsukiji Market for breakfast during all our days in Tokyo.

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What to see and taste at Tsukiji Market

I should say right off the bat – if you don’t like seafood and fresh fish, you may not like it here very much. However, you will find the variety and variety of seafood here very satisfying.

Such large oysters we have not met anywhere else Octopus is very nicely rolled and frozen

The first thing we saw in the stalls were those huge trays with fish and other seafood. The variety of them was so diverse that our eyes flew in different directions. Most of the products are sold chilled, and only a small portion is frozen. Crabs and shrimps are sold still alive, and you can catch them right before your eyes in big aquariums. We couldn’t identify some sea mammals because we had never seen them before. If even the meat of whales, which in many countries is forbidden to catch. Also here you can see ready-made sushi on the trays, but I would not advise buying it, because in the second part of the market everything is much better and tastier. We counted three such rows with fresh food at the market, but maybe there are more.

In front of you can catch the inhabitant of the aquarium and wrap up with a variety of whale meat Shrimp for every taste and size

We were so excited to get a taste of the freshest sea creatures, that we dove into the nearby pavilions and were very excited because the delicacies were on sale in every corner.

I don’t even need to write about the huge choice of fish. Some fish is already on sale, stripped and eaten. Another strange inhabitant of the sea depths.

Before we had breakfast we went to a cafe where all the seats were occupied by the Japanese, and we ordered a meal, which seemed to be the most delicious. Since there may not be a menu in English, feel free to focus on the photos of the dish, as they usually represent 90% of the exact portion size and ingredients. Even the best sushi we ordered in Kiev restaurants could not compare to the simple food of an ordinary Japanese eatery in Tsukiji market.

The market restaurants are decorated in surprising ways to attract customers.

Even after you’ve had a good meal, don’t rush to leave because there are so many unusual items for sale here that you won’t find elsewhere. We loved the idea of the omelet on a stick, but there was such a long line of tourists that you could have starved to death waiting for it. Besides, even if it was on a stick it was an ordinary omelet, which you can easily have for breakfast even every day. Our attention was attracted by kebabs of octopus, scallops, eel and other sea delicacies. But you can’t get enough of them even if you eat 3-4 pieces.

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Unreal tasty kebabs.

We also liked the berry kebabs, in particular grapes, which the scrupulous Japanese growers have a special variety, and each grape on the branch must meet not only a certain size, but also contain the right amount of fructose. Skewers of 4 grapes are dipped for a few seconds in liquid nitrogen in front of you and then almost frozen. We somehow didn’t really get into this freezing thing, but the grapes themselves were incredibly tasty. There’s a reason it sells for $50 for one medium sized sprig.

You don’t even need bottles.

I was very surprised to see a small café that served sea urchins. I always knew that sea urchins are very dangerous creatures, especially if you step on them, but it was only in Japan that I saw that they can also be cooked and are considered a real delicacy, such as caviar.

The sight of cooked sea urchins can even discourage appetite

In addition to food, the market sells many spices, seasonings, vegetables, fruits, even carving knives that are famous for their perfect sharpening. It is so sharp that it can easily cut meat and fish bones of any size. However, you can take them out only in luggage, and never in hand luggage.

The fruit on the market is no less exquisite. Pitahaya

We were very lucky at the entrance to one of the restaurants to see the process of cutting up a huge bluefin tuna caught in the waters of Nagasaki for the freshest sashimi. Japanese craftsmen were cutting it up in front of us using long and very sharp knives, and the tastiest pieces of meat, which are on the head of the tuna, were immediately served to the restaurant customers as sashimi. This show was the best way to attract as many diners to the restaurant as possible and clearly show how fresh their fish was.

Huge tuna carcasses bought at morning auctions Tuna carcasses can hang by tens of pounds

If we sum up our impressions of this market, it is definitely one of our top three most memorable places in Japan. And it absolutely deservedly takes one of the first places in the ratings of “mast-visit” places in Tokyo. If you are planning to come to the Japanese capital, do not put off your visit to Tsukiji market, because it will be remembered for a lifetime as the mecca of the freshest tuna.

Fresh, dried, dried, dried, smoked – you’ll find fish for every taste here

Don’t miss the freshest.

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