When you think of Japan, you probably think of sushi; and when you think of sushi in Japan you probably think of Tokyo’s famous fish market. In addition to being the world’s largest wholesaler of fish, Tsukiji is a full-on tourist destination, one of the few that actually lives up to the hype.
Visiting Tsukiji can feel like a pilgrimage of sorts. For one, you have to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4:30AM if you want to catch the tuna auction, which starts around 5AM and ends by 7AM. Not only that, you have to be quick on your toes in those early morning hours! You see, Tsukiji is an actual, operating fish market, so there is a lot happening in those wee hours of the morn’…most notably the three-wheeled carts whizzing by you at breakneck speeds. In some cases, it feels like they are trying to hit you (and in some cases, I bet they are. I imagine a bunch of dazed and confused tourists wandering around your workplace is really frustrating when you are trying to do your job).
Three-wheeled carts whizzing around Tsukiji.
In fact, we sort of feel lucky that we’re able to see the fish market and tuna action at all, because rude tourists have almost shut the place down to visitors. Apparently, there were tourists handling the fish—kicking them like tires and even riding them as if they were bulls! I can’t even imagine how horrifying it would be to see a drunken (or not) lout sitting on top of a hundred thousand yen tuna…and particularly in Japan, a culture that revolves so completely around being reserved and respectful. Bad tourists! Bad, bad tourists!
Actually, the one time we experience anything other than courtesy from Japanese people is at the fish market. We were quietly and unobtrusively watching a guy cut up his enormous tuna with increasingly larger and larger swords when another fishmonger came by, slapped both me and Jeremy on the arm, and yelled at us to “GO HOME!!! GO!!! GO HOME!!!” Though it was rude and shocking, I can’t say that I blame him…I would hate tourists too if I worked at Tsukiji.
This is the guy we were watching when we got yelled at by the fishmonger. We were really entranced by the whole tuna filleting process! He washed down both the fish and the table in between each cut and had a special tool for each slice. It was clear that he took a lot of care in preparing this huge creature for eventual consumption.
Visitors to the tuna auction are now confined to a narrow band of space within the auction hall no wider than a sidewalk (apparently you used to be able to walk amongst the fish and the buyers). But even from afar, it was totally fascinating and fun to watch the auction. Each auctioneer had his own unique, captivating style…see for yourselves:
After the tuna auction closed, we wandered around the absolutely enormous market (seriously, we visited the Sydney Fish Market back in January and Tokyo’s version is easily 25 times the size of that market) and watched people carving tuna (both frozen and fresh).
We also saw a huge variety of sea creatures, both recognizable and not.
Like most other visitors, we completed our visit with a sushi breakfast—another Tsukiji rite of passage, no matter that you’re chowing down on raw fish at 8 o’ clock in the morning. If we had to do it over again, we’d probably eat our sushi right outside of the market, where the prices are easily half of what they are inside the market stalls.
And, with our bellies full of raw, delicious fish, we went back to Joy’s apartment to take a nap.