Mexico City, Mexico
February 15, 2002
An early morning visit to Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, more commonly known
as Tsukiji fish market, is a tradition among jetlagged visitors to Tokyo. The
main attraction is the fish market held in the early morning.
The market is huge, covering some 210,000 sq. m. and supplies 90 percent of
all fish consumed in the greater Tokyo area. The refrigeration rooms, not open
to the public, can hold enough fish to supply Tokyo for up to ten days.
Action at the market starts early but you do not really have to be there by 5
am as many guidebooks advise. Around 6 am but definitely before 7 am would
ensure enough action.
The major wholesale auction that happens before 5 am is not open to the
public; what you will see is the secondary and tertiary auctions but those are
spectacular as well. On the outskirts are displays of smaller fish and other
seafood, some still alive, others in water and some on ice. In this area smaller
traders and restaurateurs buy their stocks. The deeper you enter into the
market, the larger the fish become until you reach the area where frozen tunas
are sold. Tuna, especially Bonita, is a popular if pricey fish used for sashimi
and sushi. (The fact that the fish is frozen solid begs the question why sushi
is considered to be the freshest cut of seafood?) The writing on the fish prior
to the auction indicates the quality rating and once a fish is sold - it can go
up to thousands of dollars - the buyer’s mark is added.
You can’t miss the small gas powered scooters using to transport the fish -
in fact a considerable part of the morning will be spend trying to avoid getting
run over by them. These scooters compete with each other, in an orderly Japanese
fashion, to get to the wares and then get the fish to the trucks. It can get
hectic at times with "traffic jams" so solid you won’t be able to pass
even on foot. Mixed in are traditionalists who still transport the fish on hand
pulled carts. All in all a jolly good show but do remember that this is a
working area. The people don’t mind visitors and photographers but don’t get
in the way, as people carrying heavy boxes may be less tolerant of having narrow
passages blocked by tourists getting ready for the perfect shot.
One of the biggest surprises is the lack of a fishy smell - although the exaust fumes of the scooters can become nausiating during traffic jams. Everything is
cleaned meticulously each day and many of the food is either frozen or kept in
water. Even a rumor of food poisoning here would be enough to kill the market.
From journal Tokyo Highlights - the essential must sees