Tsukiji Fish Market
slicing up magaro Tsukiji Fish Market (10 minutes walk from Tsukiji-Shijo station on the Oedo line) isn't just a market it is a three ring aquatic circus. Situated on a piece of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay and officially known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (Tokyo Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba), it is far and away of the largest fish markets in the world, accounting for 90 percent if the seafood that passes through Tokyo and a third of the seafood that passes through Japan.
Opened in 1935 and named after the neighborhood where it is found, Tsukiji (pronounced skee-jee) covers 57 acres and contains 1,500 fish merchant stalls that sell more than 480 kinds of seafood—including eels, octopus, barracuda, puffer fish, surf clam, conger eel, lobster, squid, shrimp, sea bream, salmon, mackerel and of course bluefin tuna—laid out if rows, swimming around in tubs, and stored in crates. If you look carefully you can find bright red chunks whale meat for sale.
The seafood arrives daily from 60 different countries: crab from Alaska and Russia, frozen torpedo-like tuna from Spain and Croatia, seas urchin from Oregon and Australia and anchovies from Peru. Most of the sea creatures are still alive and it is not unusual to see octopus slide out of buckets and crawl across the floor. The seafood is moved through the market in handcarts and motorized carts that buzz around in all directions and get snarled in traffic jams. Because the seafood passes through the market so fast there isn’t much of a fishy smell.
Five million pounds of seafood, worth $28 million, is sold in the market every day, 11 times more than the Fulton Fish Market in New York City and seven times more than the Paris' Rungis Market (the world's second largest wholesale market). Moving the fish in, selling it, auctioned it off, prepareing for delivery to fish wholesalers and restaurants, and moving it out is work force of 60,000 people aided by 32,000 vehicles—trucks, vans, hand carts, bicycles, and tree-wheeled wagons and turret trucks that are narrow enough to maneuver down the narrow aisles. Over 1,000 tons of fruits and vegetables also pass through the market.
Harvard University anthropologist Theodore Bestor conducted extensive field work at Tsukiji. He has called the market “a genuine attraction that does nothing to promote itself.” In his book Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World he wrote, “Tsukiji is closely attuned to the subtleties of Japanese food and to the representations of national cultural identity that cloak cuisine, but this is also the market that drives the global fishing industry, from sea urchin divers in Maine, to shrimp farmers in Thailand, from Japanese long-liners in the Indian Ocean to Croatian tuna ranchers in the Adriatic.”
Tsukiji tuna auction has become a popular tourist destination. It is generally closed to tourist during the New Year holiday season from December 1 to January 22. When tourist first began arriving, people at the Tsukiji just thought they were there because they had jet lag.
For a while tourists were barred from entering certain parts of the market, namely the area where the popular tuna auctions take place. Before the ban tourists were criticized for touching the tuna, poking them with sticks and even letting cigarette ashes fall on them. On some days 90 percent of the people at the 5:30am tuna auction were foreign tourists. In January 2009, tourists were let back in the auction but were required to stand behind a designated area and watched over by guards.
Tsukiji set up a viewer area at the auction in early 2010 that held 70 people. That idea was shelved when as many as 500 people showed up. The Tsukiji tuna auction reopened to tourists in May 2010 with only 140 tourists allowed in the auction a day on a first come, first serve basis. Still many at the auction don’t like the visitors there and worry about temperature control and sanitation problems they present. There are also concerns that someone might get run over by the motorized carts that cruise around. Flash photography is definitely not allowed. Some worry it could affect the vision of people involved in multi-million yen auction deals. For More Info See Below
Websites: Tsukiji Market site tsukiji-market.or.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Tsukiji Research people.fas.harvard.edu ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com Getting There: Best Japanese Sushi google.com/site/bestjapanesesushi Photos: Tsukiji Tour http://homepage3.nifty.com/tokyoworks/TsukijiTour/TsukijiTourEng.htm
Orientation and History of Tsukiji
Tsukiji site Tsukiji is closed on Sundays, Japanese holidays and some Wednesdays. It has two parts: the 230,000-square-meter inner market (Jonai Ichiba) the outer market (Jogai Ichiba). The larger inner market is located next to the water. It is a large area enclosed under a single roof, with different businesses running their own large stalls. The outer market embraces wholesale and retail shops that sell restaurant supplies, kitchen tool and seafood. There are also many sushi restaurants here.
Tsukiji is accessible from the Hibuya subway line and Toei Oedo line. Getting to the market and navigating around it and even finding an entrance can be tricky. The main entrance is across the street from the Asahi newspaper building. There are also side entrances. A pamphlet and map in English is available from guard booths near the entrances.
The inner market is where most of the activity is. You are welcome to stroll around but if you are there in early morning when it is most active the place is very busy, wet and space is tight. Don't wear your nicest clothes and watch out for the motorized carts that move the goods in and out.
The outer market is a maze of small streets and alleys bounded by main streets of Harumi Dori to the northeast and Shin Ohashi to the northwest. The 400 shops here are geared mainly for the seafood and restaurant trade, selling large knives, tableware, kitchen gadgets and seafood items like fish sausages, seaweed, and fish flakes. There are small shops that sell fruits, vegetables, meat, mushroom, and seafood. Here and there are seafood and sushi restaurant, where you can try some of the best sushi you will ever eat. The easiest way to locate a good place is look for a line. br />
Tsukiji means “built land,” a reference to the fact it was placed in a district built on reclaimed land. The first market was situated near Nihonbashi Bridge, two kilometers north of the present site, in the 17th century. Tsukiji opened in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) when Tokugawa Ieyasu invited fishermen from Osaka to Edo (Tokyo) to set up shop in the area to make sure his cattle had sufficient supplies of fish. The catch that remained after the shogun’s needs were met were sold near Nihonbashi bridge. In the early 20th century there were plans to move the market to a new location but those plans were scraped after the Tokyo earthquake in 1923. The current facility was built in 1935 and is now old and crowded.
Because the market is too big for the buildings that house it, Tsukiji will be moved to a new 374,000-square-meter site in Toyosu Koto Ward, two kilometers to the south, in 2014. The new facility will have more space in and around it. Toxic chemicals have been found at the new site and $50 million will be spent to replace the two meters of top soil, purify the water and remove toxic materials. Many people at Tsukiji don’t want to move. Plans to relocate Tsukiji were put on hold when the DPJ came to power in 2009 over concerns that the new government might cancel the relocation plan because of environmental concerns.
Restaurants at Tsukiji
Most of the restaurants in the inner market are grouped in rows of buildings, with each row having a block number. These are mostly patronized by workers at the market. The restaurants usually open around 5:30am and close around noon or whenever food runs out.
In the outer market are small restaurants that serve fresh sliced tuna on a bowl of rice for ¥700 and variety of other dishes, There is one moving sushi restaurant that sells nothing but bluefin tuna sushi served in about a dozen different ways. The prices range from ¥200 for small plate of of tuna rolled in rice and seaweed to ¥800 for a small plate of the highest quality fatty toro. There are also regular sit down restaurants.
In addition to sushi and seafood, restaurants also offer Chinese food, noodles, curry, French food, pork and beef. Many of the restaurants’ customers work at the market and since they around fish all day maybe they want to eat something other than fish.
Business at Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji is a community in which everyone knows everybody else. Even though many people are in competition against one another the atmosphere is very cordial, and there is lots of bowing and smiles. Buyers and sellers have known each other for years if not decades. They bargain hard but also help each other out. Buyers sometimes buy fish they can not sell to help sellers on a slow day. Sellers in turn sometimes give away good fish for free or sell it below cost to reciprocate.
Commerce is dominated by seven major first-tier wholesalers, who bring in the catch from around the world and sell it to thousands of middle-level wholesalers, who in turn sell it to distributors who deliver it to stores and restaurants.
The fish industry includes fishermen, traders show purchase the fish, air shipping companies, trucking companies, butchers, packagers, delivery people. On its journey from the sea to customers plate, a single fish can change a dozen times, with each business taking a profit and adding an expense.
Offering support are small business such as knife sharpeners, box makers and restaurants. Within the complex that is 350-year-old wooden Shinto shrine with a 12-foot torii gate and plaque that reads, "We are pleased many humans enjoy fine sushi but we must also console the souls of the fish."
There is currently a debate on what to with tourists that visit Tsukiji. Traditionally they have just wandered around, gawking at all the fish and activity, and not bought anything. Many workers and wholesalers have resented their presence because they get in the way and disrupt their daily routine. Some seafood sellers want to sell fish directly to visitors.
Tsukiji Fish Market Auctions
The main inner market tuna auction begins at 5:30am every day (except Sunday, holidays and two Wednesdays a month) and is usually over within 30 minutes. There are restriction on how close visitors can get to the action.
About 3,000 frozen blue fin tuna are sold every day, with some fetching prices of $10,000 or more. The fish are numbered and displayed on the floor of a vast tuna shed. Before the auction the bidders cut off small pieces of dark red meat from the fish and examine it for color, texture and fat and oil content and make notes on scraps of paper. Oily fish are worth more than dry ones. Cuts from the stomach are examined for marbling and fat. The more marbling and more the fat the more valuable the fish is.
The fish are numbered and the bidders use hand gestures to make their bids which the auctioneers recognize with sounds that resemble barks. Masami Eguchi, a tuna auctioneer sells around 200 fish in a half an hour (one every nine seconds). "I have to recognize the highest bidder instantly," he told National Geographic. "No delays are allowed. There are dozens of auctioneers. Each one has his own chant, his own rhythm. You have to pick a style that works for you and your buyers. And you have to work fast." Other fish are sold with bids taking place with hand gestures concealed under towels. It is important that the fish stay fresh so everything is done at a rapid pace while most people are asleep.
Describing the action, Kathyrn Tolbert wrote in the Washington Post, “the fish were laid out in neat rows on the floor of the chilly warehouse, giving off a faint frozen mist under the fluorescent lighting...Men in work shirts and rubber boots bent over the solid carcasses, inspecting them by lifting a three-inch flap of skin that had been neatly cut open on each one, peering at the cut-off tail end with flashlights. The weight of each tuna was written in kilograms.”
“A cowbell rang, and the auctioneer launched into the rhythmic chanting that marks this ritual, moving slowly through the rooms flanked by several men with notepads as they buyers hovered near their choices and made finger signals...the tuna were being sold in groups of six or seven at a time.”
After tuna is purchased it is sliced in half with a maguro-bocho, a five-foot tuna knife that resembles a samurai sword and cut into smaller pieces are sold to other buyers, restaurants, supermarkets and retailers. The knives are made by fusing iron and steel bars together at 900°F under a power hammer and a then ground in flurry of sparks. Professional knifemakers say they one in three are rejects.
A couple years ago tourists were banned from the auction. Authorities reportedly had enough when a tourist licked the head of a tuna. For some weeks afterwards the auction was closed to visitors. When it reopened visitors were required to stand behind a cordoned off area. The are is still closed to tourists the busy New Year period from late December to early January. But even then you can still see plenty of action from standing outside the open doors of the warehouses where the auctions takes place. There are smaller auction for sea urchins, shrimp and dried fish,
Shiodome Rules for observers of the tuna auction include: 1) watch for trucks and trolleys; 2) don’t go in groups larger than five; 3) don’t carry large bags that will get in the way of others; 4) refrain from touching the fish; and 5) don’t wear high heel or open-toed shoes.
Inner Market Even if you miss the auction there is still plenty of action to witness in the inner market. Tolbert wrote: “You squeeze through the aisles, surrounded by tubs and tanks and plastic-foam trays filled with wriggling, glistening creatures from the sea, along with frozen tuna that is being sawed into pieces for wholesale customers.” while “other fish are being pulled for tanks onto chopping blocks. People yell to each other, water squirts up from clams and crustaceans, hoses send stream of water across the concrete floors. Buyers fill their baskets.”
Around 3:00am vehicles begin bringing in fresh and frozen fish, much of which is already sold by 4:30am. Workers take a lunch break around sunrise and unwind with a dinner and beer around 8:30 in the morning. Intermediate wholesalers are very busy between 6:00am and 9:00. Larch hunks of frozen tuna are cut into pieces with saws and adzes and fish and seafood of all kinds is boxed and prepared for deliveries. By 10:30am the activity has subsided, stalls are empty and the floors are being hosed down. The market closes around noon.
When Tsukiji moves to its new location the chaotic live auctions will replaced by computerized ones that no doubt will not be as fun to watch as the current auctions. In 2009, ¥6 million worth of seafood was stolen from Tsukiji. The thieves targeted the most value items: tuna, salmon roe, sea urchin and blowfish.
Trash at Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji produces 90 tons of waste a day, the equivalent of the trash generated by a city with 90,000 people. About 50 percent of the waste is in the form of paper, Styrofoam and cardboard boxes. These are placed in five-meter-high piles that are taken away to recycling centers in China who produce 50 millimeter granules that are sold to manufacturers of video tape, clothes hangers, combs, buckets and other objects. About 30 tons of tuna waste is created every day. Most of it is collected by a livestock feed maker who boils the waste, presses it into solid and liquid materials and separates oil from the liquid with a centrifuge. The oil is used in margarine, soap and cosmetics. The solid waste is made into feed for chickens and farmed fish such as yellowtail.
Near Tsukiji Fish Market
Tokyo Sky Tree Tsukiji Honganji Temple (south of te Kabukiza Theater) is a branch of the Tsukiji Honganji Temple in Kyoto. It has ancient Indian-style adornments and features a harmonious blend of ancient and modern architecture. At the southern end of this district where the temple is situated is the Harumi Pier where the Tokyo International Trade Center is located. Nearby is the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Hama Rikyo Garden (near Tsukiji Fish Market) is built on the site of former beachside villa of the Tokugawa shoguns. A pleasant oasis from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life, it contains stone-buttressed walls, old pine trees, a teahouse perched over a pond , a fenced in mound and two falconry yards. It has some cherry tress but is mostly famous for its wisteria which blooms in late April.
Shiodome (Hamarikyu) is a new bayside complex with gleaming towers that opened in 2002.
Sumida River Cruise (from Hama Rikyo Garden) passes parks, bridges and buildings. From Hama Rikyo Garden you can take ferry upstream on the Sumida River to Asakusa. Along the way you pass an imperial duck hunting preserve that remains home to a number of waterfowl. In the spring time you can see blooming peony trees and rapeseed fields. In the summer the Sumida River is the site of some of Japan’s most fantastic fireworks displays. See Water Cruises Under Entertainment Website: Go Japan About.com href="http://gojapan.about.com/cs/tokyosightseeing/a/tokyocruise.htm">/gojapan.about.com
Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree Tokyo Sky Tree (Sumida Ward) is the world’s highest free-standing tower. It claimed that title over the 600-meter-high Canton Tower in Guangzhou when it reached the 601 meter mark in March 2010, two years and seven months after construction began in July 2008. The Tokyo Sky Tree will reach a height of 634 meters. It surpassed the 333 meter height of Tokyo Tower and became the highest structure in Japan in March 2009. By July it was around 400 meters high. In December it reached 500 meters. It reached its maximum height of 634 meters in the spring of 2011 and is scheduled to open in May 2012.
Originally called New Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree is radio TV transmitter tower that will be used by NHK and five commercial televison stations. The tower is significantly higher than 333-meter-high Tokyo Tower and the world’s tallest freestanding structure, the 553-meter-high CN Tower in Toronto. Built by Tobu Railway, Tokyo Sky Tree is expected to cost ¥50 billion.
Because a dropped hand tool or piece of construction material could cause serious injury if it were to fall 400 meters and hit someone in the middle of a noisy urban area, where the tower is located, extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent that from happening when the tower was under construction. Each worker had two safety lines and all their tools—even things like ball point pens—are attached to their belts by chords. Tarps were place below the workers and to the sides to block winds. So far no tools or workers have fallen. But here been some problems with ice and snow falling from upper reaches of the tower despite measures to prevent that from happening.
Construction began in in 2008. NHK and the five commercial broadcasters plan to use it for transmissions when they permanently shift from analog to terrestrial digital broadcasting. Among matters that still need to be worked out are aviation restrictions that limit the tower’s height. In October 2009, it was announced the Tokyo Sky Tree will be 634 meters high, 20 meters higher than originally said. The antenna will be extended to make it higher than the 610-meter broadcasting tower being built in Guangzhou, China. It is expected to be finished in 2012. Websites: Tokyo Sky Tree offical site tokyo-skytree.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia
Fuji building at Odaiba Odaiba (north of Tsukiji, reached by Yurikamome monorail from Shimbashi Station) is a futuristic shopping and entertainment center built on an island reclaimed from a landfill and Tokyo Bay in the 1980s. Comprised of glass-and-steel towers, geometric structures and covered walkways, it draws large crowds and brings to mind a settlement on another planet.
Sometimes called Daiba, Odaiba contains themed shopping malls, a museum, a television broadcast center, various sports facilities, an exhibition center, theme parks, two virtual reality entertainment centers, a vehicles-of-the future display, a brewery, a waterfront replica of the Statue of Liberty, restaurants, hotels and what used to the world's tallest Ferris wheel. The major landmark at Odaiba is the ball-topped Fuji Television building.
Odaiba was supposed to be centerpiece of garden development scheme for Tokyo Bay but scheme was scaled down after the bursting of the Bubble Economy in the early 1990s. The apartment complexes initially had a hard time attracting buyers and renters but now are largely full. Those that live there like modern conveniences such as trash shoots that deliver garbage in a cushion of air to an in-house recycling plant. Websites: Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com Odaiba suggestions Sugihara.com Odaiba Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO
Rinkai Fukotoshin (or Rainbow Town, on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay). The good views from the observation deck of the ship-shaped maritime museum.
Rainbow Bridge is gleaming, relatively new, 798-meter-long suspension bridge that connects mainland Tokyo with the Odaiba area. Its named is derived from its changing color lights. In 2000, a Japanese man hijacked a 747 and killed the pilot on the plane in an effort to steer the plane towards Tokyo and fly it under Rainbow Bridge. Getting There: Wikipedia Wikipedia
Shopping at Odaiba
Raibow Bridge Venus Fort is a shopping mall oriented towards women. Featuring squares and fountains in an attempt to evoke the atmosphere of an 18th century European, it contains expensive restaurants and upscale shops. It is popular place for dates and lady's days out. Every two hours the cloud-painted ceiling simulates a sunset. One reason for this is that studies have shown customers spend more money near dusk.
Other themed shopping areas include Aqua City, and Palette Town. Almost every week one of them sponsors some kind of event and entertainment. Worth checking is large manga and anime themes shop with lots of books and magazines as well as all kinds of merchandise with favorite manga and anime characters.
Rides and Baths at Odaiba
The 25-floor observation deck on the Fuji Television building is inside the metallic ball. The Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel is 376 feet high and carries 384 people, six to a gondola, for 16-minute rides for $6.50. On clear days you can see Mt. Fuji. Cruises to the mainland are available on weirdly-designed boat that looks like something out of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Neo Geo World is a virtual reality museum organized by places. New York Get Away is a mini-roller with taxi cabs driven by maniacal drivers. Mind Planet is a visit to a "virtual car." The Peep Ge, is a 3-D theater with awesome special affects. Particularly exciting is when a Japanese actress throws a 3-D bomb that explodes right in your face.
Inside the Fuji building Toyota City Showcase and Toyota-operated Mega Web run a small track where visitors can test drive cars, including a kid'-size car with an automated driving system, and use virtual reality driving simulators. Visitors can also design cars using computer simulation. Nearby their a Hyper Drop ride, which raised people slowly to 58 meters and then drops them suddenly to the ground. Sometimes bungee jumping is done indoor from a 30-meter-high platform
Yurikamome monorail to Odaiba travels 45 feet above of Tokyo for much of the way, offering interesting views of the Tokyo Bay area and spirals up a large loop before crossing the Rainbow Bridge. A round trip from Shimbashi Station costs $7.
Joypolis (at Odaiba) is a huge arcade operated by Sega with life-size versions of its video games along with virtual reality white water rafting, skateboarding, searching for treasures and fighting monsters in a medieval castle. In one ride you and six other people cruise around in a submarine and shoot at giant octopuses and other creatures with an electric gun.
Murder Lodge is considered so scary visitors are advised to take off their headsets if they get too frightened. There are also cheap gags like benches that makes toilet flushing sounds and trash can that complains whenever they are used. About 1 million people use Joyopolis every year. The entrance fee is $32 and popular rides cost an additional $4 to $6 each. There is also a Joyopolis in Shinjuku and another in Umeda in Osaka.
Joypolis recorded more than 50 accidents between 1996 and 2004 when a visitor died in the skydiver tower. The accidents included broken bones and getting wedged between equipment. The death was caused when a disabled man fell to his death his because his safety harness was not set correctly, leaving enough space for him to slip out. Website: Joypolis site /sega.jp/joypolis
Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari (in the Odaibo area) is ono of Tokyo’s biggest spas. It has indoor and outdoor baths of varying sizes, temperatures, landscapes and designs fed by an ion-rich spring more than 4,600 feet below the surface. Among is oddest treatments are the Doctor Fish “pedicure” featuring small fish imported from Turkey that eat away the skin of the bather, and a sand bath, where customer are buried except for their face under three feet of very hot sand . The facility is open 22 hours a day (closed from 9:00am to 11:00pm) and tatami mats and blankets and reclining chairs with entertainment systems for relaxing and taking a nap. Website: Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari site ooedoonsen.jp
Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) JNTO 7) Ray Kinnane 8) Wikipedia 9) Twin isles 10) Tokyo citu
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays