A visit to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

24 May

From the ocean to the market to my plate — I witnessed part of that process during a recent visit to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Tsukiji (pronounced “ski-gee”) is the biggest fish market in the world and has, probably much to the surprise of the hard-working fish mongers, become quite the tourist destination. Anyone who has seen “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, “The Cove” or any other documentary about sushi or the fishing industry in Japan will have heard of Tsukiji market. During my first visit to Tokyo, over the New Year’s holiday, the market was closed, so I was pumped to visit during my Golden Week trip.

Tsukiji Market winding down for the day.

Tsukiji Market winding down for the day.

Because of the influx of tourists, there have been more and more restrictions on which areas of the market can be viewed and when. At times the market has been totally closed to tourists. This seemed a bit rude until we got there and realized how busy the place truly is. With people whizzing through the market on large motorized carts and storming through the narrow alleys ways with large bags of fish, I felt like I was often in the way in this big fishy operation.

Seafood blood bath.

Seafood blood bath.

Now only 120 tourists are allowed to view the tuna auction and registration begins at 5am. Since the subway starts running at around 5am and my friends were not interested in getting up that early, we arrived at around 7:30am, fueled by McDonald’s coffee and egg McMuffins. The seafood wholesale area opens to the public at 9am, after the bulk of the business has been conducted. So we did what most visitors must do during a visit to Tsukiji — eat sushi for breakfast!

The big kahuna of the fish market -- tuna.

The big kahuna of the fish market — tuna.

Since the restaurants are literally steps from the market, they are known to have some of the nicest sushi in the world. Unfortunately, they also have the lines to match. Some of the most well-known sushi bars have wait times that can easily exceed three hours. Since Japanese people will line up for anything that has been on television and we figured all the fish was coming from the same spot, we went to a restaurant with one of the shortest lines, but it still took about forty minutes.

The sushi at this restaurant, called Yamazaki, was really good but was not, cumulatively, the best I’ve ever had. The scallop was my favourite, the fatty tuna rich and buttery. The snow crab was quite tasteless, like all crab sushi I’ve had, but perhaps it’s a delicate flavour. The eel was incredible, but I can rarely go wrong with eel.

Crab, fatty tuna and sea urchin sushi.

Crab, fatty tuna and sea urchin sushi.

I also had sea urchin for the first time, which many Japanese proclaim as one of their favourites. I figured that this was the place to try it. Another foreigner sitting at the bar described it, quite accurately, as tasting like “a tide pool”. A mushy tide pool that took too many chews and swallows to get down.

After discovering that I really can eat sushi for any meal of the day, we took to exploring the market. In the hour that we spent wandering, the pace of the market slowed and the workers prepared to leave for the day. They went from frantically packing and selling seafood to happily saying hello to us young, female gaijin (foreigners).

Beautifully coloured octopus.

Beautifully coloured octopus.

It was great to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of Japan’s best exports and I would recommend visiting soon as there are rumours that the market may soon move or close entirely to tourists.

See the Tsukiji Market website for opening times and details on visiting.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Awesome, cheap things to do in Tokyo | Japaneasy - January 11, 2015

    […] Tsukiji market has become quite touristy, but it’s still a lot of fun and neat to see the biggest fish market in the world in action. It also remains completely free to visit. Read my blog post about my visit to Tsukiji. […]

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