Today Japlanning is back with a new entry in our 101 series, it's the biggest seafood market in the world, and one of Tokyo's biggest tourist draws: Tsukiji Fish Market, in central Tokyo. Each day this market sells the most seafood in the world, and the freshest catches with over 2000 tonnes of seafood handled a day! Read on to find out when to plan your visit, and where you'll find the freshest sushi breakfast in the world, at Tsukiji Fish Market.
Tsukiji Market is a massive fruit and vegetable market, however the biggest item on sale, and what draws the tourists is the seafood. Handling over 2000 tonnes of fresh seafood produce a day makes Tsukiji the biggest and busiest fish market in the world. The market opened in 1935, as a replacement for the Nihonbashi Market, which was destroyed by fire during the great Kanto earthquake in 1923.
The market handles more than four hundred different types of seafood every day, from seaweed, to the most expensive caviars on earth; from the smallest sardines, to auctions of 300+kg tuna, all brought in fresh daily. The market also trades in the most controversial of seafood: whale. This mammoth operation has over 60,000 employees, from wholesalers, to accountants; yes, it takes a city full of people to run the largest fish market in the world.
The market consists of several areas: the inner market, where all the wholesale is conducted, and the world famous tuna auctions are held; the outer market, where there are retail shops selling fresh produce, and kitchenware, which cater to the public during all operating hours, and this is also where the restaurants are serving up the freshest Sushi in the world.
Let’s take a look at the biggest draws and what you need to do to experience them all.
Easily the most popular thing to witness at Tsukiji is the world famous tuna auctions held each day, it can be a long wait, but is definitely worth seeing this fast paced auction of such mammoth fish, some weighing in at over 300kg! They however have a cap on how many visitors can sit in and watch the auctions, which maxes out at 120 visitors per day, and it’s first come first serve, so you can’t sleep in and hope to wing it.
To get a seat in the auction area you must first register for it at The Fish Information Centre, which is by the Kachidoki Bridge entrance. When registering, everyone in your party must be there -- so no registering people still to come. Registration opens at 5:00am, so make sure you're there and lined up even earlier than that. If the line becomes too long before 5am, they will start registration early, and it could conclude before 5am even comes around!
Once registered, the 120 people will be split into two groups of sixty, based on arrival times, and the first group will be taken to the tuna auction area for the first auction from 5:25am to 5:50am. The second group will be brought in for the next auction from 5:50am to 6:15am. You will be taken by workers the whole way, so you won’t be able to split off, but you can always wander the markets later in the morning after 9am. They now let you take photos of the auction, however no flash photography is permitted, and you will be removed if you use your flash.
For full information on getting to the tuna auctions visit the official website here, be sure to check the site to see if public viewings are permitted on your chosen day too.
One of the biggest things Tsukiji draws tourists in with is nestled between the outer market and the inner market - there are a few rows of tiny restaurants that are some of the most popular in all of Japan. The sushi produced here is made by masters, and uses the freshest products available -- literally metres from the shop! Most of the stalls have a maximum of 10 to 15 stools that are lined along the preparation area, and people line up for hours for some of them to try what is regarded by many as the best sushi they have ever tasted.
The most popular by far is Sushi Dai, which always seems to have a line over two hours long from the crack of dawn, however the Sushi is masterful and delicate, made with such intricate detail and care, you will watch them create one of the greatest meals you will ever have -- surely worth the wait! Other notable restaurants in the outer market are Dawa-zushi and Sushizanmai, the latter may be a little more convenient for the late riser, as its branch here is conveniently 24 hours, and has a much shorter wait in the afternoons and evenings.
All restaurants are open from around 6am and lines start forming then, the Outer market is open to the public at all hours.
Naturally, after seeing the auctions and having the best breakfast of your life, you’re going to want to wander through the market itself, and see how the coordinated madness all works so seamlessly. Visiting the outer market, which is much quieter than the inner wholesale market area, is open to the public from 5am. The streets and laneways are filled with stalls and restaurants selling fresh seafood, in much smaller quantities, you’ll also find amazing kitchenware and handmade knives for sale (which you can bring home inside your checked luggage). You can also buy real wasabi here too!
However, most want to visit the inner market, to be amongst it all in the wholesale fish market area. This is the same area that the tuna auctions are held in, and consists of hundreds of stalls in the large hall, this is where merchants and buyers bustle about the thin laneways with their carts, forklifts and trucks. It’s an amazing experience for any foreigners to be amongst all the hustle and bustle, while seeing almost every sea creature known to man being prepared, carved and sold. Make sure you come with an empty memory card, as you will take hundreds of pictures! This area is to be taken with caution as this is where tourists are most likely to interrupt the business going on all around, so be mindful where you’re walking and stopping, and give way to the professionals. Be warned however that the inner market isn’t open to the public to wander through until after 9am in the morning. Any tourist that's seen inside the wholesale area prior to 9am will generally be directed to the outer market.
If you want to get into the market before 9am, beyond just the tuna auctions, a great organised tour is operated by Naoto Nakamura, who worked in the industry for more than 12 years, and provides takes tours from 3am, taking tourists through all the market areas and seeing the auction prep. He also gives tips on walking around the inner areas prior to 9am. His tour is an early start, however his insight into the Tsukiji Market world is amazing.
To find out more information on Naoto’s Tsukuiji Tours visit his official website here.
Take the Oedo Subway line directly from Shinjuku Station to Tsukiji Shijo Station. Take exit A1
Take the Marunouchi Subway Line from Tokyo Station to Ginza Station, then transfer to the Hibiya Subway Line and get off at Tsukiji Station. Then walk down to toward Tsukiji Market (5 minutes)
Tsukiji Fish Market is closed on Sundays, National Holidays and some Wednesdays. check the official website to see if there open on the day you plan to visit while in Japan.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Tokyo, and a must for any seafood lover, and even those not too fond of seafood. This massive market has a buzzing energy of fast-paced business going on in every direction, as well as seeing the workmanship of masters of their crafts slicing and carving giants of the sea with a grace you would never think was possible. If you’re worried that the smell would be too much, put your mind at ease - everything here is so fresh and of the highest quality, that there is not a trace of that seafood smell you may pick up when approaching the “fresh” food section of your local mall! A visit to Tsukiji is an amazing and delicious experience for everyone.