Something Fishy at the Tsukiji Market

We know that Japan has an insatiable appetite for seafood, but how does it all get there? Well, for most of Tokyo’s 20 million plus people, it’s through the Tsukiji fish market in the southern end of the city.

 The market handles over 2000 tons of seafood a day, estimated at over 5.5 billion U.S. dollars. But you have to get up early to see the shipment swim through. The good are brought in 3:15 am and inspectors and wholesalers look over the catch for the next hour or so. At 5am and 6am there is an auction for the prize fish, the large Pacific tuna. Some tuna weigh in excess of 300kg and sell for incredibly high prices.

Cortney and I took an early morning train and arrived around 6:30am. This wasn’t a difficult feat since we were still severely jet lagged and running on a geriatric schedule. As we got closer to the actual market area we noticed more traffic and commotion around us. We were warned that you had to watch your step, but by the time we set foot into the actual market area, the organized chaos was overwhelming. In Tsukiji, anywhere you stand, YOUR ARE IN THE WAY! Move to the right and almost get hit by a truck carrying a tuna. A little to the left and there is an octopus on your shoulder. It’s invigorating and a bit scary.

If you stand in the corners and jump from place to place (Q-Bert style) you will see an amazing amount of seafood being sold, prepped, shipped, and even eaten. All of it driven around by guys riding electric barrels with wheels and a rear loader. I have no idea how they don’t hit each other, but we never saw a close call.

We were just in time to see the BIG tuna being brought into each wholesalers stall. From here, the buyer would start carving the Tuna up into smaller chunks to sell throughout the country. The fish are usually frozen solid, so large axes, knives and jig saws were used. We witnessed one expert craftsmen sawing a tuna into cardboard thin slices using a reciprocating blade. It was amazing to see how each part of the fish was prepared.

Beyond the big tuna, there was plenty of the oceans bounty to explore. Live octopus, packaged squid, dried anchoves. Stall after stall of live, dead, and prepped seafood was being moved and positioned. We even had one seller pull off a fresh batch of salmon roe for us to taste. Incredibly salty would be an understatement.

After about an hour of jumping from stall to stall and apologizing profusely for getting in the way of someones job, we decided the best thing to do was sample the catch. We wandered just outside the market to all the restaurants who serve the latest shipment of seafood. Sushi is always good, but 7am seemed a little odd. Turns out it’s a great time, especially if it’s just been brought from the market. We dined on sashimi slices of tuna, eel, octopus, squid, grouper, and crab. All washed down with miso soup and a cup of coffee. Just another early, jet lagged morning in southern Tokyo.