Say “Japan” and immediately the image of dancing sushi rolls and wasabi globs will start dancing in your mind. Tokyo is home to one of the world’s busiest and largest fish markets. Thousands of people rush to Tsukiji Market every single day to either purchase some of the freshest fish available or sup on the most delicious sushi around. When in Tokyo, you are urged to go to Tsukiji Fish Market for an immersive cultural experience unlike any other.
How early can you wake up?
The tuna auction, some friendly advice.
For the free, live tune auction held every morning, the earlier you arrive at the market, the better. People begin to gather before the sun even begins to rise—around 4:00 AM. Two groups of 60 people are allowed to enter the auctions. Naturally the best group is the first group, so do everything in your power to be in that first 60, which enters the building at 5:25 AM. Group 2 moves at 5:45 AM.
Because it is truly a first-come-first-serve type of attraction, make sure to plan your time wisely. During peak tourist times, some people will sleep overnight outside of Tsukiji just to get their spot.
For the market, though standard operating hours in Japan dictate it should run from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, and many guards will be more than happy to essay that fact when you arrive early, Tsukiji Fish Market is actually a 24 hour location. Of course, the stalls and restaurants have their own individual operating hours, but there is nothing barring you from entering the area at 3:00 AM and leaving at 10:00 PM.
Tsukiji will soon disappear!
An Olympic Move
Though it has been known to Tokyoites for quite some time that the construction of the 2020 Olympics stadium would uproot Tsujiki Fish Market from its home for the past year, there was much apprehension about where and when. The new location would be in Toyosu, not too much farther along the bay area from where the market is now. Though the date for the move was supposedly in November 2-7, 2016, there was a recent announcement on August 30th by Governor Yuriko Koike about postponement of this move.
Though the new market location would be revamped, many fishermen and merchants were hesitant about Toyosu because of soil contamination and pollution. Secondly, because November and December boast some of the busiest times for the market workers, moving then would be a tremendous blow to their livelihoods. Thirdly, the space in Toyosu is too small.
Therefore, for the time being, you can enjoy the original location of Tsukiji Shijo in Chuo in all of its glory. Follow the news on The Japan Times.
What you must not do!
Visiting the Auction
If you plan on visiting the auction, there are some rules you need to follow. Remember that the Japanese are all about etiquette. You might be in a wholesale fish market, surrounded by rough-looking fishermen and forklifts, but that doesn’t mean you can forego politeness. If you create trouble, you will get thrown out (and trust me, a Japanese rebuke is the worst).
Other rules include:
1. No flip flops, high heels or sandals. The floor could potentially be covered in fish guts and blood. Do you really want your bare skin on that? There’s also a lot of drainage and metal grating that high heels could get stuck in.
2. No flash photography in the auction.
3. No video recordings of the auction.
4. No food or drink in the auction waiting room or auction floor.
And within the entire confines of the wholesale market:
5. Do not enter restricted or cordoned off areas. Look for the signs that show 立ち入り禁止 and keep your distance from those places.
6. Never obstruct traffic. You will get run over.
7. Do not bring children under 4 years old or pets. This is for various reasons. One, kids and pets are curious and like to stick their hands and noses in places they don’t belong. Two, there’s a lot of noise and stimulus. Kids can easily get freaked out and make a fuss.
8. No smoking around or within the market and auction space.
9. Never touch the merchandise.
Also, it’s cold in the auction house, because the tuna need to be kept frozen during the sales. Bring a jacket in the spring and heavier garments in the fall and winter. The waiting room temperature is only slightly above arctic.
But what can I do there?
Visiting the Market
Whether you have gotten the chance to watch the tuna auction or not, take time to explore one of the biggest wholesale markets in the world. Not only is this place free for exploration, you can acquire some authentic Japanese goods. Tsukiji is not just about seafood. There are two sections to the markets—inner and outer.
The Outer Market
Also called Jogai-shijo, you can think of this section as a foodie’s nirvana. Set up with stalls and small storefronts, you can find almost every kind of Japanese delicacy known to mankind as well as locally grown produce, spices and herbs, ceramics, kitchenware and a slew of knick-knacks. The area thrums with the energy of locals and tourists as they intermingle. Smells are abound. Sights are never-ending.
If you are hungry and don’t feel like getting sushi at one of the restaurants located inside the market, you will find unlimited options in Jogai-shijo. Unagi (eel), yakisoba, donburi, and even ramen await for the chance to please your taste buds. Aside from the flavor, the pricing is outrageously cheap. 100 yen for 1 stick of grilled unagi or 500 yen for a bowl of hearty soup is a considerable steal.
There is so much to see and do around the outer market of Tsukiji that you can’t get it done within one day. No wonder people return time and time again.
The Inner Market
This part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market is commonly called Jonai-shijo, or inner market. Over 700 varieties of fish, weighing in at over 2000 metric tons, goes through Tsukiji Fish Market daily. For seafood lovers, it’s an entirely different world than the supermarket display. Arriving early means getting see the boxes and crates crammed with merchandise getting stacked up. The aquariums bubble through the rumble of automobiles and voices. There are strings of bright lighting that illuminates the puddles on the floor. Colorful displays of seafood and seaweed capture your attention no matter where you look.
The art of fish gutting?
What you might find extremely intriguing is getting to watch the vendors prepare their goods. The cleaning, cutting and packaging of fresh fish is less of a chore and more of an art form in Tsukiji. The Japanese merchants do not rush to put their products out there. Because of that you know you are receiving the freshest, cleanest groceries available.
Prices are unbelievably low, meaning you might want to take the chance the purchase some items if where you are staying has a kitchenette.
Where to Eat?
Naturally, you’re going to have to get some sushi when at Tsukiji. Though there’s practically a chance to eat the delicacy no matter which way you turn, so stores are of higher acclaim than others. As a rule of thumb, any place that has a line is worthwhile. So yea if you see a line than know the food is fine! Be prepared for the most worthwhile wait of your life. Here are the top sushi joints in Tsukiji Fish Market, ranked by popularity:
Money money money let’s spend some!
This place comes with the quality and extravagant price tag that you would expect from the finest sushi restaurant in the region. Opt for the set menu that offers a variety of sushi types that goes for around 3900 yen (not including tax). Other plates can go for as high as 10,000 yen ($100)! An English menu is available.
A blend of both traditional and contemporary sushi styles will give you the serious taste experience. Some are made with red vinegar. Others are topped with grilled fish and egg. Sometimes, you are even given a stick of wasabi root to grate your own condiment! Lunchtime runs around 1500-2200 yen. Dinner goes for around 8500 yen.
The best thing about Daiwa is the chefs, who are friendly and open to those who come into the shop. Everything is made fresh, right before your eyes. Each bite is astoundingly flavorful. Plus, you can get more than sushi here. Lunch sets go for around 1500-3500 yen. Dinner is around 8000 yen.
Address: 104-0045 Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji Building No. 6 5 Chome 2-1
Though this location is similar to Daiwa in price and size, the presentation is different. If you like your sushi in smaller bites, choose Iwasa over Daiwa. Overall, it’s the same amount, just easier for beginners to handle flavors and textures they’ve never experienced before. Rumor has it that even the CEO of Amazon.com stops by as a customer.
Address: 104-0045 Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 6 Chome 27-3
Though there are many more sushi stops throughout the market, these are historically the best places to savor the freshest fish and shellfish out there.
Tsukiji Fish Market is an amazing experience for anyone who seeks to taste the best sushi and immerse themselves in Japanese culture. Even if you are not a fan of raw delights, the outer market provides enough excitement to last for days. Wherever you find yourself in the market, the sights and sounds will make for a truly memorable adventure.
How to Access the Market
The present location of Tsukiji Fish Market is within walking distance of Ginza’s boutiques, meaning you are within reach of several key subway and train stations. When coming by subway, the recommended stop is Tsukiji Shijo Station (named after the very place you’re headed) on the Toei Oedo subway line. The Oedo line runs through several pivotal areas—Nerima, Shinjuku, and Roppongi to name a few. Then there’s the other option of the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line, which brings you as close as Tsukiji Station. The station opens up to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji temple. Right behind the place of worship is the beginning of the outer market.
Should you wish to take the Ginza line then ride a taxi to the front of Tsukiji Fish Market, the recommended stop is Ginza Station. You will be surrounded by food and clothing shops but also a plethora of hotel and overnight options that are decently priced.
104-0045 Japan, Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5 Chome 2-1
Do note that Tsukiji is closed on Sunday and sporadically on Wednesday. The colder the season, the more closures you can expect on these days. Check the calendar on the official website to see the days the market is open.
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Sight in Tokyo
Toyosu Fish Market
Previously known as the Tsukiji Fish Market, Toyosu Fish Market is now the world’s largest wholesale fish market, which houses a daily tuna auction at the wholesale section. The famed Tsukiji Fish Market restaurants stalls are now at Toyosu, which is a great place where you can eat the freshest seafood rice bowls, ramen, and other local delights.