To visit the Tsukiji fish market, believe it or not, we woke up at 3am and walked to the market from our hotel. There is very little traffic on the streets at that time of the morning, apart from taxis and men in suits riding bicycles.
Our tour guide Nakamura-San met us at 4am, and began to lead us around the market. We went down a few alleys, visited the shrine that workers at the market the keep the rough seas at bay, and then ventured in to the various parts of the fish market. On the tour we had to be careful as looking the wrong way can have you getting hit by a motorised cart, or a grumpy worker trying to move his fish.
There was a heck of a lot of fish, fresh tuna (picture), frozen tuna, sea urchin, octopus, eel, cod, just to name a few. The frozen tuna shed was my highlight, with the cold mist hovering over the tuna from the ground to below our knees. The large ships that catch the tuna clean and then freeze the tuna until they reach the market – which may be up to a year. At the market the frozen tuna is marked with red paint, which is washed off when they clean it, to indicate the lot number, as well as sign indicating the business who caught the fish.
Apart from a large number of frozen fish, there are also a lot of fish kept in water. Certain buyers request to have the fish killed at the market before it gets delivered. This is done by cutting its neck and draining the blood.
During the tour we also watched the live auctions of a variety of fish – some which are over in literally seconds.
The worst part about the tour is the number of other tourists that can be seen closer to 6am. When we arrived there wasn’t any, but when we went back to see the fresh tuna auction – you could hardly move.
From 1st of April, tourists will be banned from Tsukiji. This is due to the problems they have caused (touching fish, using flash when taking photos and getting in the way of the people doing their work). Which is really unfortunate – as it is a great experience. We paid for our tour and got venture all over the market – places where other tourists wouldn’t normally visit (all guide books tell you to see the tuna auction). Yes, before you mention it, I know we are part of the problem.
The market itself is also due to be moved about a 5 minute car ride down the road in a couple of years to make way for the Tokyo Olympic games press center – if they get it, and then turned into apartment blocks.
After the tour we queued for 30 minutes to have sushi for breakfast – which was worth the wait!