The World’s Biggest Fish Market: Tsukiji in Tokyo, Japan

August 10, 2012


The Tsukiji Fish Market was a large, wholesalers fish market that has become an unexpected tourist phenomenon over the years. While an early morning (between 5am and 6am) appearance and sign-up sheet can grant you access to the area where the fishermen conduct the business of selling huge Tuna fish, the market does open to all the public at 9am every day, except on days when it’s closed. Tsukiji is really interesting: there are tons of sushi shops everywhere, as you’d imagine, selling sushi made with fresh-caught fish sold that morning (which is what a lot of people come for) and the stalls at the very front of the market are actually more tourist goods than fish. You have to walk over a small hill and past some other vendors before you actually get to the fish part of the public market. Market stalls at Tsukiji are kind of like townhouses: narrow fronts with long, deep corridors, filled with tonnes of stuff. You’d never find what you’re looking for alone: the stall shelves are packed to the roof with goods. Living in Tokyo is probably what’s given these sellers such a good sense of how to take advantage of every free space possible.

While the market’s purview used to be more restaurant and wholesale, the influx of tourists has changed it, so now there are more offerings to family’s looking to buy fresh ingredients, or tourists just looking for the weirdest, pickled, strangely-coloured unnameable item to take home to show their families.

You can tell that not all of the fisherman and stall vendors love the tourist attention they receive. Although it has been going on for some years now, you still get salesmen who glare at anybody holding a camera. There’s no point in arguing with these guys, most of them are pretty proud, stubborn old men. I’m a pretty stubborn, young woman, so I guess I can relate.

There are lots of signs before you enter the market, geared towards tourists, telling us not to interfere with sales in any way. This includes some pretty funny cartoons of blatantly blonde, western-looking people trying to steal away a fisherman’s knife, thinking it’s a samurai sword. Didn’t see anything like that while I was there (unfortunately). The big thing I found was really just to watch out for these little zoomy-carts that the fishermen ride around on to get their proucts around the market. They’re pretty quiet so you don’t really hear them coming up behind you: best keep your eyes open and stay alert at all times.

All in all, Tsukiji was a pretty cool cultural phenomenon. And, of course, being from the Maritimes it was nice to see fishermen from another part of the world.