Fresh fish flopping on dripping trays of ice; sea bream, red snapper, and mackerel; men in knee-high galoshes loading crates of just-out-of-the-bay squid; buyers and sellers yelling in a fast clip, adjusting the world’s tuna prices as they go. This is the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (東京都中央卸売市場, Tōkyō-to Chūō Oroshiuri Shijō), a sea-foodie’s bazaar for everything aquatic and edible. And it probably won’t be like this for long.
Known more casually as Tsukiji Central Fish Market, it’s the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world — every day, 2,000 tons of seafood pass through this collection of low warehouses and stalls in downtown Tokyo. Sixty five thousand people work to make it happen, and many more tourists come to watch their operations every year. The tuna auctions in particular — where wholesalers meet fishermen to bid on the prized fish (king of all sushi) that can weigh up to 600 pounds — are a unique sight. It’s the kind of place where you can see this happening:
Or see some of these up close:
Or wonder what the hell this is:
Or eat this for a steal:
Or pester these people:
Images by the author
Why should you visit Tsukiji now? Government officials are planning to relocate the market from its current home in Tsukiji (a ward adjacent to Ginza in downtown Tokyo) to the Toyosu district of Koto ward (just across the bay but worlds apart) in 2014 or 2015. Putting the market in working man’s Koto ward does a couple things for the locals:
- It takes the market out of the tourist circuit. No more stopping your forklift short for the Brit who just needs to get a lick of that tuna; no more straining to yell over the party of American frat boys still drunk from the night before. (The famous tuna auctions start at 5:20am and for the young, it’s much easier to catch them after a night partying in nearby Roppongi.)
- It frees up a vast piece of real estate smack in the middle of the city, and adjacent to ritzy Ginza. This is some of the most valuable land in Japan, and Ishihara and company would like to see it developed accordingly.
Ok, so it’s a gigantic, busy fish market and Tokyo wants to keep it relatively frat-boy-free and move it to an appropriately industrial area. But a win for the locals is likely to be a loss for tourists. To date, as these same officials plan for the move, they aren’t talking about preserving the old traditions or spectacle of the current Tsukiji site. Instead, they are planning to computerize the famous tuna auctions.
Image: Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons
There’s still a chance the relocation won’t go through: opposition exists, especially among the city’s democrats, and Ishihara might well not be reelected to his fourth term this year. But as it stands now, visitors to Tokyo have only a few short years left to enjoy this historic market as it has stood since 1935.
Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.