Written as a top “must-see” attraction in every guide book and listed on pretty much any tourist recommendation list, Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market is anything but a tourist-centered destination. Rather, it is a chaotic, fast-paced, continuous and hazardous working zone that in NO WAY caters to tourists. Yet these workers allow sightseers to mingle on the sidelines of their working space to see their skills and the process of how this market functions. It is an absolute thrill to be able to observe the inner workings of this world famous market without any of the touristy stands, over-priced souvenirs, or people asking you where you are from. Don’t get me wrong, you still have the crowds of tourists that are present, but they seem to be more prominent in the outer section of the market (maybe because it’s a smaller area). But once you find yourself weaving around the inner market, it’s easier to feel like it’s just you, walking aimlessly among the workers and the fish.
For over 80 years, Tsukiji Market has been “Tokyo’s Kitchen,” located right in the downtown Ginza area of Tokyo. However, the clock has begun ticking on this famed fish market as it is slated to close November 2016!! Due to space and sanitation issues, among other things, the market is set to move to a new location in the Toyosu district of Tokyo’s Koto Ward. Over the years, Tsukiji has become much more than just a market, it’s a cultural landmark. Tsukiji fish market is one of eleven wholesale markets in operation in Tokyo. Built in 1935, it is the oldest market in the city. About 480 different varieties of fish and 270 varieties of fruit and veggies are handled at the market on a daily basis. The market’s vendors distribute produce that is sourced from not only all over Japan but also from other countries. About 42,000 people and 19,000 vehicles go in and out every day. On average, the market logs total daily sales of about 1.8 billon yen, with around 1,800 tons of fish and 1,160 tons of fruit and veggies sold daily!
Here is a look at a rough 24hr daily schedule of Tsukiji’s operations:
- 5 P.M. Receiving late at night: The market begins to receive shipments. Fresh foods and other products pour in from various parts of the world by truck, plane, and ship until late at night.
- 3 A.M. Preliminary Inspection: At 3 a.m. before daybreak, wholesalers lay out the goods in preparation for the start of the auction. Before auction, middlemen carefully examine the quality of the goods and estimate the price.
- 5:30 A.M. Auction: At 5:30 a.m. the tuna auction starts. Here middlemen and authorized buyers bid against each other. The tuna received on the day sell out rapidly!
- 7 A.M.- 11 A.M. Middlemen: At 7 a.m. the goods sold at auction are immediately taken away by the middlemen. They carry the goods they have bought to their own stalls and lay them out so that caterers and other purchasers can buy them easily.
- 8 A.M.- 10 A.M. Loading: At 8 a.m. retailers load the goods from which they have bought at auction or from middlemen into their trucks and carry them back to their own shops in town. Between 8 and 10 a.m. so many people come and go around the market that it becomes awfully crowded!
- 11 A.M.- 1 P.M. Clean up & Closing: At 11 a.m. middlemen begin to tidy up their shops. Closing time is drawing near. At 1 p.m. the market has a short time of rest while it is cleaned out. Heaps of styrofoam are heat-treated and recycled and the cleaning is finished by a sprinkler truck spraying water. The market is now cleaned up and ready for the next days transactions.
In conjunction with the recent boom in the popularity of Tsukiji- the number of tourists, including foreign visitors- paying a visit to the market is increasing. Experiencing the vibrant Tsukiji market presents a great opportunity for learning about the functions of the central wholesale market and the current perishables distribution system, but both the wholesaling and reselling areas are extremely busy places during the early morning hours.
Various problems have arisen in association with the increased number of tourists (including sanitation management problems such as temperature control issues caused by the entry and exit of large numbers of unauthorized persons, and problems with visitors impeding the auction (and other trading activities), especially at the early morning tuna auction. For these reasons, tourists are not allowed to enter the tuna wholesaling areas. To prevent any impediment to trading activities and to ensure food safety, these areas are closed to visitors and entering them in the early morning hours is not allowed.
Since the market is VERY busy with trucks, forklifts, and small vehicles moving about, guests are asked to be especially careful and vigilant when they visit. Tsukiji Market consists of an inner market where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auctions take place, and an outer market whose retail shops and restaurants cater to the public.
There is an opportunity for visitors to watch the famous tuna auction (free of charge) but you must be prepared to wake up very early. The opening hours are 3:30am-6:00am and there are two sets of 60 people who are allowed to watch the action; the first tour is allowed to watch the auction between 5:25am and 5:45 am, the second tour is allowed to watch the auction between 5:50am and 6:10am. These spots fill up fast and many people get there an hour or two in advance just to wait for a spot! And some still don’t get in! As much as we would have enjoyed witnessing the tuna auction, we did not think it was a good idea to try and drag our 1.5 year old there in the wee hours of the morning. Nevertheless, we weren’t going to miss out on the other sections of Tsukiji’s Market!!! So we hailed a cab and began our fish adventure around 8 a.m and finished a little after 10 a.m.
**Keep in mind that the inner market doesn’t open until 9 a.m for visitors!**
Tsukiji’s Outer Market
Tsukiji’s Inner Market
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!