Tsukiji Market: Swimming with the Fishes

The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan, is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It is one of the highlights of any visitor’s trip to the Japanese capital, and because of its truly authentic atmosphere, I would actually rate it as the best attraction in the city.

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There are two distinct areas of the Tsukiji Fish Market: an inner section, and an outer section. The main market where traders will auction and purchase the wholesale seafood is situated in the inner part, whereas the outer parts feature mainly retail outlets and restaurants. I was fortunate enough to see parts on the inner market on my visit to Tokyo, although I am now told that this area is regularly cordoned off to the general public now.

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You can observe all kinds of seafood here at Tsukiji Fish Market, from tuna to swordfish, and from crabs to oysters. It is very interesting to have a look around at all the variations of seafood even if you have no intention of purchasing. The vendors do not seem to mind at all, and many of them actively encourage you to come closer! If you are lucky, you may see the fish being cut and sliced with large saws to the buyers’ exact specifications.

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A tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
A tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

If you are planning a trip to Tsukiji Fish Market, then you need to wake up for sunrise, and possibly even earlier, as the market opens around 3am each morning (I got there for 5am, and it was a struggle!). Auctions occur between 5am-7am. The 900 or so dealers within the inner parts of the market usually close up for business not long after noon, and not long after that the retail shops on the outer parts will close their doors. There will be long queues as tourists and locals alike gather around to buy and eat fishy delicacies such as seaweed, takoyaki, and sushi.

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Because of its popularity with tourists, it is not longer permitted to enter the inner parts of the market where the auctions take place. However, a nice stroll along the outer perimeters of the market will nevertheless satisfy your cravings for a touch of traditional Japanese atmosphere, as it is a country that has a long-standing culinary association with seafood. There are calls for the fish market to be relocated away from Tsukiji to another location less crowded and away from the centre of the city. I think it would be a shame if this goes ahead, as you can certainly appreciate the history of the place when visiting.

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