Fishy Day: Tsukiji Fish Market, Japan

I love my weekend sleep. I will only wake up (or about to sleep) as early as 3 am on a Saturday morning only for what I perceive as an important reason. So when they finally announce that the famous Japan’s Tsukiji Fish Market – Tuna Auction is open once again for public viewing, I immediately plan that this is where I will spend my precious Saturday morning and deprived myself for that much needed sleep.

There is one issue though, to be one of the lucky audience (120 will be selected) you have to reach the Osakana Fukyu Center at Kachidoki Gate as early as 5:00am. How is that possible? The first train trip out of my place is 4:19am, with expected arrival at around 5:07 am and I need to do 1 transfer and walking in between. I’m determined. So at exactly 4:10 am, freshly showered and at the station waiting for Kehin Tohoku Negishi train to arrive. The whole train smells like beer and filled with sleepy Japanese salary man on their business suit and attaché case in hand, who went for a Friday night of boozing and failed to catch the last journey home. Taxi fare is quite expensive here, their only option is to sleep at the station.

It’s already 5:00 am, raining like hell and still cannot find that connecting Hibiya subway. My shoes was soaking wet, I’m cold and anxious that I will not make it. I reached the Tsukiji station at 5:30am and immediately asked for direction from the lady walking in front of me. To my delight, she is more than willing to bring me there. There is one problem though, she thought that I was looking for a sushi restaurant and brought me to one instead. It’s almost 6am when I finally found the Fish Center- auction is closed, only unwanted tuna are left and all visitors must exit the area.

I wandered around for a bit and took some photo of the everyday business happenings in this famous market. There is a huge line in one of the restaurant, seems like the best in the area. Those who failed to catch the auction usually settle to having fresh Sushi for breakfast but I don’t eat raw fish, so I look for other option and ordered pancake. A guy sitting besides me asked if I am an American since I am having pancakes in Sushi-land. We chatted a bit for a while and told him about my story of trying to see the auction. His from Namibia on a business trip that involves the auction itself and advise me what I already knew- to be there by 5am.

The action-packed Wholesale area  is closed for visitors up to 9am, so I continue to wander around in the Outer Market. I don’t know why but somehow it lifts my spirit seeing all the stuff for sale- weighing scale, boots, dried fish, chopsticks, souvenir shirts and knives. Aside from the fish business, there are two more fierce competition in this town- Omelet and Knives. How to beat out your rival shops? Simple. Hang a photo of some famous Japanese personality declaring that your omelet or knives are the best in this town. I met one of the knives shop owner and he is very happy to show me some of magazine clippings on which his shop and himself are being recognized as the best in the biz. I congratulated him, asked for his photo and willingly gave me permission. I love the fact that he takes such great pride on his business and I can only imagine how much hard work he put into it.

At exactly 9:00 am, I went back inside the Wholesale area. Still, I feel uncomfortable taking pictures. I don’t think the workers at the market appreciate tourist due to some unwanted incident in the past. My advice don’t bring any dSLRs or big camera, don’t bring kids and be cautious about the movement around you. This is not your typical wet market but a serious place for business.

So what’s the deal with this fish market that I am so eager to see it? Fact. Tsukiji Fish Market is the biggest wholesale and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. Japan is the largest fish-eating nation in the world, consuming 7.5 billion tons of fish a year. Are these good enough reason to trade a deep weekend sleep for a forty winks?

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