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Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market in Tokyo (page 2 of 2)

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Probably the largest fish market in the world. My visit of the first market of 2006 - at 4AM.
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The tuna auction
Most people here about the Tsukiji fish market for its tuna auction, the largest in the world, held every morning before dawn. Outsiders are not supposed to enter this room at Tsukiji but I felt I owed it to the readers of FXcuisine.com to grab a few pictures - not the best I reckon.

The auction is held in an industrial hall half the size of a tennis court. Headless tunas are laid in rows on the ground, some large, some small.

Every local has a fearsome tuna hook in the hand and sometimes you feel they'd like to use it on the many trespassers. I can't blame them. I counted no less then three TV crews filming the hall. A very postmodernist place indeed. The auction itself is nothing special, it's just a bunch of guys standing up in a small group, watching the auctioneer. If you fancy a peek I don't think you risk very much by entering this hall, which is normally off limits.

The Tsukiji shopkeepers pile the tunas they just bought on a hand trolley and move it to their shop within the market for carving.

 

Tuna carving

The huge tunas are brought into the jobber's stall and laid on a cutting board.

Frozen tunas are left to defreeze before carving.

Rolling a tuna over takes 4 huge 'jobbers'.

The tuna is then cut with a giant sashimi knife, as long as a sword.

Smaller pieces of tuna are laid in an open-top refrigerator and sold all day long to restaurateurs ...

... while larger chunks are carefully set aside for further carving.

To visit the Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market, I recommend you arrive before 5AM. They close on Sundays and some holidays, so check the day before. Commuting time is shorter at night so if you come by car you can probably divide the daytime journey duration by two. It still means you need to wake up at 4AM so plan your visit in a jet-lag-compatible time slot. You can walk from Ginza or come by subway. The market entrance is nothing fancy: either you enter through the loading docks, ducking the trucks, or through the maze of little shops on the other side.

Coming by subway, either take the Oedo line to Tsukiji Shijou or the Hibiya line to Tsukiji station.

You'll be surprised to bump into quite a number of fellow tourists at Tsukiji. If you kind of hoped for another alone-with-the-locals experience, be warned. But still only about one person in a hundred is obviously a tourist, so it doesn't ruin the experience. Still, locals can grow quite impatient if you walk into their stalls to take a pictures - and they always carry a tuna hook.

After the visit, you absolutely need to have a fish meal at one of the tiny restaurants in the back. The one we tried was 3 meters wide and about 10 meters long. Freshest fish in Tokyo, for sure!

Published 22/01/2007
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13 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by namebernard
  • on: 25/01/2007
Trés bon. Surpris. Bravo.
  • #2
  • Comment by bm
  • on: 05/02/2007
merci de mettre dans un texte pr surprendre le terreux recette avec
l'assistance un cuisinier tanguy... il pourrait à ce moment croire que
c est toi qui fait ce site bm dégustant
  • #3
  • Comment by RANJAN SRIVASTAVA
  • on: 08/02/2007
Why not make these places as a hot tourist spot with the places where fresh made fish snacks are also sold to food travellers.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 09/02/2007
Hello Ranjan, indeed it is quite a tourist spot right now and there is certainly no lack of shacks selling all sorts of snacks, mostly fish based. There is even a little food market in the back. A very interesting spot for any traveling gourmet but quite an exhausting visit!
  • #5
  • Comment by Erita
  • on: 23/03/2007
I'm going to Japan in 3 weeks' time. I'm just wondering how I can arrange to get into the tuna auction section....
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 26/03/2007
Erita, you do not need to arrange anything to get into the tuna auction. Basically tourists are barred from entering but they do nonetheless. And if you don't you'll catch much of the action from the door steps, it's a huge hangar with loads of gigantic tunas on the ground. Just make sure you come early and stay constantly alert for the electric trolleys who travel like bullets in the dark alleys. A very exciting place - I wish you a nice trip!
  • #7
  • Comment by macha
  • on: 10/04/2007
The "Tuna brains" are shiroko 白子, fish milt - or fish sperm if you prefer that word.
  • #8
  • Comment by Jeremie
  • on: 06/07/2008
wooow, those chunks of tuna are just unbelievable! I'm wondering, how strong is the smell in the market?
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 07/07/2008
Jeremie, thanks for visiting! The smell is there but not so strong as the fish is fresh and people are cleaning all the time. Stinking fish doesn't sell, and this place is about only one thing - selling fish.
  • #10
  • Comment by Ted
  • on: 04/12/2008
François-Xavier,

Your website is a favorite -- and was one of my key resources when I made fresh pasta for the first time.  I am taking my girlfriend to Tokyo in March and would enjoy your opinion on which restaurants to go to (or neighborhoods to seek out great restaurants in).  Tsukiji is obviously on our list to visit (at the very least once) but I would love to hear some of your other Tokyo recommendations.

Many thanks for your dedication to documenting (and creating) excellent food.

Best,
Ted
  • FX's answer→ Ted, I'll try and get some recommendations to you before March, but I had a good time pretty much all around Japan. Very nice country to visit!

  • #12
  • Comment by Tracey
  • on: 01/08/2010
I visited the market when I first arrived in Japan.  It was amazing.  I didn't get to the tuna auction, but there was so much to see anyway that I didn't miss seeing it.  Also, some of the most interesting kitchen shops surround tsukiji market.  I bought a small bamboo paddle there that I never saw anywhere else during my three years in Japan.  It's only about 3/4-inch wide and 8-inches long, and it's so handy for the darndest things.  I've used it for sauteing veggies, then turned around and used it to spread cream cheese on crackers.  
  • FX's answer→ It is one of those areas of Tokyo which, despite a higher concentration of tourists, do not seem to lose their rough charm and intense authenticity. I hope they'll let us roam the market for many years to come, as I heard that merchants asked to shut the tourists out.


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