The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market or more popularly known as the Tsukiji Market 築地市場 is the biggest and busiest market in Japan and is definitely one of the must-sees in Tokyo.
I’ve been pretty lucky to have toured the city with various company, most of whom requested that we make a trip to Tsukiji. Waking up (too) early is not my speciality, but when it comes with the promise of a sushi breakfast, I’m usually quite willing to oblige. This time, the family people and I rose bright and early on a cold windy morning. Being the seasoned wet-marketer that she is, the mothership remarked that she could smell the fishiness the moment we stepped out into the walkway leading to the station exit. I actually just thought the cold air smelled exceptionally crisp that morning, ahem.
The market is made up of two areas – the outer market also known as the jogai shijo where the general retail area and the sushi restaurants are, and the inner market jonai shijo where the wholesale seafood sales and the tuna auctions take place. Before we could reach the inner market, we had to walk through the delivery/logistics area. This is where trucks meet motor bikes meet vans meet carts meet mini cranes meet turret trucks – managing four other adults and avoiding fast moving vehicles can be quite the labourious exercise. The order within this chaotic traffic is an admirable feat indeed; walking briskly, paying attention and moving with little hesitation will go a long way here. All the way to the jonai shijo, at least.
Unlike the rest of Tokyo, the fish market has a pretty simple grid layout. Pick a row and keep walking. All (edible) sea creatures, imaginable or not, must somehow at one point or another end up here, lapping in a water-filled styrofoam box. Size and variety expectations about octopi/tuna/shellfish will have to be re-calibrated after a visit here.
It would be so nice to hold a seafood hotpot here.
(Psst: You will most definitely be treading on wet and bloody (literally) ground, so wear appropriate footwear. The inner market is first and foremost a place of business, so stay out of buyers’ way and don’t point your cameras at everything you see.)
Tamogo-yaki shops are quite plentiful in the jogai. So while you wait in line for breakfast, send your friends/family members out for some tamago-yaki. Or if you’re really good, keep them in line, go walk around the outer market, taste some piping hot tamago-yaki and grilled shellfish and see some bonita flakes dance.
I used to think that having sushi as breakfast was a bad idea (raw fish in the morning? Really?). Then I tried it at Tsukiji a few years ago and will recommend it to anyone who cares to listen. Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi are the famous options here, and if you don’t mind the 2-and-up hours of waiting, I’m pretty sure you will have a fabulous meal. This time we had our fix at a slightly blah restaurant (whose name I forget but it had someone at the door calling out – always a bad sign).
Getting to Tsukiji
The tuna auction takes place at 5am and is open to a max of 120 visitors over 2 fixed time periods. Please visit this site and see the “Visiting the tuna auction” section for more information.
Unless you are planning to visit the tuna auction, you don’t have to head to the market too early. We took a train around 6.30am and reached just before 7am. Take the Hibiya Subway line to Tsukiji (築地) and take exits 1 or 2. You can also take the Toei Oedo Subway line to Tsukiji-shijo (築地市場) and use exit A1.
The market is slated to move to a new venue at Toyosu (currently known for being the site of the first 7-11 store in Japan) in spring 2016.