Not many know it but the strong Kanto earthquake of 1923 in Japan was responsible for the Tsukiji Fish Market’s location today. This awesome fish market started as an offshoot of the Nihonbashi market that was partly destroyed by the quake and fire. This got relocated to the Tsukiji area as soon as a modern market facility opened in 1935 to become the famous wholesale fish and seafood market that it is today.
I love markets so my keen interest on Tsukiji fish market does not come as a surprise. Nor was my second visit in the middle of this year, the first time being in 2014. But that is understandable because I love markets. For those who don’t but still love to eat, that is still enough reason to visit this place even if you are in Tokyo for only a few days.
If you are particularly interested to attend the famous Tuna Auction (source of those mouth-watering sashimi-grade tuna sashimi and sushi you eat in the nearby sushi restaurants and all over Japan) then you had better stay in the Tsukiji area the night before to make it to the limited access but free-entranced tuna auction which starts around 5:30 in the morning. If you don’t you may not make it to the auction because the subway trains do not start running til around 5 o’clock in the morning. So I suggest you sit around in the Tsukiji area in some overnight restaurant drinking and talking with friends while others kill time singing their hearts out in the 24-hrs karaoke establishments. Whatever is your fancy, make sure to wear comfortable shoes that you wouldn’t mind getting dirty and bring a jacket if you decide to drop by during the cold months.
If you are more inclined to dine for breakfast or brunch, then going there around 8am is pretty decent. It is both accessible by subway via the Toei Oedo Line or the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.
When we arrived, we were not quite hungry yet so we opted to go around and check out what products were being sold by the vendors in the ‘outer market’ where wholesale and retail shops are located selling various seafood products ranging from the most common shellfish, to the melt-in-your-mouth tuna and salmon to the most controversial ones like whale meats. This area is also where you can find vendors selling vegetables, fruits, restaurant supplies, groceries as well as the various sushi restaurants located around this area.
Finally we got hungry and chose a restaurant with a long line outside. At the entrance, there was a huge tuna head displayed on ice as if to welcome customers inside the nicely furnished restaurant.
After a hearty breakfast or brunch, it seemed to be the perfect time for dessert and what could be more perfect than fresh, skewered red and white strawberries being sold by vendors nearby. The white strawberry or ‘white jewel’ as it is locally called was created and grown by Yasuhito Teshima. The cultured, white strawberry has a hint of pineapple taste and is more expensive than the red ones. Personally, I prefer the sweet, tartness of the red strawberries to the albino ones at any given day.
As I walked around the market, I learned from our guide that as early as 1985, renovation plans of the Tsukiji fish market has been considered due to poor sanitation, dilapidated structure and lack of space. However as soon as projected costs ballooned and became too expensive, renovation plans were scrapped to instead relocate last year (2016) at Toyosu, a 40 hectare site. Unfortunately, this new site has environmental contamination issues as it was previously owned by Tokyo Gas Company, so the scheduled relocation in 2016 was postponed again for major clean-up efforts. Billions have already been spent to clean the new location site from pollutants such as benzene, arsenic, mercury and cadmium but many old Tsukiji fish market establishments are still reluctant to transfer to the new relocation site, still unconvinced of its overall safety.
Next projected relocation attempt is Autumn of 2018. So if you want to experience Tsukiji market as it looks today, make that visit soon!