After being to Tokyo several times, I have to say, there’s nothing quite as quintessential to the experience as settling down for an early train trip towards the Tsukiji Markets – markets that are famous for bringing Japan over 2,000 tons of marine products every day. A massive wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo, it also known for being the world’s largest fish markets. Unfortunately, this market is heading for a big move to a new site in Toyosu in November 2016 –a move that many fear will mean the end of era – but is also a necessary evil. The original structure was not made to be visitor friendly, and with the increased popularity of the market over recent years, it has suffered greatly. Not only that, but the crowds have proven to impede the important business of the day: the actual selling of marine life.
The market, as it stands, consists of an inner market (this is where all the tuna selling and most of the wholesale business goes down) and an outer market – which has a nice selection of stores and restaurants for the public. There are also a handful of restaurants situated in the inner market. Due to the general craziness of the market scene (think your local farmers markets but with 900% more people and the ever-persisting smell of fish on hand), there are strict rules that are in place to attempt to keep the area safe and to ensure that the millions of dollars of fishy-sales can continue to persist in the face of the tourist-deluge.
The tuna auction is an event that many want to see (not me though, I’m actually not that much of a fan of tuna – only ootoro, but we’ll touch on that at a later date), but it’s important to note that there is a limit of 120 visitors/day. Tourists who wish to see the auction must apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Centre) at the Kachidoki Gate for 5:00AM on a first-come first-serve basis. Obvs, I’m not that keen on waking at 4:00 AM to watch some men drop some serious dosh on fish, so I’ve passed on this – but if you are one of those people with nerves of steel and a good handle on strong coffee, more details can be found here.
For everybody else, I would recommend heading out towards the markets for breakfast. I guess you could call it a must-see for those who have never been before – it’s also quite an interesting treat for your stomach. Please keep in mind: IF YOU DON’T EAT SASHIMI, THERE WILL BE SLIM PICKINGS. Nothing upsets me more than watching people who sit down for a master-made course of delicious nigiri only to watch them forlornly prod at it while a line piles up behind them. Don’t be that person. The poor chef will feel put out and you’ll be $30 the poorer for it. And also, the shame. THE SHAME. There are places that serve up noodles and rice bowls, giant onigiri, also a few snack stores that let you buy egg-omelette on a stick and other less raw foods – head to those if you’re not keen on the raw fish (they’re pretty much all positioned in the outer market).
Keep in mind, there will be crowds, there will be fish, there will be people rocketing around on tiny forklifts, there will be shouting and there will be lines. Be prepared to line up. But also be prepared to be treated to some of the most delicious (and reasonably priced) sushi and sashimi you have ever eaten. Comparable to some of the more famous (namely: expensive) joints, there are some incredibly popular places to eat at the markets. When we visited in December, we took our friends to a relatively notable joint – 岩佐寿し, Iwasazushi (Emma Stone/the cast of Spiderman have eaten there, whoo).
After a wait of about 40 minutes, we sat down on an different courses – I had the Standard Nigirizushi (にぎり) course, while my husband and one of my other friends indulged in the Chef’s Recommendation (Okamase, おまかせ) course. Another one of our friends overindulged (I think) and got the Nigirizushi course and also a salmon roe chirashi bowl. I think that’s kind of gross to eat that much, but she managed to finish the whole lot so I’m kind of torn between being equal parts proud and grossed out.
For those who still want to poke around the market area but not 4AM wake-up call, you can still wander about the wholesale “inner” market, but you’ll only be allowed to do it after 9AM – so you don’t get run over by the general hubbub of forklifts and burly fishmongers. Stick to the rules, don’t get in the way, and be cautious and polite and you’ll be fine AKA come out with all your toes attatched.
Some tips for those heading out in groups bigger than say, two: if you plan to consume delicious sushi at the markets, your group will be split up and you have to eat asynchronously. If you have a group of more than four, I tip my hat to you and wish you good luck. The likelihood of you eating in the same place is very slim. Your best bet is to split up and then compare notes later. Believe me when I say, this place wasn’t made to be tourist friendly. The original restaurant’s that are lodged about the markets were originally there to provide food for the fishmongers and various workers around the area, not your mum, dad, brother, sister, assorted cousins and vaguely related hangers-on. There are some options further out from the markets that make a good alternative to eat out (and can be quite pleasant for the family).
However, if you have a rather pointed objective in terms of sushi/sashimi eating, this market still makes for an eye-opening experience. You’ll get to rub shoulders of locals (and tourists alike) while consuming copious amounts of delicious fish. Winning!
Tsukiji Market is just above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line. Alternatively, it can be reached in a five minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. The closest JR station is Shimbashi, from where you can walk to the market in about 15 minutes.
Hours: Opening hours have a tendency to vary depending on the store, but in general
Outer Market: 5:00AM – 14:00PM
Wholesale Area: Open to visitors after 9:00AM
Tuna Auction: Restricted to 120 visitors/day 5:25AM-6:15AM
Closed: Sundays, National holidays and some Wednesdays
岩佐寿し Iwasa Sushi:
Chuo-ku, Tokyo Tsukiji 5-2-1 1 Building
Toei Oedo Line-Tsukijishijo
a 3-minute walk from A1 exit
corporation Hibiya Line Tsukiji Station
7-minute walk from Exit 1 please come to Building No. 1 enters the market front.
Weekdays AM5: 30 ~ PM2: 30
Saturday AM5: 30 ~ PM3: