Tsukiji Fish Market – Tokyo, Japan

by White on Rice Couple on August 30, 2009

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Tsukiji (Tokyo Metropolian Central Wholesale Market) maybe the most amazing food market in the world and it’s simply mind blowing.

For the unaware, is primarily known for it’s massive wholesale fish market, but also includes a fantastic open-air retail and street-food stall section on the outer edge.  The stalls alone are a great food traveler’s find, but once you enter into the wholesale fish market, Tsukiji opens up into an immense new world.

Tsukiji is massive and a phenomenal seafood experience.

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As almost anyone can guess, fish is a major staple to the Japanese’s diet, and most of that fish comes through Tsukiji.  Several hundred of fish varieties at over 2000 metric tons of fish products go through Tsukiji a day. The “day’s work” begins at 5:00 pm with the unloading of the ships (a task that will last through the night), then at 3:00 am they start setting up for the morning’s auctions.   By  5:30 am, the auctions start followed by the sales being hustled away by the middlemen to their own stalls in the market, where they will sell and distribute the fish.

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Tuna, the prize of Tsukji

By 8:00 to 10:00 am, the market has reached it’s peak velocity, and the pace and intensity of the entire wholesale fish market is incredible. The aisles are packed and moving with people doing serious business supplying a nation with one of it’s primary staples and obsessions. Finally by 11:00 am the men and women in the market begin to close shop, and after a couple hours of clean up, the market sleeps for a brief moment before beginning the cycle again.

To see the market and all of it’s beautiful fish, shellfish, octopi, eels and more is mesmerizing.  However to be physically present amongst the highly organized madness is nearly indescribable.  Diane and I are no strangers to organized madness.  Our jobs over the years have often put us on the working and organizing end of chaos, and when we photograph chefs in their working kitchens, it puts us on the observer-trying-to-shoot-and-stay-the-hell-out-of-the-way end of things. Nevertheless, nothing in our combined experience even comes close to the intensity of Tsukiji.

The wholesales aisles, tightly packed together, seemingly go on forever. Between the narrow aisles where bodies busily hustle, are slightly larger aisles where drivers adeptly maneuver their small trucks with the barrel shaped steering bodies or they muscle their long carts along the aisles, moving and distributing the wares of the fish market.  Occasionally in a small pocket of space, a stall will have a several hundred pound tuna and 2-3 men will be meticulously slicing off an order for a customer.

Distributed throughout the length of the market, located on one edge of the stalls, are ice houses where the men slice and crush massive blocks of ice in a medieval looking machine. The ice men are young, sauve and quick to smile and chat with the stall merchants as they refill their chilling needs.

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bustling Tsukiji Market

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There is a tremendous amount of work done in Tsukiji everyday, and to have fascinated travelers and tourists bumbling through their business has to grate on the workers nerves. However, the Japanese are a gracious culture, and they cordially tolerate the intrusions of the curious, so long as the obey the rules and stay out of the way….or else you’ll get run over.

If you ever get a chance to visit Tsukiji, please remember to be respectful:

Do not enter areas restricted to authorized personnel!
Do not obstruct traffic!
Do not bring large bags or suitcases into the market!
Do not take flash photography during the tuna auction!
Do not enter the market in high heeled shoes or sandals!
Do not bring small children or pets!
Do not smoke in the market!
Do not touch the fish!

Until you get the chance, here’s an extremely well written, enjoyable read we found while researching Tsukiji.   Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World is a great insight to the workings, culture, and charm of the men and women who make Tsukiji thrive everyday. The official website for the Tsukiji market is worth reading before you head out.

Scenes from Tsukiji

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Our ramblings on Tsukiji’s fish market isn’t all we have to share yet.  Coming soon will be a post on the outer workings of Tsukiji, the retail and street-food stalls!!

More Konichiwa Japan! posts for this trip:

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristina (Former Chef) August 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Great photos! How early did you guys have to get out there and did you go on your own (vs. w/a tour)? Can’t wait to hear what you ate while there.

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2 jen August 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm

HAHA! i feel like i’m back again ducking, dodging and nearly getting myself killed! :) can’t wait to see the sushi photos!!

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3 Tartelette August 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Amazing! Just amazing! Thank you guys for all these fantastic shots and write-ups!

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4 Whitney August 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Absolutely amazing. WOW. I am loving your Japan trip.

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5 The Gardener's Eden August 30, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Your photographs capture the frenetic pace beautifully. I can almost hear the market; the crushing ice, carts, and bicycles. And in the midst of all the captured chaos, you have also managed to bring us such gorgeous still images; silver and salmon fish, vermillion octopus and translucent cubes of ice.
Thank you for taking us there…
-Michaela

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6 mycookinghut August 31, 2009 at 2:31 am

I will make sure that I don’t miss this when I go!

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7 Cate August 31, 2009 at 3:04 am

We recently visitied the biggest fish market in Seoul, but it pales in comparison to Tsukiji, I’m sure. Those photos are fantastic, and I really hope I’m able to make it there sometime soon!

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8 Scott at Realepicurean August 31, 2009 at 3:53 am

Saw it on TV recently; don’t think I’d be able to afford anything, sadly.

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9 Meaghan August 31, 2009 at 10:50 am

That looks amazing! I’m terribly jealous– for how long are you in Japan? I’m really enjoying these posts.

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10 David August 31, 2009 at 1:54 pm

er, right above where it says, “Do not smoke in the market!” there’s some dude with a cigarette hanging out of his craw! What a scofflaw!

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11 josephine August 31, 2009 at 2:27 pm

absolutely mesmerizing! your photos make the market come alive for me. it’s definitely on my must-see list next time i’m in japan.

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12 Divina August 31, 2009 at 5:46 pm

That’s an amazing fish market. And really fresh fish and seafood.

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13 Broderick August 31, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Fantastic photos!!

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14 White on Rice Couple September 1, 2009 at 12:34 am

Kristina- It’s best to get there by 6am, because it gets really crowded. We took the railways there ourselves, no tour. But if you wanted, tours are available.

David- LOL! Yes, but those rules only apply to the annoying tourists! ;) The fishmongers can do as they please, they work really hard.

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15 jay September 28, 2010 at 10:02 am

Absolutely stunning photos!

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