Exploring Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market

By: Chantelle Symester

August 26, 2014

It’s no surprise that eager tourists from all over the world flock to Tokyo‘s Tsukiji Fish Market. Its popularity has undoubtedly increased due to the raising awareness and appetite for traditional Japanese cuisine across the globe, and for those wishing to experience a real slice of Tokyo life, the Tsukiji fish market is a great place to start.

As one of the largest markets in the world, it’s the only place to go if you’re hankering after the highest quality catch of the day, or simply want a glimpse of the action before sampling some of the gourmet produce on offer across the city.

Fish for sale | Exploring Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
Catch of the day: expect to see plenty of exotic fish for sale © Kojack/Flickr

The origin of local fish markets in Tokyo is said to date all the way back to the Uogashi riverside markets of the 16th century. Upon founding Edo (modern-day Tokyo), famous statesman and shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, invited local fishermen selling at Uogashi into town to sell their fresh produce. Fast forward a few hundred years and Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market has become a cornerstone of daily life in the city, as well as a highly lucrative cultural and commercial tradition.

Freshly grilled seafood | Exploring Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
So fresh and so clean: the freshly grilled shellfish is a must-try for visitors © Bing/Flickr 

Fresh fish deliveries usually arrive overnight, which means an early start is essential if you want to experience the market at its best or pick up the highest quality produce. To control overcrowding only 120 visitors are permitted into the market each day. Spaces are given on a first come first serve basis, with two groups of 60 issued coloured vests to distinguish them from local merchants and buyers. It’s very busy so expect plenty of commotion – part of the fun is being in the thick of the action.

Tentatcles | Explore Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
Prepare yourself for tentatcles, fish guts and other weird and wonderful sights whilst walking through the market © Cory Doctorow/Flickr

Make sure you’re well prepared: wear appropriate clothing (a t-shirt, jeans and jacket or jumper will suffice), and more importantly, make sure to wear sensible footwear. Access is strict, so if your attire isn’t deemed suitable don’t expect to be able to charm your way in.

Inspections | Exploring Tokyo's Tsujiki Fish Market

Prep takes place in the early hours of each morning © Luis Alvarez/iStock/Thinkstock

Preparation and inspections of the shipments usually takes place around 3am. The market is split into two sections – an indoor market place solely for the seven main wholesalers operating within the market, and an outdoor section where smaller retailers and the general public can buy goods. The highlight of the market takes place around 5:30am: the highly anticipated tuna auction. Expect to see this fishy bounty sell out in record time, and quite possibly for a record price, as tuna is one of the most popular and sought after produce in the city.

Shellfish jackpot | Exploring Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
Strike it lucky and bag yourself a seafood jackpot of shellfish, mussells and other fishy delicacies © Bing/Flickr

Once you’re done browsing venture over to Tsukiji Chuo, where the best sushi restaurant in town is located. Famous among locals and tourists alike, don’t let the simple façade fool you, this place serves up one of the tastiest set menus in the city and there are always queues of hungry visitors snaking down the street. There are also a number of other great places to grab a bite to eat, including Aozora Sandaime Hafu, which serves up unconventional bowl-type dishes named Sushi Shabu Shabu. Delicious sushi toppings are added to rice, boiling water and various accompaniments for added flavouring.

Header image © Evan Blaser/Flickr

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Have you visited Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

Written by Chantelle Symester


Chantelle Symester

Chantelle Symester is a writer and editor based in London. When she’s not chained to her laptop working she can be found hopping on a plane to far flung places across the globe. Trips so far include adventures to Mexico, South America and North Africa and she now has her heart set on discovering the East. You can find her @csymester

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