A guide to the old Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan. Here is everything you need to know.
High up on the list of things to do in Toyko (or Tooo-kyooooo how the locals would pronounce it) is the fish market in Tsukiji right on the banks of the Sumida river. With its roughly 231.000 square meters it is the biggest and most important wholesale fish market in the world. The market consists of an inner and an outer ring. While the outskirts are reserved for sushi restaurants and miscellaneous vendors, it is the inner ring where over 900 stalls are competing to sell their fish. Here is also where the famous tuna action takes place (more about that later).
Be aware though that the Tsukiji Fish Market is currently in the process of being moved to another site in Toyosu. The move is scheduled to be finished around late 2017 (they are aiming for November). The reasons are the high land prices in the area. Visiting the Fish market you will soon realize how very close it is to the inner wards of Toyko city and understand the reasoning behind the move.
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What to see in Tsukiji Markets
At Tsukiji Market (築地市場, Tsukiji Shijō) you will want to put three things on your list of things to do:
1. See the tuna auction
2. Treat yourself to some fresh sushi
3. Walk around the aisle of the wholesale market
The famous Tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market
Every day between 5:20 am and 7:00 am the famous fish action takes place. You will see the bidding frenzy of the licenses participants in their clipped, really incomprehensible shorthand kind of language (here’s a video on youtube). A sight many tourists want to see but only 120 are admitted each day. 60 of those will be allowed in between 5:25 am and 5:45 am and another batch of 60 from 5:50 am to 6:10 am. I recommend you to arrive at least an hour ahead of time – which would get you close to 4:00 am!! Since you will have problems getting there with the subway at that time. Your only option is a taxi (remember: Tokyo’s subway doesn’t operate 24/7!!). The tuna auction takes place at the far end of the Tsukiji Fish Market. Basically, you will have to enter through the main gate and keep on walking as straight as possible. While not a long walk, you should definitely calculate that walking time in if you want to get one the coveted spots for the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market.
Once there the staff will issue colored vests to identify you as a watcher of the tuna auction. If all 120 vests are distributed and you didn’t get any – bad luck for you! And in case you were wondering: attending the auction is free.
As soon as you are in remember to keep quiet. Don’t take any flash photography, don’t be loud and certainly don’t interrupt the tuna auction in any way at all. They will kick you out if you do. On a side note: They won’t let you in with food, drinks or pets out of obvious reasons. (Check out the official website of the Tsukiji Fish Market for more details on this topic.)
Do you need to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market? Well, you certainly won’t regret it. But from another perspective, they are just selling dead fish. Especially if you are only on a short stop in Tokyo you might not want to spoil your day by getting up that early and being exhausted later on. If you opt for this unique experience make sure to bring a warm jacket along. To make things visual: They are selling frozen tuna in a fridge like auction hall and you will be waiting there for quite some time!
Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
After the tuna auction, you will have plenty of time to get some breakfast (the wholesale market will not open before 9:00 am for tourists). Now don’t worry! Even though they will kick out the first tuna auction group around 6:00 am, you will already find a restaurant to serve you fresh sushi or sashimi by that time. With more than 40.000 visitors a day they are used to the early traffic and are prepared for you. All restaurants in Tsukiji Fish Market are prettily aligned in a row close to the main gate. Some of them will have longer queues in front of them – as a rule of thumb those are usually more expensive and of a better quality. Some of them are just famous for no reason other than appearing in a popular travel guide. Most of them will have menus outside (which is quite uncommon for Japan in general) so you can decide for yourself where to eat and where not.
Since there is such a high demand and Japanese people generally eat very fast you should be prepared to be kicked out after roughly 30minutes – even if you ordered a big ‘set menu’.
Is it worth it? You certainly won’t get fresher fish of a higher quality anywhere else. If you are used to your regular California roll from the sushi dinner just around the corner you might, however, not taste the difference. I found it to be an exciting way to commence the day and very delicious. Be warned, tough, that fresh sushi can be quite expensive.
The wholesale fish market
Starting from 9:00 am you will be admitted into the wholesale area. Here you will see workers rushing around on their scooters and obviously hundreds of stalls offering their catch of the day from the worldwide oceans. You will, however, not smell any fish. It’s really kind of astonishing to imagine that fish worth around 4 billion US-Dollar is being sold here a day and there is not even the slightest hint of fish smell in the air. And mind you – Tokyo is not famous for its cold temperature! If you’ve been to other fish markets around the world you will notice that the Japanese cover up their fish in ice-cooled Styrofoam boxes. Remind yourself that this is not a retail market – people know what to buy where. If you are looking for pictures of all too gory details you will be disappointed (at least a little bit!).
Also please remember again that you are a tourist visiting one of the most active wholesale markets in the world. Don’t bring any big luggage or pets, don’t touch anything and certainly, don’t disturb the vendors. They are used to tourists but at the end of the day they are here for the business and they know you certainly won’t buy anything. Also keep an eye out for the scooters – they are going fast and don’t necessarily expect you to come strolling around the corner.
End your tour through the Tsujiki fish market in the outer market, which is located right next to information center. Here you will find food related products like pottery and knives but also fish and edibles for retail customers.
How to get to Tsukiji Fish Market
Since Tsukiji Fish Market is located close to the center of Tokyo it’s actually quite easy to get there. The best way would be to take the Oedo Subway Line (that’s the purple one the subway maps) and get out at Tsukiji Shijo Station (築地市場駅). The main Gate of the fish market will be just around the corner from the subway station (Exit A1).
As an alternative, you can get on the Hibaya Subway Line (that’s the gray one) to Tsukiji Station and walk the rest (about 5 minutes) to the market. If you only got a JR Ticket you could get off at Shimbashi and walk all the way to Tsukiji. That, however, will take about 15 minutes. Be sure to bring a city map so you don’t get lost.
When to visit Tsukiji Fish Market
Depending on what you want to see will you have to be there as early as 4:00 am. But even if you don’t want to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market you will have to come in the morning since the market will close at 2 pm. It is regularly closed on Sundays, national holidays and on some Wednesdays. The Tuna action will be closed to tourists around New Year since this is the busiest time of the year and brokers will want to operate without the intrusion.
Please keep in mind that the wholesale area of the market is closed to tourist before 9:00 am so tourists don’t interfere with the business.
This is it! Now you know all about the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. If you enjoyed it please help us spread the word and share this article on your favorite social media platform. Are you in the middle of planning your trip to japan? Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below and I will get back to you.