One of the must-sees in Tokyo is the fabulous Tsukiji Market, located in the center of Tokyo. Although one is not fond of Japanese food or markets in general, it is a unique experience of forced attendance. The Tsukiji Market is the largest fish market in the world and over the years has become one of the most longed for visits when one steps on the capital of Japan.
The first time I entered at 5 in the morning and left after 10. I went through every point of the internal market (now closed to the public until 9 in the morning). And the auction of tuna (at that time without restrictions of any kind) was a real spectacle. The second time I entered at 9 in the morning and toured the inside of the market until after 11. And in this third time, I went twice. In the first, I went through the whole foreign market and in the second I went back to the tuna auction.
At 3 o'clock in the morning, the movement of the trucks that unload the fish coming from any part of the world begins. 3,000 tons pass through the market every day and you can find around 450 species of fish and shellfish. If you can eat or cook and you do not find it in Tsukiji, it does not exist or it is not from this planet.
The market is made up of two large areas: wholesaler with license (in the interior) and wholesale and retail sales (abroad). In the interior zone, it has had restricted access for a few years until 9 in the morning, except for the 120 people who can enter to see the auction (at 5:25 and 5:50).
It is always under the strict control of access where licensed wholesalers (about 900) operate their businesses and where the auction of tuna takes place. The outside is a mix of wholesale and retail sales where you can find everything. There is fish, Japanese cooking utensils, food, packaged products, sauces, condiments, household goods and/or trade, fruits, and vegetables.
And this is where we also find (although inside the internal market there are also) the numerous restaurants and food stalls where any type of Japanese food is served. There is ramen, tempura, sushi, sashimi, and tamagoyaki. What any traveler and tourist in the world (and also from other parts of Japan) wants to see there in the first place, is the auction of tuna.
Every day, between 5:00 and 7:00 in the morning, hundreds of tuna are auctioned (the frozen ones are covered with a thin frozen layer) that are placed and numbered throughout the warehouse used for this purpose. The tuna weigh between 400 and 700 kilos and are placed in rows according to their size. Little by little they will lose the white layer and they will recover their natural color.
Then there is the inspection of the appraisers, who section the tails of the tuna to obtain samples in the form of fillets, where these expert cutters armed with a metal hook and a flashlight can see the quality of each tuna.
These samples reveal the veins of white fat contained in each specimen: the more abundant the better quality the specimen is and the more expensive it is sold. The samples are placed either on the same tuna or on an elongated table with a mark of the specimen to which they belong. The next act is one of the most spectacular. The auction of each copy or batch of copies.
Small groups are formed around wholesalers (many of them climbed on a stool) who sing the auction of each piece or lot of tuna. Buyers with a license to participate in the auctions are dressed in distinctive hats and bid with very quick gestures to the wholesaler. This show has no waste and is a continuous scream, gesticulate, point, write, mark, etc. In a hurry and without rest. There are intermediate wholesalers with businesses within the same market, restaurant agents, and large supermarkets.
Here nobody wastes their time. They told me there is a very special jargon between seller and buyer so that the final price is secret. The best pieces go to the best restaurants and the buyers move along the ship searching for the specimens that they have selected to bid as the batches are liquidated. From bigger to smaller. While the auctions take place (not everything is sold), the transfer begins on carts loaded by the operators of the market.
They go to three different places. One, to the trucks that distribute the pieces in the hundreds of restaurants and shops in Tokyo and surrounding areas that are waiting to receive the product in order to start making their culinary creations. Two to the shops and stalls that there are throughout the market (interior and exterior) and three, to a room of mechanized ronqueo, where they are cut and chopped.
Here the noise and the rhythm are enormous as mechanical saws cut the half-frozen tuna in half. It is part of the market where the tuna is cut, it is only accessible from 9:00 o'clock and at that hour it is very difficult to find any large tuna piece being torn apart. Why? Well, because a few years ago a series of imbeciles decided to start bothering the staff working there, which local authorities were forced to limit and prohibit access in this area. People got into the tuna, played them, used flash, etc.
Come on, there was no respect for the people who make their living there. He was not going any more were some Englishmen who took some motorized cars and they dedicated themselves to make the hooligan by the market. This was the point at which it was said enough. But the pressures by the enormous popularity that the visit has for the tourist, they forced to return to allow the visit inside the market, but under a strict control of attendance and behavior.
These restrictions are going to produce the effect that they seek: that the interest in going away will be lost because it will not be worth it. And if I'm honest, I think they're going to get it because the subject has changed a lot. Too. The amount of tuna and sellers/buyers participating in the auction has decreased considerably (you only have to compare the photos from 2005 and 2012) with what the show has also suffered and every time it goes down.
Throughout the morning and part of the morning, the tunas (and any living marine bug) are cut, sliced, filleted and prepared for resale. Here, everything is used. These experts and specialized masters cut the tuna loins with huge knives with a wooden handle. Some measure more than 1 meter (depending on your specialty within the market, you have a knife and it is so sharp, that nothing has to envy to a katana) and it takes two people to make the cut.
Each part of the tuna is harvested and sold according to its quality. In the showcases of many of the stalls (both inside and outside) the parts of each tuna are exposed to their corresponding price according to the quality.
As I mentioned the position where I had breakfast, it had 40 different varieties of tuna with which they make sushi. There is nothing. Although any animal is cut, it is worth observing that of the eel, since you have to have a lot of skill to do it well.
In addition to the tuna ships, there is a huge number of fishmonger stalls in the Tsukiji market where they exhibit all kinds of marine animals and exotic species. Although there are also numerous sites that sell other types of non-marine products. All kinds of fish and seafood are sold and super fresh, thanks to the fact that almost the place is connected to the seawater by a key and air pipes with oxygen. Each position of sale (be it the product that is) places the genre taking care of the presentation and packaging (there is so much competition that the first impression is very important).
Despite the hustle and bustle of movement, everything is extremely clean and tidy. You do not find remains or large puddles although it is not recommended to go in flip-flops. And it does not smell fishy compared to the markets around here.And they smoke anywhere.
There are no restrictions on this. And it is very surprising because there is so much care in the whole process that it is shocking that in the middle of a sales point there is an uncle who gives the cigar. A separate commentary deserves the mountains of hundreds of white boxes of polystyrene piled up in different points of the market and the mini motor cars that are everywhere. These cars are the most dangerous and you have to be careful, because if they can section a leg.
They are like bulls looking for a piece of gore. Unbridled fury in pursuit of blood. The blood of the absent-minded and distracted tourist who has gotten into the mouth of the wolf. There are those who go with a lot of bad milk, partly because they are fed up with the tourist bothering them while they work and partly because their obligation is to deliver the goods as quickly as possible. And if you are in the middle of your path, you are a hindrance.
Or would it not bother you that in your workplace there were hundreds of Japanese taking pictures around you every day of the year? We would end up crazy. The cars move at full speed and appear from nowhere with what is always advisable to be stuck to the wall and not in the middle of the corridors, although there are so narrow that either they pass or you have to hide. To situate yourself in a point of the market and dedicating yourself to observe the activity of the market is also highly recommendable. It is a chaotic order or an orderly chaos. It depends on how you look at it.
You always have the strange feeling of being observed but never without getting to offend. It's like a double showcase: you look but they also watch you, although in a more indiscreet way. That's the way it is all the time.
Except for the tuna area, this foreign market is accessible without any restriction, being a mess of streets and alleys where there is everything. There is the crustacean, mollusk (giant oysters larger than the hand), fish, algae, fruits, vegetables, knives, wooden utensils, clothes, household goods, etc.
In this outdoor area is where more and more people are wandering in any corner. Surely with time will also put restrictions. Market activity declines around 8 in the morning and at 11 it closes most of the stores. How is it said around here, at this time all the fish is sold.
Going through the interior streets, I discovered two different places that are dedicated to manually elaborate the famous Japanese omelet (tamagoyaki), which is made with square or rectangular pans. I was mesmerized by the process of elaboration.
After enjoying so much marine animal and other edibles, it is worth eating in one of the hundreds of places that are found in the streets and adjoining alleyways. Small establishments where fish is served for breakfast (or other delicacies according to the preferences of each one) open very early. Narrow bars and tiny tables that fill with workers and visitors. The freshness and texture of the sushi here, I'm sorry but it's awesome.
It tastes different Maybe it's the magic and the charm of the place. Or maybe you're so predisposed that everything is more tasty. There are kicks of locals with more or less names. This last time I ate at a very small one called Okame, in Shin-Ohashi Dori almost in the corner with Harumi Dori and that is easily recognizable because it has on top (or in the business next door) a huge fish in three dimensions. There will be better, sure, but to lose two or three hours waiting in line to eat in a certain place, I find it a waste of time.