To categorize the Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market as important to a country where fish is a primary food staple would be a gross understatement. More commonly known as the Tsukiji Fish Market, this place supplies most of the seafood to the restaurants and markets in Tokyo.
Every morning, the latest catch is brought here for sale to buyers from restaurants, food stores and anyone else who wants any particular seafood item. The sellers display their goods, and later in the morning an auction is held with everything sold to the highest bidder.
I heard about the Tsukiji Fish Market years ago and wanted to visit, but somehow never got around to doing so until December 2010. Setting my alarm for 4am to get there early, I was actually awakened 40 minutes before that by an aftershock from a recent major quake off the coast. Since the trains and subways don't begin their runs until about 5am, I hailed a taxi and headed off to Tsukiji.
Arriving around 4:30 in the morning, I wandered around the general area. To say it was busy would be another gross understatement. There were hoards of trucks of every size and description lined up along the streets near the market and hundreds of workers unloading and preparing their displays.
I made my way into the main facility from a back or side entrance (I couldn't really tell which it was) and entered the many rows of fish and seafood sellers. There were fish of every description and size, along with shellfish, lobsters, crab, octopusses (octopi?), squid and other oceanic products. Most were encased in ice in styrofoam boxes (an industry that must be booming in Japan), though I saw one lobster manage to successfully climb out of a large tank, only to be caught and tossed back in. Occasionally, I would come across a vendor stall offering drinks, cigarettes and snacks to the sellers (and, I presume, buyers) in the market.
I spent about an hour wandering around the stalls, dodging vehicles while photographing and videotaping the activities. I eventually found myself at the main entrance, where a guard jumped out of his office and approached to tell me (while pointing out a sign on his window) that due to this being the end of the year, with buying and selling at their peak, there were no visitors allowed from early December to early January. I just smiled and thanked him as I already saw what I wanted to see. Good thing I didn't try to enter from the main entrance. At least the fellow was doing his job.
From there, I headed over to the nearby streets where there were more stores and vendors selling more seafood along with vegetables and other merchandise. This place is a window shopper's paradise.
From reading many different Japan travel books and guides, I learned that the restaurants near Tsukiji are the premier place to sit down for an excellent sushi meal. With this in mind, I headed over to the restaurant area wondering where should I partake in a sushi breakfast. That question was settled by a nice gentleman from the Sushizanmai restaurant. As visitors wandered the narrow streets in the area, it is his job to greet and entice them to come in for a meal. Before entering, he pointed out a sign of a fisherman with a hole cut out at the face and asked if I wanted to stick my face through the hole for a photo. Why not? After this, his co-worker came out and we had an impromptu photo session. Once finished, I headed in and enjoyed a platter of tuna sushi.
The platter had a sampling of tuna prepared in different ways. I enjoyed them all, especially since this was the freshest I'd ever had in my life. Looks like reports that this area has the best sushi in town were accurate!
A few other travelers came in while I was eating and equally enjoyed their meals. One young couple brought a bottle of wine to go along with theirs. I was lucky to be seated immediately as the restaurant area is usually crowded, even in the early morning hours.
After my meal, I headed out for more window shopping before making my way to the subway (trains running by then) for my return to my hotel.
Too bad I didn't visit the Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market during my previous visits to Japan. It was a worthwhile excursion and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Outer Market 5 AM-1 PM, Wholesale Market 9 AM-1 PM, Tuna Auction 5 AM-6:15 AM; closed Sundays, holidays, and the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.