Tsujuki is the largest fish market in the world. As soon as the subway opens at around 05.00am we set off from our Ryokan in Ueno for the market. WARNING! This blog entry contains scenes of dead fish.
It is pouring with rain, a gale is blowing but at least the subway was empty. We have no problems finding the right station for the market but finding the actual market proves a little more challenging. How can we not find something this big? Not for the first time in Japan, some kind locals witness our bewilderment, come to our rescue and point us in the right direction.
The market is massive! There are two distinct sections, The inner market is the licensed wholesale market, where around 900 licensed wholesale dealers operate small stalls and the auctions and the processing of the fish take place. The outer market is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops selling kitchen tools, restaurant supplies, groceries, and seafood and, of course the many sushi restaurants.
We wander amongst row upon row of stalls selling an overwhelming variety of fish, shellfish, crabs, squid and the most enormous tunas we have ever seen (in or out of the ocean).
By now it is 6.am and the place is buzzing with activity. The stall holders, who having bought their fish at the auction are now busy preparing it for sale to the buyers from the restaurants and sushi bars all around the country. It is incredible to watch these guys with their giant knives dissecting huge tuna into more manageable chunks.
The market porters use gas powered trucks the porters use to transport the fish around the market which hurtle around the the alleys between the stalls at breakneck speed. You really have to keep your wits about you, so as not to end up on a slab alongside one of the tunas!
We were too late for the main auction, which is mostly off limits to visitors anyway, but we did venture into the small public area of the auction where they were sorting out the last of the giant frozen tuna using a dumper truck.
Just as we arrived the driver, who had 4 giant (approx 8 ft) tuna in his shovel, tried to execute a handbrake turn at speed and lost one of the tuna which came hurtling across the floor towards us! That would surely have gone down in history as one of the more bizarre travel insurance claims.
After an hour or so of looking around the market admiring the fish we have worked up an appetite. Time for a sashimi breakfast at one of the many small sushi restaurants surrounding the market.
The menus are all in Japanese but who cares if we don’t know what we are eating? We are handed a laser pointer and told to indicate our choices from the pictures behind the counter – a novel but efficient ordering system that transcends the language barriers
Naturally the fish is as fresh as it gets without it still moving and the taste was simply out of this world! Without a doubt our best breakfast ever!
NOTE: We visited Tsjukii in April 2008. in December of that year, the wholesale market was closed to casual visitors. In October of this year, the market is set to move to the nearby Toyosu waterfront area in September or October this year.