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Tokyo, Japan: Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Market in the early morning
It’s difficult to be sitting still. I spent most of my year in 2008 travelling, and all of a sudden, it has been Shanghai since the the trip to Tokyo for christmas 2008 till now. And it’s back to my favourite city this part of the world, Tokyo. This trip will be a multi-leg trip, with a weekend in the city before flying off to Taipei. Heard rumours before I came that Tsukiji fish market tuna auction section is now opened to tourists again. I’m sure it was closed because tourists were hindering the auction, but this I must see, being an addict of the red and fatty tuna sashimi.

Its Saturday today, and since the weather forecast is perfect for today only, plan is to visit the fish market first thing in the morning at 5am and once I covered Tsukiji, I plan to catch the first morning train to Nikko, another one of my regular destination.

Dividing up a giant tuna

According to the market’s online site, the visitor area for tuna auction is only opened between 0500 and 0630. The next next problem, other than waking up early enough, is the transportation. The Tokyo metro does not operate until 6am at least, and Tsukiji, being rather far away from Meguro JR, means that the only mode of transportation that can get me from the market that early in the morning is the taxi. Will cost me a little more than 3000 Yen just to do that.

Taxi definitely goes fast at this time in the morning, like all taxis in big cities when there are no traffic, I suppose. At 5 am I reached the market. The taxi dropped me at a location I’m not familiar with. There were a bunch of American tourists (not difficult to tell) but it looks quite obvious that no one knew where the auction really is. I know the general market where anyone can buy seafood, and on my Nokia E71’s GoogleMaps I was able to get a rough idea where I am. So I move on, and the market is already buzzing with people selling their stuff, My Leica M6 with Fuji Pro400 comes out and I take a few shots here and there, making use of the nice depth of field on the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH. At the same time, I followed a bunch of Japanese traders that look as thought they were going to buy giant tunas, but they started going to the first floor. Thinking that the auction area is up stairs (I know, didn’t make sense too, as they will have to haul the large tuna up the stairs!) I followed them and we came to a long alleyway on the second floor. After a minute or so, I decided it would be better to backtrack as I will not find it here.

A dealer at work in the general section of the market

There are no signs, but just a general loitering at the ground floor, and I came upon a couple of warehouse-looking area. There were some tuna visible, and some tourists tried to enter and this seems like a restricted area. However it is possible to peep and see some fresh giant tuna and many dealers going around inspecting the tuna. No gaijins here for sure.

This is one of the restricted auction section, clearly no outsider welcomed!

... And clearly the fish here are fresh!

And so the loitering continues, and finally a guy that looks like a tourist usher comes and tells everyone to go to a particular warehouse. When I got there was a sign that clearly says this is the tourist area. It is just a strip in the middle of the warehouse enough for 3 person standing side by side, and the system looks like they require everyone to move to the end and then come back, like a conveyor belt. Obviously no one does that, so soon there is a long traffic jam of tourists, fat, thin, tall, short. And the ocassional obnoxious tourist, including one I almost turned into negitoro for being an ass and a half. Anyway, to hell with him.

Mr usher for the tourist section

And in this section the tunas are all frozen

... and it this place it swarmed with people who look like experts in tuna.

Soon the auction begins. And there are some serious action going on here.

Eventually the sold tunas get tagged with a red mark before being carted away.

So, there there is an usher in white, making sure everyone moves so that the conveyor belt of tourists is moving all the time. Here the tunas are all frozen, laid out on the floor, and the tail of which are chipped into a chunk still attached to the fish. I observed the buyers coming to check the flesh in the exposed part. Not too sure what they are checking, guessing texture and the colour. Then at around 5:30am, the auction starts, and it’s a guy standing on a small stool, notebook in hand, and shouting out something. Handycams start rolling and tourists start giving their self commentaries. Anyway, this goes on until all the tunas are sold, and someone comes over and paint something red on the fish, and long story short, quickly it gets carted away by someone with a hook. Bet there are all these Tsukiji carts waiting outside. Rumour says that one of these fish could go for a million yen or so.

General section Tsukiji Market (if there is such a name)

After the auction, its time to just roam the market, using up my few rolls. After the Fuji Pro400 I had a few test rolls of Kodak Ektar 100, which seems to be quite good for red colour, which is the dominant colour here. And I just love how incandescent light behaves with colour negative film. The scene looks warmish, which keeps the mood intact.

Since it is not the first time for me at Tsukiji, I’m done with the place after a while and it is time, 7am, to go have some sashimi donburi in one of the obscure shops. I don’t intend to do a general review of the restaurants and stalls here, but I would say majority of the shops here go awesome sashimi. I don’t care about sushi, not in the morning anyway, nothing beats rice bowl with tuna sashimi and minced tuna to start the day.

Baby octopus for sale

Done with with the market,  done with breakfast and now time to hop onto the Tokyo metro. Next stop Asakusa Tobu line to catch the next train to the next destination on this busy Saturday!

Always a pleasure to end the post with a Mighty Car, a Tsukiji special!

*end of post*

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