Sunday, August 17, 2014

Exploring Tsukiji seafood market

The Tsukiji Seafood Market located near Ginza in central Tokyo, is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market on the planet, moving an estimated 2400 tons of seafood every day, so naturally a visit was in order. It has become famous for its 5am Tuna auction where the prized maguro can sell for more than US$10,000 each but because of its popularity with tourists, the auction is restricted to two shifts of a 120 visitors who watch the auction from a gallery. It’s first come first served and the line to be part of the spectator group starts as early as 4am. Bugger that… we decided to sleep in and after a leisurely breakfast made our trip across town to the market at a much more respectable hour, arriving just before the ‘Seafood Intermediate Wholesalers Area’ opened to the public at 9am. 

The market is divided into an inner and outer market. Tourists are encouraged to visit the outer market, which consists of a few blocks of small retail shops and restaurants crowded along narrow lanes. Here you can find all sorts of food related goods, knives and fresh seafood and produce for sale in smaller (than wholesale) portions. A cursory inspection of this section indicated that things would be a lot more interesting at the inner market, which apart from the aforementioned wholesalers area is closed off to the public.

According to an article I read in The Guardian newspaper, one in ten fish is eaten in Japan and seafood is part of the cultural makeup of the Japanese. For centuries fish was the chief source of protein for the Japanese, because until 1872 it was illegal in Japan, and against Buddhist principle, to eat any four-legged animal. And old habits are hard to change. 
So, with a society so seafood crazy I was expecting to find lots to see and photograph in the worlds biggest fish market. Even at this relatively late hour in the morning, the market area was a frenetic hive of activity. Boxes upon Styrofoam boxes are laid out, containing some of the most bizarre looking sea creatures that I have ever seen outside of National Geographic documentaries. There is some evidence that as the world’s fish stocks are slowly being depleted fishermen are starting to harvest deeper seas and species that were previously ignored are now being seen as a food source. To my uneducated eye, some of the weird creatures packed on ice definitely seemed to corroborate this. 

Even if you’re not interested in fish, Tsukiji Market is a fascinating place to visit. It’s a working market and it is quite easy to get caught up in watching the preparation, buying and selling of all the produce. There’s lots more than just fish to see and I was quite happy to wander around for a couple of hours snapping away with my iPhone until the urge for coffee and breakfast overcame me. If you get the chance to visit, go! For more information about the market and how to get there, click on the market’s official website link here