Seeing as our recent week in Tokyo was my fourth time there, I figured I should really make the effort to visit Tsukiji Fish Market. I especially wanted to go this time as soon Tsukiji will be history. In the next few years the Tokyo Metro Government will be relocating the market to make way for construction of a tunnel and highrise apartments in time for the Olympics in 2020. This seems like a sad thing to do to a market that is considered the beating heart of the worldwide spread of sushi culture and has nearly 80 years of history behind it.
A short walk from bustling Shiodome and Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market is a bit scruffy around the edges and definitely showing its age. Set on around 50 acres of land the market has several distinct parts. The main auction area which is off limits to visitors, the trading floor where the restaurants, caterers and fish shops buy, which is open to the public after 900am, the fruit and vegetable market and the outer market where little (and I mean little) restaurants are located next to shops selling fruit and vegetables, knives, kitchen equipment, tea, seaweeds, pickles and many other food products.
It took 3 attempts for me to visit the market. Monday the market was closed for a public holiday, Tuesday I was very early and ended up being politely asked to leave as visitors aren’t admitted before 900am. Wednesday was windy but I made my way down again and got there around 1000am. Unfortunately most of the action was over, I think I should have gotten there at 900am. I was able to get a few photos of some of the amazing seafood available.
Boxes of fish ready to be picked up for delivery to restaurants:
Danger lurks everywhere within the market compound and pedestrians do not have right of way. Little pallet carts zip around so you have to constantly be on your guard or run the risk of being hit.
While I saw quite a few dealers with unagi, in various stages of preparation, I stumbled across a fishmonger with live eel in various sizes. The ones in the photo were about 5cm long, and squirming like mad. The fishmonger was in the process of changing the water when I took the photo.
Not only were there vendors of scallops, fresh and frozen out of the shell, there were crates of live scallops every couple of stores.
Something I have only really heard about but never actually seen was the horseneck clam. These are a clam that have a syphon that isn’t able to fully retract back in to the shell. Looking at some photos of them on google was an eye opening search, some of them get sooo big!
Whelks,abalones in many different sizes(little ones bottom right) and other varieties of molluscs abounded:
Hairy crabs all trussed up. I had seen another variety of these on TV but was amazed to see these ones up close. Such fine little clumps of “hair” all over them and such a pretty colour combination. These ones look like they have had a buzz cut, there are hairier ones in the ocean:
Of course, the ubiquitous Fugu was at the market, a little early in the season for them, peak season is late autumn and winter. I didn’t realise that fugu are now harvested after spawning in spring and moved to floating cages in the Pacific Ocean to grow to maturity. This is to protect the fugu population, nice bit of aquaculture. Fugu is the only food the Japanese Emperor is forbidden to eat, for his personal safety.
Live lobsters, these were not very big and I assume that the price was per kilogram:
These live ebi(prawns) were certainly jumping around in their baskets:
The fruit and vegetable market was also amazing to see. Have you ever seen one mushroom that costs around $70? I was shocked when I did the conversion to AUD$. Beside the big one are two trays with 7 mushrooms for around $60!!! Must be some fantastic tasting mushrooms!
If you look to the top right you can see some rather square looking persimmons. Square persimmons were in a lot of shops this year, even the local supermarket near our hotel had them. There are some trays of mushrooms in this photo for around $90, $120, $130 and $160!!!
Also in the fruit and vegetable section was a huge variety of baby flowers and leaves for garnishing, pine needles, gingko leaves and nuts, maple leaves and the cutest baby turnips. Everything is beautifully packaged and the one thing I regret not getting a photo of was a watermelon with a belt/handle woven from fibers of some kind. Most of the mushroom boxes were made of wood and then lined with straw.
Of course there was plenty of wasabi around too. Ordinarily I would have expected the price to be the same, however the price varies depending on the size and grade.
After doing your looking around, you can drop in to any of the little restaurants in the outer market for some super fresh sushi and sashimi or a nice piping hot bowl of noodles before doing a little shopping for some plates, knives, kitchen goods or matcha (green tea).
Should we get back to Tokyo next year and Tsukiji is still open I think I will visit again and time it a bit better to get a bit more of the action. I really enjoyed my visit and it was great to see seafood that I have really only heard about. If you happen to get to Tokyo before the market moves you really should drop in for a look around and if you are avoiding because you think fish market equals fishy smell, don’t worry the market is super clean and there is no fishy smell at all.