Recently, Natsumi and I went and checked out the Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market. It is the biggest fish market in the world, based on the edge of Tokyo Bay. The action begins in the wee hours of the morning, and winds down by noon. This is the main port where all of the fresh seafood comes in every morning to be doled out and served at the thousands of sushi restaurants, izakayas, and other eateries all over Japan.
Knowing that we had to get there pretty early in the morning to see anything good, and because the trains don`t run between midnight and 5am, we headed in to Tokyo the night before at around 11pm. We arrived at Ginza station and took a walk to a local manga kissa (internet/manga cafe). For around $15 we got a small room with a sofa, Internet, TV, and drink bar. We stayed there until about 4am, then made our way over to Tsukiji.
It is a very strange feeling walking from Ginza to Tsukiji. Ginza in the most upscale district in Tokyo, and it is not unusual to see Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other statement cars being driven by rich people amongst the designer label shops. However, if you go a block or two past the main drag towards Tsukiji, it seems that you have left Tokyo and arrived in a very different place. The smell of fish becomes very strong, and even though the sun has not risen yet, the place is as busy as a beehive. As we approached the gate into the market itself, we were made aware of just how massive the place really is. Hundreds of motorized carts, trucks of all sizes, and countless merchants were going this way and that, carrying back their day`s purchases and heading back for more. There is every kind of fish imagineable in Tsukiji, all of them for sale to the highest bidder. We made our way through the various alleyways, stalls, aquariums, and finally arrived at the main event: the tuna auction.
A single bluefin tuna can sell for between $10,000 and $20,000. They are definetely the prize of the market, and competition for them is fierce. We didn`t have the special permit needed to sit in on the auction itself, but we were able to see all of the tuna on display and see the customers carefully checking them out to see which were the ones they were going to try and bid on later in the auction.
After that we decided to leave, as incredibly it seemed like the pace of the place seemed to be picking up even more. It was very likely that we would soon have been run over by one of the motorized carts or a truck, so we decided to make our escape. We headed back out towards the main exit and stopped for some fresh "don", or raw, sliced fish over rice. I had salmon and tuna, and Natsumi had a mix of salmon, ikura "fish eggs", raw shrimp, and egg. It was great. Although our visit to Tsukiji was brief, it was all that we needed. I am fairly used to the fast pace of Tokyo, but after 30 minutes in this market, my head was spinning around like a top.