Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market is one of those things you must see in Tokyo, Japan, despite its declining stature as the provider the most overpriced bluefin tuna. Sure, it is the biggest fish market in the world. Yes, the auction is said to be quite an experience to watch. And, yes, until March 2015, it is probably the last time you will be able to catch the auction at Tsukiji before it makes way for some prime real estate development. But, it is really worth waking up in the wee hours of the morning just catch a few minutes equivalent of Singapore’s Hungry Ghost Festival auction? I think so, since I do like to watch the Hungry Ghost Festival auction too.

First Attempt

Here was what I found out in my first attempt getting to the market for the auction; If you are taking the train, you are already too late. Although, to be fair to me, it did say registration starts from 5am.

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Here I thought, “why, no one is here yet! I must be early!” When I got to gate, there was no queue! How lucky I must be! Well, it turned out, I was quite lucky. You see, only registered visitors was supposed to be the intermediate wholesaler’s area (where the auctioned tuna goes), less the tuna auction area, before 9 am but, by some dumb luck, I managed to wander in without registering. Somehow.

I ended up inside the market and just outside the auction area where I witnessed an auction before I was informed that I wasn’t supposed to be where I was and, literally, shown the door out. Not before I managed to sneak some photos though. All that effort waking up at an ungodly hours was not entirely wasted.

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After my little adventure at the market, I walked around the area to kill some time before meeting a friend for breakfast. In a city where even the wear and tear of a expensive jeans can be manufactured for a price, Tsukiji did stand out as somewhat different from other areas in Tokyo. Maybe because the area is due for redevelopment, but there is a lot of unmanaged oxidation going on.

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When my friend arrived, I was ready for a big breakfast. We settled down quickly in one of the tiny restaurant out near the main road. They had a great half-priced deal that day for chirashi that had bluefin tuna belly that has been out of the sea for slightly more than a day. Slightly more than a day. That was just terrible.

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I was told this Honda is rare (pun intended).

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Second Attempt

The second time I went to Tsukiji Fish Market was in Fall 2013. I was traveling with my family, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, so this time I decided to take a cab and went really early. We reached around 4am and were the second group of 60 visitors to view the auction from the observation area. The atmosphere in there was pretty intense. You begin to understand that this is really serious business with these buyers by the way they examined each of the maguro samples.

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We witnessed two auctions, each lasted for no more than a couple of minutes. It all began with the auctioneer speed screaming for bids, and then the bidders bidding with just a slight gesturing of the hand. Sold.

We were probably in there for about 10-15 mins and when our time was up, we were ushered out of the auction area and went straight to some of the restaurants in the inner market. Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi are the most popular ones around there, but, technically, any other sushi shops there are supposed to be just as good.

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We decided to go to the heavily human-queue barricaded Sushi Dai and, as expected, we were not the only Singaporeans there. We simply don’t pass up a good chance to queue. However, queuing is, of course, not limited to being a Singaporean thing. It is overall an Asian thing. For the 3 hours plus in the queue to Sushi Dai, only the non-Asians gave up and left us in the cold fresh autumn morning. With a few exceptions who, I was pretty sure, took it as a part of their cultural experience.

The good people from Sushi Dai was kind enough to offer us some hot tea while we waited for a seat their tiny restaurant. As I stood in line sipping ocha, it gave me the opportunity to observe how, as stated in the pamphlet given to all visitors, dangerous the place could be.

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Finally, after about 3 hours of waiting, we reached the entrance of the tiny shop, and through the window we spotted the three chef that you could see from the photos on their website.

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Waiting that long will unavoidably build a certain level of expectation and, lucky for us, it did not disappoint. Every piece of sushi we had was fresh and the service was excellent. One thing really amazed me was that the chefs were not rushing the preparations despite the super long line of people waiting, and that made for a very relaxed experience. One of the chefs was even entertaining the patrons while switching from English to Mandarin with relative ease.

I know the waking up really early thing is always very difficult to justify. Besides the market, the auction and the food, I do think this really is a great way to see Tokyo before the shops open. So, definitely worth adding Tsukiji to your Tokyo itinerary, if you have not been there yet.

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