Tsukiji Fish Market. I mean, I had to come here. As one of the largest and oldest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, it really needs no introduction.
You know, the one where, in 2013, laid down a bidding war that cumulated in a 222kg tuna being sold for ¥154.4 million.
You know, the one where the 80-year old complex transacts about ¥1.8 billion worth of sales in seafood and vegetables on a daily basis.
You know, the one that is slated to move to a new location in Nov 2016 (see, good blogger, go check it out before the big move).
So, seeing as I was in Tokyo – I had to go see at least the market before the controversial (tl;dr: proposed site of the new market is a parcel of allegedly heavily polluted reclaimed land that used to house a gas plant) re-location.
I actually had no plans of going to see the tuna auction (no plans of doing any specific things in Tokyo as a matter of fact #wingingit) but met someone at the hostel that wanted to go, so go we did.
After some initial research (re: 5 minutes of googling), we realized that visiting the tuna auction was going to take a lot more effort than just showing up at 5am to get one the the 120 coveted “tickets” (super stylish neon safety vests).
As with most things in Tokyo, that I’ve learned in later experiences, many free events require early wake up calls and line ups. Officially, the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate starts handing out the vests at 5:00a. As it is a first-come, first-serve kinda ordeal, we, lovely tourists, will line up waaaaay before hand to secure a spot. The 120 spots are split into 2 groups – the 5:25a and the 5:50a faction.
Since our hostel was nowhere near the auction and the odd fact that Tokyo metro stops running pretty soon after midnight, our plan of action was to catch the last train out to a station close to the market and then make our way to the market on foot. More responsible adults would’ve probably just booked a place to sleep near the market, but alas, we are money conscious travellers on a (kind of) budget.
So the last train from Shinjuku left at a little before 12:30a, which got us to the general vicinity of the market at approx. 1:00a (Google hack: put in your from/to location in Google maps and change the depart at filter to arrive by to see what the last train you’d have to catch would be). And, contrary to the lies that movies depict, a lot of Tokyo ain’t open in the wee hours of the night. We had thought we could do some late-night exploring but, nyoppppe.
We ended up just hanging out at a Denny’s for a bit to warm up before heading out to wait in the cold. Denny’s was an interesting experience though. The service is so different than that of our typical North American diner experience. When we arrived, there were two separate individuals (well dressed, middle-aged salarymen) sleeping at a table. Yep. Sleeping. And the servers just let them be. They were also super nice to us even though only A ordered something to eat and we loitered for, like, a while.
After our visit to Denny’s, we made our way to the market. We totes walked in the wrong entrance and ended up in the Seafood wholesale area.
You’re not supposed to enter that area until 9:00a, so, do not condone. But it was kinda cool to see all the vendors set up for the day in the quiet of the night (morning?).
With the help of Google Translate and many lost-tourist-puppy-dog-eyed questions, we found our way to the Fish Information Centre.
When we arrived, there was already a line out to the sidewalk. We were maybe the 20th or 30th people in line? We really wanted to hit the 5:25a heat so we got there a bit earlier than you’d probably have to if you just wanted to secure a spot.
I don’t know what time we got our vests (4:00a?), but they started letting people inside the little building so we could wait in the warmth of a heated building. As we had a long time to wait, I procured myself a heated, vending machine canned coffee from the much convenient machines outside. We took our mandatory tourist selfie, plopped down on the floor, and waited.
When it was time, we got led out to the market and made our way to the auction in a semi-disorderly fashion. Lots of attendants yelling at you to keep up and not diddle-doddle. Lots of vendors zooming by in their adorable flat-bed motorized mini trucks of sorts.
After several near death experiences with one of these said cute mini trucks, we got to the auction hall.
The 60 of us are then squished in the middle of this narrow make-shift pylon lined hallway, where on either side of us, are buyers diligently examining the rows of perfectly laid out frozen tunas.
The tunas are hallowed out so that the buyers, with their cute little axe, can peer inside to examine the cavity of the fish (I can only assume that’s how you check for quality?).
They did this for maybe 5/10 minutes and then the auction started on the right side of the designated tourist area. It was really cool to see how animated the auctioneer was for the entire duration of the auction.
A one point, one of the buyers (cute, old Japanese men. I loooove grandpa aged men, they’re always so smilely and kind and nice) came up and started talking to me in Japanese. At which point, I was only able to utter out, in poor, broken Japanese, that I was Canadian, and therefore, did not understand a word he was saying. This was the first of many times that I wish I had brushed up on my Japanese before this leg of the trip (curse you shitty memory and only one semester of Japanese 7 or 8 years ago). It would have been so neat to have been able to converse with him. No matter how broken.
At the end of the auction, we were ushered out of the auction hall and parted ways with our stylish safety vests. During the 30ish minutes we were in the auction hall, the market got infinitely more frantic and busy.
I got separated from A (surprise surprise) for a brief moment in the midst of the chaos but we eventually found each other and made our way to our much-anticipated sushi breakfast (teaser for the upcoming Sushizanmai post).