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Tsukiji Fish Market
The fresh sashimi, grilled fish, and other seafood seen on sale from Tokyo's street-side food stalls to its award-winning restaurants all have one thing in common: it all passes through the largest seafood market in the world, a lively center of unforgettable sights, sounds, and smells.
It comes as no surprise that in Japan, an island nation, seafood has been a staple for centuries, and this remains just as true today even though beef and pork consumption have skyrocketed. Completed in 1935, Tsukiji Market is the main conduit through which the bounty of the oceans pass into the country. Seen from above, Tsukiji Market resembles a quarter circle. Several small city blocks at the point of the circle constitute the outer market or the jogai shijo. Radiating around this is the vast inner market, or jonai shijo. Every day over 2,000 metric tons of seafood, worth 1.5 billion yen changes hands here. The adventurous—and lucky—traveler can walk among the fast-dealing wholesalers at the pre-dawn market. A more leisurely visit will include a stroll through the outer market and a fresh sushi breakfast.
Information 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0045. 03/3542-1111. www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp. Free. Mon.-Sat. (except 2nd and 4th Wed. of month) 5 am-3 pm. Subway: Toei Oedo subway line, Tsukiji-shijo Station (Exit A1); Hibiya subway line, Tsukiji Station (Exit 1).
Professional buyers and resellers deftly move through the hundreds of varieties seafood and assess them with a glance of an expert's eye at the inner market. Visitors may make purchases, but should be careful not to get in the way of the pros. Only licensed buyers can bid at the famed tuna auction, exchanging rapid-fire hand gestures with a fast-talking auctioneer. The prized catches can sell for upwards of $20,000 each.
When Japanese consumers go to Tsukiji, they generally shop for seafood in the outer market, a collection of more than 100 separate shops, stands, and sushi restaurants. Retailers also sell dried fish, nerimono (fish cakes), fruits and vegetables, meat, beans, and grains. For a practical and unique souvenir, browse the shops offering Japanese kitchen utensils, both traditional wood and bamboo items and modern, cleverly designed tools. Ornately decorated dishware and chopsticks are also available. Nori (sheets of dry seaweed), essential for making sushi rolls at home, and Japanese green tea can be easily packed away to bring home.
Eating in the Market
Enjoying a sushi breakfast is an integral part of any trip to Tsukiji. There are dozens of sushi restaurants scattered throughout the outer market and it is easy to tell which are the best—they have the longest queues outside. It is well worth the wait—and the cost—as the area has the freshest sushi in the world. Daiwa Sushi (Tsukiji Oroshiurishijo 6 Bldg.), just inside the inner market, has only one item, the chef's set (¥3,500), but it is a perennial favorite A cheaper and quicker option is sashimi donburi, an oversized bowl of steamed rice topped with slices of raw fish, omelet, and piquant wasabi paste. Kaisendon Oedo (Tsukiji Oroshiurishijo 8 Bldg.) is a no-frills restaurant that specializes in the dish, offering more than 30 different combinations of sashimi toppings.
Get to the market by 5 am if you want to see the tuna auction, and by 7 am if you want to browse the inner market.
In busy seasons (including December), visitors are completely barred from the auctions. At other times 140 are admitted between 5 am and 6:15 am on a first-come basis.
There is pungent water on the ground, so wear hiking boots or waterproof sneakers and casual clothing.
In the inner market, be especially careful of the delivery carts that zip around, rarely slowing down when someone gets in their way.
Photography is allowed in the auction, but flashes are strictly forbidden. Taking pictures in the inner market is acceptable, but it is good practice to ask the stall keeper before snapping away.
Never touch any seafood in the auction or anywhere in the inner market.
The inner market officially closes to visitors at 9 am, and the outer market is mostly closed down by 11 am.
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