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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.tsukiji-market.or.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).)
Cicada. Offering up high-end Mediterranean cuisine in an incredibly stylish setting, Cicada's resortlike atmosphere feels a world away from Ometosando's busy shopping streets. In the warmer months, the outdoor patio is especially relaxing. The menu ranges from Spanish tapas and Middle Eastern mezze to hearty grilled meats and seafood. An expansive wine list and craft beers complement the range of cuisine, and the outdoor bar makes a great spot for a nightcap. Though spacious, this popular restaurant fills up quickly, so dinner reservations are recommended. 5–7–28, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. 03/6434–1255. www.tyharborbrewing.co.jp/jp/cicada.
Harajuku Taproom. Founded by American Bryan Baird in 2000, Baird Brewing has become one of the leaders in Japan's relatively new craft beer movement. The Harajuku Taproom combines Baird's excellent lineup of microbrews with Japanese izakaya (pub) fare like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), gyoza (dumplings), and curry rice. The Taproom's rotation of 15 beers on tap, plus two hand-pumped ales, as well as its quality food and friendly atmosphere make it a must for beer lovers and will dispel any notion that all Japanese beers taste the same. 1–20–13, Jingumae, No Surrender Bldg. 2F, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. 03/6438–0450. www.bairdbeer.com/en/taproom/harajuku-taproom.
New York Grill & Bar. The Park Hyatt's 52nd floor bar and restaurant may have come to international fame thanks to Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, but expats and locals have long known that it's one of the most elegant places to take in Tokyo's nighttime cityscape over a steak or cocktail. The restaurant menu features excellent steaks and grilled seafood in the evening, and has one of the city's best lunch buffets during the day. If the restaurant is out of your budget, then come instead to the bar when it opens (before a cover charge is added to your bill) and enjoy a drink as the sun sets over the city. Park Hyatt Tokyo, 52nd floor, 3–7–1, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 163-1055. 03/5322–3458. www.tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/NewYorkGrill.html.
Nihonbashi Yukari. Anyone looking to experience Japanese haute-cuisine in a more relaxed atmosphere should look to this kappō-style restaurant. Third-generation chef—and 2002 Iron Chef champion—Kimio Nonaga displays his artistry in every element of Nihonbashi Yukari's menu. Dinner here is a multicourse affair, with each dish showcasing the freshness and quality of the seasonal ingredients. To witness him at work, and get the full kappō dining experience, be sure to request a counter seat when making reservations. As a bonus, Nihonbashi Yukari also offers a lunch setting for around ¥3,500, which is unusual for this kind of restaurant. 3–2–14, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. 03/3271–3436. www.nihonbashi-yukari.com. Reservations essential. closed Sunday.
Rose Bakery. Satisfying the need for light, healthy food that is neither raw nor fried, this airy but rather nondescript bakery and café serves up a tasty selection of salads, quiches, vegetables, and other deli-style dishes. Although the interior's rows of tables and blank white walls can feel a bit too much like a hip reinterpretation of a school cafeteria, Rose Bakery is a good bet for a quick lunch or pastry while out wandering the Ginza area. 6–9–5, Ginza, Ginza Komatsu West Wing 7F, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. 03/5537–5038. www.rosebakery.jp. Reservations not accepted.
Sake no Ana. With roughly 130 varieties of sake from all over Japan available by the carafe, Sake no Ana (literally, "the sake hole") does seem to feature a bottomless variety of the drink. The restaurant has its own sake sommelier, Sakamoto-san, who can help diners sort (or drink) through the restaurant's immense selection. Though most sake-specialty restaurants are open only for dinner, Sake no Ana is also open for lunch, good for those who want to space out their sampling of Japan's unofficial national drink. The food is classic izakaya fare, and at lunchtime there are hearty donburi dishes, large bowls of rice topped with seasonal sashimi or beef simmered in a sweet soy broth. 3–5–8, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. 03/3567–1133. www.sakenoana.com.
Tachigui Sakaba buri. "One cup" sake—a single serving of sake in what looks a bit like a small mason jar—is usually bottom-of-the-barrel convenience store swill. Buri, however, turns the concept on its head by offering tasty ji-zake (local sake) from around Japan in the one-cup style, pairing it with a range of tapas-like servings of sashimi, yakitori, salads, and prosciutto. Just a five-minute walk from Ebisu Station, this casual, standing-only restaurant/bar fills up quickly on weekends, so it's best to stop in early if you want to grab a table. 1–14–1, Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. 03/3496–7744. No credit cards.
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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