The Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the largest wholesale seafood market in the world handling over 2,000 tonnes of marine products per day. The traditional market, a dependable source for Japanese cooks and seafood aficionados, will relocate in 2014.
A giant establishment deserves a big name: the official name of the market is “The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market”, but because of its location in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo, the outfit is commonly known as Tsukiji Fish Market. This enterprise is the biggest wholesale fish and shellfish market in the world and one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind.
The market is better known because of the large amount of seafood it handles every day, but it is also a concern wholesaling copious quantities of fruits and vegetables. The market lies next to the Sumida River, not far from the famous Ginza area, and a bit over two kilometres from the moats surrounding Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
Large forklifts transport boxes with seafood within the market.
History of the market
Tsukiji Market has a long history. The fish selling business in this area of Tokyo started in the early XVII century shortly after Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate (Edo Period), converted de city of Edo (modern day Tokyo) in the capital of Japan.
Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered Osaka fishermen to bring seafood to Edo to provide fish and shellfish to Edo Castle, currently the Imperial Palace of the Emperor of Japan. Aiming to please, the fishermen always brought more fish than the amount required and started selling the surplus near the Nihonbashi Bridge, a wooden bridge built in 1603 over the river of the same name. Several subsidiary markets followed most of which were destroyed by the great Kantō earthquake and 12-meter-high tsunami of 1923, the deadliest earthquake in Japanese history.
After the earthquake, a new central market was built by the Sumida River on lands reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. The Tsukiji Market started operations at its present location in 1935. There are several other markets in Metropolitan Tokyo; however, Tsukiji handles about 90 percent of the seafood sold in the city.
Fresh and frozen seafood products are neatly displayed at the Intermediate Wholesalers Area.
Activities at Tsukiji Market start in the very early morning hours. By 3 AM fresh and frozen seafood products coming to Tokyo from all over the world by plane, boat or truck, arrive to the market. The marine products traded at the market represent no less than 450 species of fish, shellfish and seaweeds. At 5AM begins the product’s inspections and auctions.
A highlight of operations is the tuna auction where authorized buyers bid for groups or individual Bluefin or Yellowfin tuna. In January 2012, in a record-breaking transaction at Tsukiji fish market, a 269-kilogram bluefin tuna caught off northern Honshū was auctioned for 56.5 million yen (about US$685,000, current exch. rate).
The lively auction attracts many tourists, but attendance by visitors is tightly restricted and regulated, and it is often suspended altogether. When accessible, visitors with reservations may observe the auctions between 5:25 and 6:15 AM. At 9:00 AM opens the Intermediate Wholesalers Area which is also open to the public subject to restrictions mostly related to hygiene and photography. The immense market area is a very hectic place. A multitude of trucks, electric carts, forklifts, trolleys, handcarts, and even bicycles, move hastily around the 1500 stalls distributed in the 57 acres of the market.
Frozen fish and fresh squids on sale at the intermediate wholesalers area of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
The workers seem to reluctantly tolerate the presence of the visitors and regularly succeed in their efforts not to hit people with their vehicles; however, walking around the market requires visitors to maintain a high level of alertness in what is considered a very dangerous place. There is a particularly busy intersection within the market which during the morning hours is attended by a traffic director (original [IIS] video below) who most of the time manages to persuade drivers and public to respect his gestures.
New market planned
As large as it is, Tsukiji Market has become crowded and somewhat decrepit. The Tokyo Metropolitan government has decided to move the market from Chuo Ward to Toyosu district in Koto Ward by the end of 2014. There have been objections to the relocation because the new site is contaminated with higher than acceptable levels of carcinogens and other toxins. However, the authorities have said the Metro government will use "the wisdom of our nation's leading scholars" to clean the land at the site. According with the plans, the new Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market at Toyosu will be about 40 percent larger than Tsukiji Market.
Red octopuses are some of the most colourful marine creatures sold at the Tsuliji market.