480 types of seafood, 270 kinds of produce, over $15 million in seafood exchanging hands daily…welcome to Tsukiji!

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Featured Picture ©Yasufumi Nishi / ©JNTO

The iconic and world-famous Tsukiji market is a major tourist attraction in Tokyo. Tsukiji opened in 1935 and quickly became the most famous wholesale market of over ten wholesale markets in Tokyo, and the largest fish market in the world. Tsukiji was not the original location of the fish market: it was initially in Nihonbashi, 3 kilometres north of Tsukiji. The Nihonbashi market was established in 1590 to sell extra fish that had been brought from Osaka for royalty at the Edo Castle. The Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 destroyed the market at Nihonbashi and Tsukiji was the selected location for the new market to be built.

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Tsukiji attracts 40,000 visitors daily. It also sees over 2,000 tons of marine products, 480 kinds of seafood and close to 300 kinds of fruit and vegetables exchanging hands per day. Nearly $8 billion of seafood is bought at Tsukiji every year. That equals more than $15 million daily! Some of the freshest seafood in the world can be found at Tsukiji, along with knowledge from experts about every different type of seafood that could possibly be consumed by humans. David Chang, the chef behind the Momofuku chain of restaurants, has described Tsukiji as “one of the great wonders of the world.”

Seafood selections (both domestic and imported) include uni (sea urchin), many different types of crab, scallops, squid, every fish imaginable, clams, octopus, shrimp, sardines and eels.

The market can be considered as divided into two main sections—the Outer Market and the Inner Wholesale Market, also known as the Tsukiji fish market. The Outer Market caters more to visiting tourists whereas the Inner Market is pretty much strictly about business. The fish market is most active from the wee morning hours until about 8 am. After 8 am, when the main business activity has slowed down and everything and everybody is slightly calmer, shops start selling their goods in smaller quantities to the public. Back in October 2016, due to concerns about unruly tourists interrupting business, it was established that visitors not on business are not allowed into the Inner Market until 10 am. This rule is still in place.

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Aerial view of the new market in Toyosu, approximately 2 km east of Tsukiji’s current location. The Toyosu market is expected to open this October.

Picture ©Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market

The next few months might be your last to visit the famous Tsukiji market, as a new fish market that will replace Tsukiji is scheduled to open this October. This new market will be in Toyosu, a former gas plant located to the east of Tsukiji. The site where Tsukiji now sits will be part of a “modernization” plan ahead of the 2020 Olympics, though the plan is to retain some areas of the market for future use. The new location will boast safety upgrades such as being better equipped to handle natural disasters, being outfitted with better re safety and sanitation areas as well as more effective refrigeration systems, solar panels and a green rooftop. Since hygiene and food safety issues will be better regulated at the new market, traders are hoping that this will make it even more alluring to foreign buyers, some of whom already plan their menus in places as far away as New York City and Toronto around what can be found in the wee hours of the day at the Tsukiji fish market.

For now, Tsukiji market is open all days of the week, save for Sundays, national holidays and some Wednesdays. Shops start opening at 5 am and most stay open until 2 pm. The wholesale areas open to the public starting at 10 am.

If wandering around the busy market seems daunting to you, you can always join an organized guided tour. Check out Tsukiji Sushi Insider for tours as well as getting access to the famous tuna auction.


See the Tuna Auction 

Frozen tunas are lined up according to size. Once the bell rings to indicate that bidding is open, a fascinating (and fast!) song and dance begins. Often, all of the fish are sold in under 15 minutes.

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380f5d_m_4CThere is a strict protocol that tourists hoping to take in some of the tuna auction must follow. Starting in the early hours of the morning, often well before 5 am, people start lining up at the Osakana Fukyu Center at the Kachidoki bridge, located at the most northwesterly section of the market. Places are first come, first served, and only two lucky groups of 60 people each are permitted entrance daily—one between 5:50 – 6:05 am and the second between 6:05 – 6:20 am. Visitors must view the auction from a designated area and are not permitted to use flash photography or do anything else that may interfere with the important business of selling tuna! The current aging infrastructure of the market simply does not allow for more visitors in the auction area. It is unknown at this time whether the market at Toyosu will be set up to allow for more guests to view the tuna auctions.

This past January, at the final New Year’s auction to ever be held at Tsukiji, a 400-kg tuna sold for $420,000 Canadian! Who buys these fish, you may be wondering? The answer is everybody—from grocery stores to small family restaurants to the very top restaurants in the world. Meticulous buyers come clad in rubber boots to inspect the quality of each fish using their keen sense of smell, touch and flashlights to look at the colour and texture of each fish before placing their bid.


Market No-Nos

Tsukiji is a bustling and chaotic place, and in order to keep visitors safe and market business running smoothly, there are several rules that should be followed. Some of the important ones:

1. No flip-flops

Besides being unsafe for potential slips and trips, flip-flops are an unsanitary choice of footwear through the often wet and slippery market. Same goes for high heels. Moreover, if you are spotted sporting any of these fashion faux-pas, you may be asked to leave.

2. Do not disturb

While it might be tempting to touch pretty (and/or delicious) goods as they pass you, pose with a writhing slippery eel or stop in the middle of traffic to Google what type of seafood just passed by, please don’t. Remember that the market is a place of business and respect this.

3. No large bags, suitcases or strollers

To avoid being the cause of traffic jams in the busy market, which has passageways that can be quite narrow, please leave all large items at home.

4. Kids-free zone

Small children, babies and pets alike might get hurt or lost in all of the chaos in the wholesale section of the market. Keep children in the Outer Market area, which is much more suited to visiting tourists.


Satisfy your various food cravings during your market visit

Perhaps some of the world’s freshest seafood options can be yours during an early morning visit to Tsukiji—uni, Japanese oysters (kaki), crab and fish caught earlier that morning and prepared in front of your still sleepy eyes. Or, you could opt for cooked options such as the popular street food takoyaki (round balls jam-packed with chewy pieces of octopus, fried and topped with dried bonito flakes and seaweed), deep-fried oysters or grilled fish or eel over rice.

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Market take-aways

Want to bring somebody back home a special little something? We’ve got a few suggestions that are sure to please (almost) everybody on your list.

1. Japanese bowls and dishes

The Japanese believe that food is enhanced by what it is served in, and Japanese dishes make very special gifts. Check out ichifuji shop for a wide selection of traditional tableware.

2. Japanese chopsticks

Traditional Japanese chopsticks make great souvenirs. Pick some up for everybody on your list from Komiyama Shoten, located in the Outer Market.

3. Knives

Gleaming and top-of-the-line specialty Japanese knives can be found at stalls in the market. Whether you are looking for a knife to slice sashimi or to be used as a regular kitchen knife, all options can be found at Tsukiji.

4. Nori

Japanese nori (seaweed) is of a much higher quality than you may be accustomed to. Another nori pro is that it is light enough to pack in your suitcase for all your family, friends and coworkers!

5. J tea

Many shops, including the popular Jugetsudou and Uogashi Meicha shops, stock many tea options for you to taste and then bring home with you. Popular teas include high-quality Japanese green teas and matcha powders.