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Published: October 12th 2014
Welcoming you to the fish market. The Sumida river lies to the left about a hundred yards
I had been given a tip from a co-worker about Tsukiji
and decided it was something I would check out. I am certainly glad I did, I found the wholesale market fascinating with the different kinds of fish that were for sale, and what kinds could be kept alive and how and those that could not. Here you can buy fish as small as Krill (likely freeze dried) and as large as whole fish or chunks of Tuna. The market itself is quite large, about 3 blocks by 3 blocks. It is bounded by Harumi Dori on the North and East sides, Shin-Ohashi Dori on the North and West sides, and the Sumida river on the South side.
There are a few things of interest within the confines of the market itself : The wholesale (inner) area of the market, the outer area of the market which includes Restaurants, plenty of vendors selling fish, food, knives to the public, and then of course the live Tuna auction that can be observed for free. The restaurants open very early, I saw people waiting in line for Sushi prior to 6am.
The wholesale area of the market is off limits to
Live Tuna Auction Kiosk/Registry
Get here early. To find this entrance, follow Harumi Dori from Shin-Ohashi Dori toward the Sumida river. You will find this Kiosk just before reaching the Sumida river
visitors until 9am, and I would guess that is because prior to that time of day it is very busy in that area and people simply just observing would get in the way. However, it is still a pretty interesting place even after 9am. You can still find people in that area cutting raw tuna with the long knives (Honcho), using band saws to cut frozen Tuna, some excising the last Tuna flesh from their heads (yep, in their forehead area and around the eye sockets), and plenty of fish for wholesale. I walked around in this area for quite some time, maybe 90 minutes, before I had seen enough.
I also had heard about the live Tuna auction and thought that might be interesting too, to see how much and how heavily contested certain fish might be. I was a bit naive in these respects. Here is the deal. They let in 120 people to observe the Tuna auction every day, and there is a good amount of interest in this. The sign on the door to where you wait to be granted entrance (Find the Eastern most entrance to the market by following Harumi Dori nearly to
These were being driven all over the place, and the earlier you get to the market, the more of these you see being driven around. The market is a very busy place at 5am
the Sumida river) says to arrive there between 3:30 and 4am. I ended up getting there at 3am, and ended up being about the 12th person in line, so I got in no problem. They will first usher everyone into a holding room where you are given a yellow vest that you are to wear in the market at all times. Then you simply wait for the time to arrive, and then you are escorted as a group back into the auction area. The 120 people are organized into two groups. The first group gets to observe the activity in this portion of the market from 5:25 until 5:45am or so, and then the second group arrives about 10 minutes after that and gets to watch a second auction. The auction is held in a large refrigerated room, and the Tuna are frozen and lying on the concrete floor. Each fish has been gutted and had its tail lopped off, but its head is still intact on the body unless there was some kind of mishap while handling it. In the end I didn't find the auction all that interesting. It did appear though that they have two auctions each
day, and the bidders are bidding on the entire lot of fish for sale rather than individually. I have included photos of the auction area and one brief video of the auction itself, and I am still glad I got up early to experience it.
Short video of the live Tuna auction :
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