EVEN before I even stepped on the Japanese soil, I was already scouting for a hotel in the Ginza area. It’s in close proximity to the famed fish market, Tsukiji Fish Market, which was part of my “must visit” list. But I didn’t have that need to book for a hotel for my accommodation thanks to the hospitality of a Dabawenyo family who welcomed me to their home.
The biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind is located in Tsukiji in Central Tokyo, near the Ginza’s upscale shopping district.
It was in the Edo period when the first fish market was established to provide and serve food at the Edo Castle. Fish not bought by the castle ended up sold at the “uogashi” (meaning fish quay), the wholesale market that lined the canals of Edo near the Nihonbashi bridge.
The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake devastated much of Tokyo, the Nihonbashi fish market included; the market was then relocated to Tsukiji district, which began operating in 1935 after the construction of the modern market facility was completed.
Tsukiji market today is one of Tokyo’s major tourist attractions. It attracts big crowd of both local and foreign tourists when it’s open (except Sundays, holidays and some Wednesdays) and is busiest around 5:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Operations start at 3 a.m. when the stocks are unloaded and the oroshigyosha (wholesalers of auction houses) evaluates the values of the products for auctioning. The buyers are present to inspect the goods and select which they are going to bid for.
At around 5:20 a.m. to 7 a.m., the auctioning takes place in the “jonai-shijo” (inner market) where only the licensed bidders (wholesalers with stalls in the marketplace, restaurant owner, agents, etc.) are allowed to participate.
No one else is permitted to enter. On a first-come, first-served basis, 120 sightseers (per day) are allowed to witness the proceedings from a designated area.
As early as 5:30 a.m. the “jogai-shijo” (outer market) starts to get busy as well. This area holds wholesale shops and retail stalls selling all kinds of Japanese kitchen gadgets and restaurant supplies, seafood, sushi shops and restaurants.
We arrived a little after 8 a.m., which was late by Tsukiji standard, but the place was still quite busy.
I didn’t see the inner market. But as we wove our way around the stalls and lanes located on the outer portion of the market, we had to stop by at several stalls to buy what was offered—large-sized steamed oysters, roasted large abalones, tamago, uninikuman (sea urchin in a bun), stewed and fried fish, and sweetened Konnyaku strips that’s similar to fruit jelly; checked out other products widely used for Japanese cuisine (it is said that the market has more than 400 different types of seafood from cheap seaweed to the most expensive caviar, from sardines to giant tunas); and cooking implements from woks to knives of varied sizes.
I was craving for the sushi sampler (ten kinds of sushi), which was served in almost all of the restaurants in the vicinity. However, the lines were long and it would take hours before my turn would come. This was something I have to come back for, I said to myself.
The inner market closed early while most of the shops in the outer market will call it a day at 11 a.m. but some extend until after noontime.
Having our fill of seafood, we made our way to Ginza on foot to burn the calories and do a little shopping.
To get to Tsukiji market: the market is a few meters walk from Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo Line and Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.
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