An early wake-up call from our cosy beds was the start of whirlwind morning which was all done and dusted by 9am. Luckily jet lag was helping our ability to be up at 2.30am. Walking from our hostel through the empty streets, not really aware of what we had agreed to was a beautiful start to a hot sunny day. The walk was the only option, we couldn't afford a taxi and it was a long time before the first subway train would be running. Tsukiji Fish Market (Tsukiji Shijo) is located in the Tsukiji district, not far from the more well-known Ginza district in Tokyo. This market dates back to the 16th Century and is the largest wholesale fish market in Japan. To enter the auction you need to register and only a limited number of visitors are allowed into the auctions each day. The auctions only run on certain days so it is worth checking the calendar. Despite this we managed to get in on our day of choice and it was well worth the early start.
The Tsukiji Fish Market isn't for everyone, but being fascinated by markets this was one I was not missing. I certainly struggled with the scale of the market and the amount of sea life for sale in one place.
The tuna are laid out for inspection, the tails are removed to allow the quality of the fish to be visible to potential buyers. The buyers inspect the fish using weird hooks. Checking for fat and meat quality, they inspect the lots before the auction begins. This auction is an amazing sight, not only at the size of these powerful masters of the sea, but also the sheer numbers that are on sale. Whilst walking through the market we had to keep our wits about us, it's a working market with no lenience given for the less than agile tourists, trying to contend with the frigid temperatures, small spaces and knife wielding fishmongers. The auctions are noisy and fast-moving, I think we kept up with what was going on. Hand signals and lots of concentration seemed to be the key components to keeping up with the auction.
After the tuna auction it was time to wander around the wholesale market, heaven for knife collectors and those like me who love the variety and colours of a proper market. The sushi and ramen stands within the market provide an amazing breakfast option with fish that is so fresh it is almost breathing. The whole market was a whirlwind of energy which left us wondering whether we had dreamt it when we crawled back into bed mid-morning.
Whilst this was an interesting experience I do wonder about the sustainability of tuna fishing in Japan. This auction takes place on a regular basis with huge quantities of the fish being caught to sustain the demands of the consumers. Can the species withstand this commercial threat or will numbers continue to decline...
These photographs were taken on film and scanned following a visit to the Market in 2000
Photography at Tsukiji Fish Market
It is worth remembering that this is a working market and some stall holders are happy for you to take pictures, others are less keen. Discretion and speed is key to photographing this location. You have to get what you can, when you can. Flash photography is forbidden and will get you removed.
A higher ISO is essential as all the photography is indoors and other than the fish everyone is moving rapidly. Shutter priority helps as well. If you are feeling lazy given the time of day, sticking the camera on auto works equally well (but I didn't just say that!).
Aside from the tuna auction there are stunning stalls full of every type of sea creature imaginable calling out for a photograph as well as the sushi and ramen food stalls. It really is a case of wandering and seeing what you find. The main market opens at 9am to visitors so if you are not able to get up early or are not keen on the tuna auction then there is still a chance to visit.
Visiting Tsukiji Fish Market
The market is separated into two parts - Jōgai-shijō, the outer market where the sushi and ramen stalls are located and then the inner market called Jōnai-shijō. The inner market is where the wholesale fish is sold and the tuna auction takes place. The entrance to the inner market is next to Namiyoke Inari Shrine but the entrance to register for the tuna auction you need to find the Fish Information Centre at Osakana Fukyu Centre.
If you want to see the auction then you will need to walk or take a taxi as there is no public transport in Tokyo between 1am and 5am. Later in the day the closest station is Tsukiji Shijo station on the Toei Odeo line or Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line.