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Everything you need to know about Tsukiji Market which fuels Japan’s culinary love affair with seafood:  detailed guide to the famous tuna auction, step-by-step self-guided tour of the Fish and Seafood Inner Market (Jonai-shijo) and Tsukiji Outer Market (Jogai-shijo), instructions on where to eat the best sushi, plus easy to follow directions, handy maps and a yearly calendar with days of operation.

History of Tsukiji Market

The very beginning of a Tokyo fish market dates back to the 16th century when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun and builder of Edo (Tokyo) invited fishermen from Tsukudajima, Osaka and gave them the license to fish in order to supply seafood to Edo Castle. The fishermen supplied fish to the Castle and sold the remains near the Nihonbashi bridge. It was the origin of “Uogashi” or a riverside fish market.

Then, to meet the growing demand for fish with the increase in population, Nihonbashi Uogashi was reformed and started to be run by wholesalers licensed by the Shogunate. They bought fish from local ports and sold them to the merchants in the market.

The vegetable and fruit markets also sprung out spontaneously around the same period in the suburbs of Edo and attained prosperity run just like the fish market by wholesalers and merchants.

Tsukiji Market – a Model of Efficiency

Despite its huge scale, Tsukiji Market is a model of efficiency. More fish pass through Tsukiji than any other market in the world. Some estimates suggest that the market does more than $4 billion in business a year.

The market sells over 480 different types of seafood each day, as well as 270 different types of produce.

There are some 900 licensed middlemen crammed into the market. Each of them has a small stall from which they conduct their business. And, it looked to me like they all do their accounting by hand.

The daily business at Tsukiji Market starts at 5 pm when the shipments begin to be received. Seafood and other produce pour in from various parts of the world until late into the night.

At 3 am wholesalers lay out the goods in preparation for the start of the auction and middlemen examine the quality. At 5:30 am the tuna auction starts and middlemen and authorized buyers bid against each other.

As soon as the auction is done, middlemen transport their winnings to their stalls and prepare them for the shoppers. The winnings of authorized buyers who participated in the auction are loaded on trucks and transported to their shops or restaurants.

By 11 am the cleaning, organizing and preparing for the shipments at 5 pm starts.

Plan Your Visit

The Tsukiji Market is typically closed on Sundays, holidays and most Wednesdays. But, other closures may occur and it is very important that you check the Tsukiji Market calendar before you go. The calendar is in Japanese but it is self-explanatory: the days marked in red are the days when market is closed.

Following is the link: Market Calendar

Another good website for planning your visit is: Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market

How to Get to Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market is located in the Tsukiji district in the heart of central Tokyo. It is bordered by the swanky shopping district Ginza, the Sumida River, the lovely Hamarikyu Garden and the lively Shimbashi.

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If you are taking Hibiya Line and coming from the north east direction, get off at Tsukiji Station; if you are coming from south west, then get off at Higashi-ginza.

Asakusa Line will get you to Tsukiji Market as well. You need to get off at Higashi-ginza. Once you get off the metro, follow the signs.

If you need help, just send me a message and I will help you figure it out.

Attached is a link to Tokyo Metro Map: Tokyo Metro Map

If you are planning on attending the auction, then you need to take a taxi or walk, because the metro starts operating at 5 am.

Tuna Auction at Tsukiji Fish Market

The most famous part of the market is the tuna auction. And, the star of the auction is the Pacific Bluefin tuna, considered in Japan to be the “King of Sushi”. Most bluefin tuna sell for between $2,000 and $20,000, depending on the size and the fat content which determines the taste of the fish.

Only 120 visitors (on a first-come, first-served basis; no reservation in advance) can view the auction each day.

Registration for the Tuna Auction

Registration for the auction takes place on the 1st floor of The Fish Information Center (Osakana Fukyu) which is located by the market’s Kachidoki bridge (Kachidoki Hashi) entrance, off Harumi Street (Harumi Dori).

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Registration for the auction starts at 5:00 am, but the line for the registration forms at about 3 am. You need to arrive by at least 3:30 am (4 am at the latest) to make the cut. My recommendation is to dress warm. You will be waiting outside for a while. So grab a jacket!

What to Expect

The visitors are divided up into two groups of 60 according to their time of arrival. The first group visits the tuna auction area from 5:50 am to 6:05 am. the second group visits the area from 6:05 am to 6:20 am.

Each group is given either bright green or bright blue vests to wear.

At about 5:25 am the visitors in the first group are aligned in a straight line and escorted to the auction area.

The visitor’s area is small and roped off from the rest of the room. You need to make sure to get in the front row to be able to take good pictures (flash is not permitted).

When I went to the auction, I thought that I would see fresh tuna. Nope, none of that. The auction is for the frozen tuna. By the way, the fresh tuna auction is held in another warehouse which is closed to the public.

So, you will see a lot of frozen tuna organized by size and you will observe several workers picking at the tuna’s cut tails and shining the flashlights at the meat. They are inspecting the quality of each catch and determining the initial bidding price.

Next, the auctioneer will stand on a podium and ring a bell to call everyone’s attention and the action will begin. It is a swift process, so you need to pay attention and take as may pictures as possible. Pay attention to the hand gestures and maybe you can manage to decipher the meaning of each hand movement. I tried and failed, but it was fun to watch. Listen to the auctioneer, his chant is so rhythmic, almost like a song that will stay with you for a while.

Self-guided Tour of Tsukiji Market

If you are going to skip the auction and tour the market by yourself, I am recommending that you arrive at about 8:30 am and take a stroll through Tsukiji Outer Market (Jogai-shijo) first, then proceed to Tsukiji Fish and Seafood Inner Market (Jonai-shijo) which opens at 10 am. You can finish your tour at Vegetables and Fruit Market.

You need to wear comfortable, no-slip, closed-toe shoes. You will be walking on wet, slippery surfaces. Bring a small bag or backpack only. If you are travelling with small children and have strollers, please note that strollers are not allowed in the Fish and Seafood Inner Market.

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

And finally, if you are planning to grab something to eat or purchase some trinkets, bring cash because only a few shops  and restaurants at the Tsukiji Outer Market accept credit cards.

I used the following map, which helped a lot. The three stars shown in the photo below correspond to the three main areas that you should visit in Tsukiji Market: Tsukiji Outer Market, Tsukiji Fish and Seafood Inner Market, Vegetables and Fruit Market. I will elaborate on these three areas throughout the rest of this post.

 

Tsukiji Market

It might feel overwhelming at first, but once you figure how to navigate the different sections, everything falls into place.

Tsukiji Outer Market (Jogai-shijo)

Here you will find a colorful array of shops and stalls. Take your time and meander through each row.

It is fun to watch the shop owners prepare the fish for sale. I think some of them like to be photographed and they will put a show on for you.

I loved the place and took a lot of pictures.

Make sure to check out some of the sushi restaurants. Believe me, after this tour is over, you will want to come back for lunch. So, as you are pushing your way through the narrow alleys, locate row six. The row numbers are painted on the side of the buildings. Here you will find two restaurants that are my top choices. You will not miss them because a line of customers will be in the front of them. The first one is: Sushi Daiwa (it has a green banner) and the second one is Sushi Zanmai.

Tsukiji Fish and Seafood Inner Market (Jonai-shijo)

At about 10 am make your way to Tsukiji Fish and Seafood Inner Market (Jonai-shijo). The market is a very fast- paced, noisy place. It is full of rumbling trucks, scooters passing through and trolleys whizzing down every alleyway at full speed, carrying boxes of fish from dealer to dealer. You will hear the constant buzz and screech of saws cutting through the frozen fish. Take your time to get acclimated to the hustle and bustle of the market. Make your way to the stalls and meander through this section. Space is tight here.

Check out the products for sale and watch the stall owners skillfully gut or debone the fish.

Vegetables and Fruit Market

Here the pace is slower, and the noise level is way down. Honestly, this section was my favorite of the entire tour. I was breathing deeply the wonderful aromas of fresh fruit and vegetables. I could have wandered here forever admiring the perfect specimens.

 

If you are ready for lunch, you should head back to Tsukiji Outer Market and have some sushi and pick up a few tchotchkes.

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

Please check out my other blog posts about Japan. If you are planning on going to Hiroshima, you might want to read: How to Take a Self-Guided Day Trip to Hiroshima

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Comments:

4 thoughts on “Tsukiji Market Should Be #1 on Your Tokyo Bucket List


Robert
2018-04-21

Far and away the best guide to the Tsukiji Fish Market I’ve been able to find — and I spent a long time searching. Thank you!

    2018-04-22

    Thank you for your kind comment! I so am glad you found my guide useful. I hope you found all the answers to visiting Tsukiji Market. It is one of the top attractions in Tokyo, not to be missed.

2019-06-09

I totally agree! For me, this market was one of the highlights of my trip to Japan 🙂

    2019-06-09

    Thank You, Iris!

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