Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo – A Guide to the Biggest Fish Market in the World
A guide to the Tsukiji Fish Market - the best and biggest place to see live tuna auctions, browse weird and wonderful fish and try the freshest sushi anywhere in Japan!
Tsukiji Market in Japan is the world’s largest fish market, handling around 2,888 tons of marine products daily. Among all the world’s fish markets, Tsukiji Market handles around 17% of the total fish. As a result of this, many people pay a visit to see the different kinds of fresh fish and other seafood items on display. The number of people, both locals and foreigners, has increased so much over recent years that it has become a problem for business; the market’s designers having not predicted it serving as a tourist spot.
Pre-bookings or reservations are not required to enter the market. Visitors can sign-up on the same day with registration starting in the early morning around 4.30am at the fish information center inside the Kachidoki Gate off Harumi Street. The auction starts at 5.00 am but is limited to only 120 people per day, admitted in two shifts of 60 and winding down by mid morning.
Apart from fish auctioning, the Tsukiji Market also deals in fruits, vegetables and meat. If it is difficult for you to come in the early morning to see the tuna auction, you can visit the inner and outer markets around 7.00am or 8.00am to try Sushi made from fresh fish, buy tuna or other items from the plethora of shops or simply browse lazily.
Visiting the Tsukiji market provides a great opportunity to learn about the functions of the fish wholesale market as it stands today in Japan. However, both wholesaling and reselling areas are busy places during the early morning hours.
Main sections of the Tsukiji Market
There are two main parts of the market: the outer market and the inner market. The outer market is held in a block on the other side of Harumi Dori with different types of small shops and chains, while the inner market is strictly for wholesalers with narrow paths, trolleys moving here and there and stalls selling everything from whale meat to star fish.
There are restaurants and stores where you can try fresh sushi in the outer market. You can also buy retail quantities of the fish and there are souvenirs on offer too. Opening hours for the retail market are normally from 5.00am to noon or mid-afternoon.
If you are planning to enter to the inner market before 9:00am to shop, you can cry “kaimono” (shopping) to the officials in the gate to indicate that you aren’t there just to see the fish and, potentially, get in the way. The inner market winds down around 10:00am, therefore if you are really there to see the fish you are supposed to visit the inner market between 9.00am and 10.00am.
For many visitors, the outer market is a better experience than the inner market as there are all sorts of food related goods, knives, fresh seafood and other produce for sale, although in smaller portions.
Breakfast in the Tsukiji Fish Market
A visit to Tsukiji Market is not complete without fresh sushi for breakfast from one of the many restaurants in the market. There are restaurants both in the inner and outer market area which are usually open from 5:00 in the morning to around noon or early-afternoon. There’s a variety of tasty raw fish items from kaisendon (seafood donburi) to sashimi at a low cost. Often, visitors are confused when attempting to select the best restaurant in the market. However, all the restaurants in the market offer an equally enjoyable meal and the prices don’t vary too much.
Activities taking place in the Tsukiji Market
5:00 pm (previous day) – Market begins to receive shipments (fresh food and other products) from various parts of the world by trucks, planes and ships until late night.
3:00 am – Wholesalers start laying out the goods for the auction. Middlemen examine the quality of the goods and estimate the prices while wholesalers arranging their goods.
5:30 am – Auction starts.
7:00 am – The goods middlemen have purchased at the auction are immediately taken away to their own stalls to sell for caterers and other purchasers.
8:00 am – Retailers load the goods which they have purchased at the auction or from middlemen onto their trucks and carry them back to their own shops in town.
11:00 am – Middlemen begin to clean their shops. Closing time is drawing near.
The market will be cleaned up in the afternoon to get ready for the next days transactions.
Things to remember
For the tuna auction, join the queue as early as possible
As a limited number of people are allowed to go inside, people start to queue from around 3am. The first 60 people are allowed to watch the auction between 5.25am and 5.45am and the next 60 between 5.50am and 6.10am. To be in one of those two sets of 60 people (120 people total) you need to be there early as possible.
Each batch will get vests, with two different colors to differentiate between the groups. If the vests have expired, you cannot go inside. Officials will be taking guests inside on the basis of first come first serve. During peak tourist times (spring and autumn) both sessions mostly fills up before 5:00am.
In Tokyo there are no 24 hour train or bus services. Trains start at 5:oo in the morning, not early enough should you want to get in line early. Therefore, the ideal thing to do would be to spend the night somewhere near the Tsukiji Market and go there as early as possible.
Open days and hours
Tsukiji Market is not open every day. Usually the market is closed on Sundays, National holidays and some Wednesdays. The tuna auction gets closed to tourists for a few weeks over New Year (usually from early December to mid January) to ensure a smooth and accident free course of business during the busy period.
As mentioned above, visitors are not allowed to enter the market at any time they like. There are specific time slots for each market when visitors can enter.
Outer Market: varies by shop, normally 5:00 to 14:00.
Wholesale Area: open to visitors after 9:00am.
Tuna Auction: open to visitors from 5:25 am to 6:15am.
Rules and regulations for the market
Stay in the correct areas
The market is busy during the auction and there are large number of buyers and sellers in the market during the morning hours. There are also a lot of trucks, forklifts and small vehicles moving around during these busy hours. Therefore, visitors have to be vigilant and are supposed to stay in the areas allotted to them to watch the auction. Entering into the restricted areas will result in expulsion from the whole market.
Do not obstruct traffic
If any visitor interrupts the auction or disturbs the flow of the business, the officials will again eject you. If you are polite, respectful and follow the rules the auction is a fantastic and unforgettable attraction.
No flash photography
Visitors are allowed to take videos and pictures inside the market but without the flash. Apparently, they have had problems in the past with flashes blinding people during the auction, resulting in bids being skipped over. Now they have a zero tolerance policy on flash photography. Therefore, remember to turn off the flash when you’re taking photographs.
High heels shoes or sandals are not allowed
Make sure to wear closed toe shoes such as sneakers or boots as sometimes your shoes may get wet.
Food and drink are not permitted
You cannot take any food items or drinks inside the waiting room or inside the market.
Wear appropriate clothes
The room temperature of the auction area is low as the tuna must remain frozen. Therefore, it is better if you can take warm clothes with you when you’re going inside.
Large bags and backpacks are not allowed
You cannot take large bags,suitcases and backpacks inside the market.
No smoking inside the market
You cannot smoke once you enter into the market.
Pets and small children are not allowed
Children and pets are not allowed as it is not a safe place for small kids or animals. Therefore, if you bring your kids, officials at the gate will not allow them entry to the market to watch the auction.
How to get to the Tsukiji Market
Tsukiji Market is just above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line. Alternatively, it can be reached by a five minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. The closest JR station is Shimbashi, from where you can walk to the market in about 15 minutes.
From Tokyo Station- Take the Marunouchi Subway Line from Tokyo to Ginza (3 minutes) and transfer to the Hibiya Subway Line to get to Tsukiji Station (3 minutes). The fare is 170 yen.
From Shinjuku Station- Take the Oedo Subway Line directly from Shinjuku Station to Tsukiji Shijo Station. The one way trip takes 20 minutes and costs 270 yen.
Sadly, the market will be moved to Toyosu from November 7th, 2016. Poor sanitation levels and a lack of space in the current market being the main reasons for the move. Moving the market to a new location will help to improve the standards of the Tokyo fish industry and allow business to run more smoothly; the new area will have three separate buildings and the auctioning space will be placed in one facility and intermediate wholesalers will be located in a separate area. The new market will surely be a modern marvel, but nothing can replace the character and history of the old Tsukiji market.
The auction at the Tsukiji market is one of the best free things to do in Tokyo. If you’re in the area, do not forget to add this place to your list!