Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market Before it Moves!
Top Things to Do – In Tokyo: This is part of an ongoing series that will highlight fantastic finds and things to see, do, drink, and eat in Tokyo.
A Visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market
The world’s largest, and in our view best and busiest, Tsukiji fish market is a favorite destination for jet-lagged tourists, providing a fantastic alternative to lying in bed wide awake in the early morning hours.
The main reason for going early (5 a.m.) is to catch the live tuna auctions. It used to be open to the entire public, but some unruly tourist behavior several years back led to restrictions on access. So be respectful, and be aware that access is now on a first-come, first-serve basis, and limited to 120 people, admitted in two shifts of 60. You can register starting at 4:30 a.m. at the fish information center just inside the Kachidoki Gate off Harumi Street.
The Tsukiji fish market is officially open to the public at 9 a.m. which is a more civilized hour, but keep in mind that by 9 a.m., businesses are already starting to wind down. You’ll still see plenty of fish and fishmongers, but make sure you get towards the back stalls of the market to see some of the large tuna and larger knives being used in artful unison.
A visit to the Tsukiji fish market will likely put you in the mood for sushi, even at breakfast time. There are plenty of sushi counters here, but we recommend you wind your way to the restaurant area near the wholesale fruit and vegetable market, and find a counter tucked deep within and off the main streets. Prices can get a bit steep and truth be told the myriad of sushi shops are heavily touristed, but the fish is undeniably some of the freshest you will experience anywhere.
And if you really want to go local, look for the beef bowl and noodle stands popular with the local Tsukiji workers ending their shift. Here you’ll find fantastic, filling and very affordable food.
If you prefer to be more hands on and have access to a kitchenette or a kitchen, you can buy fish directly from numerous vendors. Language could be a challenge, but if you’re determined and sincere and really want to buy and prepare your own seafood, you’ll have no problems attaining what you want. Some of our favorites to purchase are whole uni (sea urchin) which can make a fantastic and easily prepared snack or smaller blocks of maguro (tuna) and chutoro, meaning “middle” tuna from nearer the belly with a higher fat content than maguro, but not as high a otoro which is the fattiest and most expensive meat from the tuna.
And take the time to stroll the outer market stalls where proprietors sell their produce, products, and supplies required of the vast and exceptional Tokyo restaurant community to round out their menus after having secured their seafood from the inner market next door. Here you can sample the many flavors and accompaniments first hand, like many kinds of specially prepared tamago-yaki (basically a Japanese style omelet), rice toppings, pickled vegetables of all kinds, dashi (soup broths and stocks) and seaweed varieties too numerous to count.
BUT HURRY! – The market is being moved to a brand new state of the art facility in the middle of Tokyo Bay near the end of 2016. This market and its truly unique ecosystem will be gone then. Don’t miss out on what, to us, is one of the truly great food heritage experiences in the world.
Take the Oedo line to Tsukiji-Shijo station, exit A1. You can also take the Hibiya line of the Tokyo Metro to Tsukiji station.