The Largest Japanese Fish Market is Closing Down!

It’s true. The largest fish market in the world, Tsukiji Fish Market, will be closing its doors in 2013. Running for 78 years and being the largest wholesale fish market in the world, Tsukiji is a national landmark. However, it has struggled with the increasing number of visitors and old, rundown facilities.

To make matters worse for Tsukiji fans, tourists have even been banned from watching the fish auctions until January 19, 2013 in order to keep business running smoothly during the busy holiday season. How will we carry on?

A Light at the End of the Destruction

Photo by Martin Bailey

Fear not, my friends – Tsukiji will be reopening at a different location in Toyosu, Koto (only ten minutes away) come 2014. This new 408,000 square meter facility will be about 40% bigger than the current market. A surprising fact is that most of this increased size was deemed necessary because of how much traffic the market gets from tourists wanting to see the market. And then there’s also the fact that the market is just plain old and could use a face lift.

I mean, there’s no way they could close this place down for good. It’s the biggest fish market in the world. So much money exchanges hands here. People can spend upwards of $50,000 on a single fish here. Yes, it is that ridiculous.

And as we all know, the Japanese are super big on seafood being an island nation and all. They even have a restaurant where you can catch your own fish inside the establishment. How cool is that? I want to go to there. Unfortunately I’ve not been to Tsukiji before either, but it really does look like a neat place to visit.

Tsukiji market also showed up in the super popular Japanese movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which we wrote a little about a while back. There’s no denying that seafood is important to the Japanese, so there’s no way they’d close a place like Tsukiji for good.

A Bit of History, a Video, and Some Rules

Photo by Erik Bergin

In 1657, Edo (present day Tokyo) was ravaged by the Great Fire of Meireki. The Tokugawa shogunate then decided to reclaim the land from Tokyo Bay and name it Tsukiji, literally meaning “constructed land”. Then in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed much of central Tokyo, including the Nihombashi Fish Market. The fish market was then relocated to Tsukiji and began its operations in 1935 as Tsukiji Fish Market. The fish market was mainly responsible for making the city as successful and as prosperous as it was and still is.

The market and the city continued to grow, even more so with the economic boom in the 1980s. Worldwide travel was becoming more commonplace, and foreigners started to show much more of an interest in Japanese food. Tsukiji Fish Market has been attracting tourists ever since.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PoNUj7tMv8']

For something as wild as Tsukiji Market, I think it’s best experienced through video since it’s kind of hard to really get a good feel for the scope of the place just by reading about it. So if you have the time, I suggest you take a look at the above video which does a great job giving you the full Tsukiji experience.

Since Tsukiji is so popular and attracts so many visitors, they even have a set of rules for visitors posted on their official website.

  • Vehicles have the right of way.
    Cars, trucks, and turret trucks are used to transfer merchandise within the market. Please give them priority and stay out of their way. Your safety is our main concern. (Please be extra careful when you are taking photos…watch out behind you!)
  • Please do not touch the food.
    The Tsukiji Market people pride themselves in providing fresh food to their customers. When fresh fruits, vegetables, and raw fish are handled by visitors (and many visitors come to Tsukiji), the merchandise lose their freshness. We hope you understand.
  • Bargaining is generally not done.
    People aren’t used to bargaining in Tokyo. It is not part of their culture. If you press, you may end up offending the store owner!
  • Please be considerate of others.
    Restaurants in the Tsukiji Outer Market tend to be small with limited seating. Sometimes even lines form outside. Depending on the time of day, you may have to keep up with the eating pace of the locals. (Yes, they eat fast because they have to go back to work.) Also, splitting meals is generally a taboo during the busy hours.
  • The phrase “Thank you!” is welcomed.
    People in the market are usually nice, friendly, and polite. When the act is reciprocated, you will be greatly appreciated. So please remember to say thank you–“Arigatou!” when someone helps you.

And for those really interested in visiting Tsukiji now, or in the future, here’s a great link from Japan-Guide covering all the details you’ll need when visiting Tsukiji Fish Market.

Concerns About the New Tsukiji

Old Tsukiji on the left, new Tsukiji on the right.

The relocation of the Tsukiji market to Toyosu has been moving forward despite concerns over the safety of the new site due to health issues. Tokyo Gas Co., which had a factory there, revealed in 2001 that the area contains high levels of lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cyanogen, and benzene. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has insisted the safety of the new site can be ensured. Surprisingly, not everyone is convinced.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that everyone’s favorite fish market that’s been around forever is closing, the new one is going to be built right on top of a contaminated site. Lots of people are understandably upset with this. Hopefully the government does as promised and gets it all cleaned up so everyone can happily buy fish with confidence once again.

I really hope that everything goes well for the new Tsukiji. It’s pretty impressive that the current market has continued to do so well, being so big and old and “behind the times” and all. The new market could really be an awesome and impressive thing as long as they do everything right. I’m excited.


So tell me, have you ever been to Tsukiji before? Would you want to visit if you haven’t? What do you think about them deciding to move its location to the site of an old gas factory? Let us know down below!

  • DAVIDPD

    Woah. I am sad. Now I will never see Tsukiji. The new one sounds pretty badass though…

  • http://twitter.com/annapeasoup Anna P.

    Wow, this is sad, especially since I’ve never been to the old Tsukiji, even after being to Japan twice :/

  • Dean T

    Theirs definitely something fishy going on here.

  • JaysFreaky

    What’s going to be in the old market once they move?

  • DAVIDPD

    Boo. Hiss. Groan.

  • Tora.Silver

    Was that pun on porpoise?

  • lawnmowerlatte

    I’m really glad I got up extra early and went when I had the chance.

  • http://twitter.com/chrispynutt Christopher Nutt

    Man I love Begin Japanology with Peter Barakan. I hope you cover Peter some time.

  • Bussan

    I have been to tsukiji a few times. usually to eat the fresh sushi. And when I say eat I mean Breakfast. Cause according to my wife that’s when it is freshest.

    If it really is moving to that contaminated place, I like most japanese people will not,be going anymore.

    (people are still paranoid about stuff since the earthquake/radiation , so that most people wont buy food from the north)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I’ve never visited. I’ve been to so many fish markets in Japan, I don’t think that just because it’s the biggest it would be that much different. I enjoy the smaller fish markets with almost zero tourists around! ^-^;

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Deanty, water you doing? That was way too punny. You need to scale it back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Greenwald/1818084312 Scott Greenwald

    I’ve been to Tsukiji several times. My favorite thing to buy is fresh tarako… and whale bacon. Don’t worry, its not the endangered, whale-wars kind. When in rome…

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    Despite all the griping here, given how extremely busy Tsukiji can be between 0300 and 0900 hours and the extremely crowded conditions, moving it to a new location is a good idea. That way, with way more room, all the seafood coming in can be moved around a lot easier.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anna.cojocaru.7 Cojocaru Ana

    loved the video :)

  • kuyaChristian

    For a second, I thought I was reading the comments in a Cracked article

  • John

    lol, you guys

  • John

    I think they’re keeping it open but with a much smaller volume than before. I read it somewhere, but I can’t seem to remember what they said exactly, but I’m pretty sure they’ll still be using the old one for something.

  • John

    Yeah, I only went once and I didn’t even think to visit :(

  • Katie

    I lived in Japan for two years, back in the US now, but I’ll be visiting Japan in the spring again — I never went to Tsukiji before, suppose I thought it’d always be there… I hope I’ll get to check it out before it closes! More than that, I hope I’ll get to go back to Japan to work again… :( Waah! :/

  • jhonuyba

    We have a whole lot of fish in your diet i share with u a site visit it one pound fish you know that 1 pound of going where the fish can be found in

  • http://twitter.com/sanako_glumpf さなこ-ちゃん

    same! i want them to do an article on nhk world too!

  • TB

    I’m surprised at the news but it makes sense. I visited in 2007 and it was a bit crazy even then; carts flying by and narrow corridors. I can imagine a larger space would do it good.

  • Mule67

    Ahhh… the good old days at Tsukiji. When I went there in the ’70s, I was the only gaijin there! Check out my pictures @ my Flickr site:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruap1967/sets/72157624776666541/

    Enjoy!
    Mule67

  • succhan33

    My mom’s from the Tsukiji area and the people there don’t seem too happy about the move.

  • Sweetcheet

    Sad. I’ve been to Tsukiji and it’s a mix of busy workers, traffic, protocol and unique foods not seen as available elsewhere. Definitely beyond the scope of just a quick view, but stay out of the way. People are working here and it’s only fresh for so long! The workers are moving quickly and some vendors are more open to visitors than others. I feel badly for the shops surrounding the soon-to-be old Tsukiji, as their livelihood is being diminished. Only ten minutes away is okay, the vendors from across the metro area can travel there, so a little farther is not a problem for supply, but these little shops count on foot traffic that is leaving the area. Glad I was able to see the morning auctions and pick up some items. Here’s hoping that the new truly improves on the old, instead of just making it bigger.

  • http://twitter.com/brinah1 Sabrina

    I think the tourists are a distraction to business

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicholas.chan.902 Nicholas Chan

    Been there a couple of times. Fantastic place Uber fantastic food. Bustling crowd starting from the early morning till about noon. You should definitely visit if possible, for the kitchen equipment and odds n ends if not for the food :)