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
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
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.
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!