2015-06-30

Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場)

The main avenue leading to the market.
I have to say, my visit to Tsukiji Fish Market was a partial failure!

This gate belongs to Namiyoke Inari Shrine (波除稲荷神社),
The temple is hundreds of years old and the market was
built around it, thereby leaving it intact.
You see, my plan was to go to bed early the day before I planned to visit, wake up at around 2am, and grab a taxi to the market in order to sign up to see the auctions which take place in the 5 o'clock hour and end in the 6 o'clock hour. Tons of tourists would like to watch the auctions, yet there is not enough room in the market for the crowds. Therefore, only 120 people are allowed into the market per day. Luckily it's free, but you must get there extremely early in the morning to secure a place in either the 5:25 am to 5:50 am group or 5:50 am to 6:15 am group; 60 visitors are allowed to enter the market during each block of time.

Unfortunately, I came back to my apartment late the day before, so I woke up too late to sign up for the free tour. What a bummer! Fortunately, I still got out of bed early enough to catch the hustle and bustle at the market.

Tsukiji Fish Market is easily accessible. Simply take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Tsukiji Station. Luckily, I was only two stops away (Kayabacho Station was 10 minutes from my apartment). The Tsukiji Fish Market is listed on the exit directory. I remember there is a Denny's restaurant adjacent to the correct exit. You'll simply have to walk north away from Denny's for almost 10 minutes until you see the market on your left.

Hard at work.
Once you enter Tsukiji Fish Market, you begin to understand why it's a must-visit place. Being in the market is almost like entering another world where fishermen, fish mongers, restauranteurs and produce shop keepers rule. Tourists are advised to stay out of the way and respectively watch from the sidelines. Those who forget to do this are quickly reminded by the large, awkward vehicles used to move gigantic tuna around; they stop for no one, they have a schedule to keep! However, if you do happen to get in a worker's way (like I accidentally did a couple of times!), they are quite forgiving about it. Not only do the workers at the market bear the success of seafood restaurants and homemade sushi dinners on their shoulders, but they invite visitors into their world without compensation. They are truly an admirable group, and I felt fortunate to watch them work. Fish mongers filleting freshly caught tuna, old ladies neatly arranging all kinds of produce, restaurant owners buying only the freshest for their customers to enjoy later in the day - it's fun to watch, even if you aren't a foodie.

Fresh wasabi (ワサビ)!
I wanted to buy some, but I wouldn't know what to do with it!
A map of the market with the
restricted areas labeled.
(Source)
It's important to note that while the market is open to the public, there are certain sections where visitors are strictly prohibited. The morning tours are in the restricted area, but as I stated earlier, you must sign up in order to enter. There is no need to worry about wandering into a prohibited sector of the market though; most are clearly gated off. However, some restricted areas open to the public after certain times.

Nonetheless, there's much to explore in the open areas. I think two hours is a reasonable amount of time to spend exploring the market and having breakfast there, unless you plan to eat morning sushi at one of the more popular restaurants within the market...then you'll be waiting upwards of two hours just to get a seat - not an exaggeration! According to what I've read online, several tourist feel the meals they had at those restaurants justify the wait, but I'm a "time is money" tourist; I don't like to have long periods of down time when I'm on an already short vacation. To me, an hour should be used more economically! Therefore, I skipped the expensive restaurants for a more laid-back visit.
video

I had no specific agenda at the market other than to see the auction and eat tons of 美味しいもの (oishii mono, yummy things). I missed the auction, but I was still lucky to catch fish mongers in the open area cutting the famous huge tuna. You can view a short clip of one at work on the left. (You can also see one of the venders almost drop a bag of fish toward the end!)

Around the market, there are several stalls selling small snacks. They're a great option if you aren't interested in sitting down for a meal. One of the most popular snacks at the market actually isn't fish - it's omelette or tamagoyaki (卵焼き). Japanese omelette is made is a square-shaped pan which gives it a perfectly rectangular appearance when it's completed. Naturally, larger omelettes require more eggs and patience to make. In a bustling restaurant, there isn't much time to babysit a dish like tamagoyaki which is usually used as a side-dish or ingredient for a bigger meal. Thus, it's not uncommon to see chefs come to the fish market to buy the day's tamagoyaki for their businesses! So, if you're eating tamagoyaki somewhere in Tokyo, there is a chance it was purchased at Tsukiji Fish Market. 

Sweet omelette (amai tamagoyaki, 甘い卵焼き).
Both sweet and savory omelettes are sold
from several stalls in the market.
I bought my tamagoyaki from this stall.
Individual servings come from the glass store case,
but patrons can also buy larger omelettes to take home.















Display cases appear to be a must in the Japanese food business.
Here, customers can clearly see the myriad of tamagoyaki sold.
As a result of World War II, the Japanese influence on Taiwansese culture is evident, especially when it comes to food. Tianbula (甜不辣), a popular Taiwanese snack, is actually a take on the skewers normally found in oden (おでん), a Japanese soup which mainly consists of fishcakes - not tempura (天ぷら), deep fried meat and vegetables, as it's name suggests. At Tsukiji Fish Market, I indulged in a number of fishcakes and fishballs which I came to love after moving to Taiwan. Fishcakes and fishballs are like eatable works of art; there are so many colors, shapes, and consistencies it's difficult to get bored of them!

These fishcakes were fried but still chewy.
These fish balls were dense and meaty.
I believe the middle piece was chikuwabu (ちくわぶ),
a wheat gluten product, not fish.




A giant fishball with assorted "pour it yourself" sauces.
This was one of the best morsels I had at the market!
Various fried goods are sold here.
While stall food is abound and delicious at Tsukiji Fish Market, I felt it would have been crazy for me to not sit down and have the famous fresh seafood donburi (丼) or rice bowl sold at various restaurants in and around the market. Yes, even after all those snacks, I wanted to eat more because, I must admit, I can be gluttonous on occasion! You can check out the bowl I chose here.

A typical seafood bowl (kaisen don, 海鮮丼)
restaurant menu.
My meal came with warm matcha (抹茶) green tea,
great on a cold winter morning!
While some options were upwards of $35 a bowl,
there were several more affordable choices.
Even after finishing my donburi (丼), I was still thinking of food. Before having my meal, I had seen several vendors who were selling fresh traditional Japanese sweets and pastries. Mochi (餅) or a sort of dumpling made from pounded glutinous rice is one of my favorite Japanese snacks and can be eaten sweet or savory. I bought some Tokyo-style sakuramochi (桜餅) from a kind older lady. I also bought two large rice balls or onigiri (おにぎり) from a couple who made them fresh. I returned home and consumed everything - shamelessly. Then, I took a nice, long nap since the fish market was my only destination for the day.

Tokyo-style sakuramochi.
The inside contains anko (あんこ), sweet red bean paste.
I think Tsukiji Fish Market is a tourist attraction worthy of its popularity. I believe several of the restaurants within the compound are open for breakfast as well as lunch, but I think it would be a shame to miss the early morning hustle and bustle. When I visit Tokyo again, I will certainly make a better effort to arrive at the market early enough to see the auction. 

However, Tsukiji Fish Market will be relocating in the near future. Due to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the market will be moved to Toyosu in Novemeber 2016. Only a quarter of the venders will remain at the current location; the rest of the market will be repurposed. Therefore, I'm happy to have seen the original Tsukiji Fish Market!

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