22 October 2016
Tsukiji Market is bustling in the hours before dawn. Photo: Brendon Hong
Tsukiji Market is bustling in the hours before dawn. Photo: Brendon Hong

See this before it’s gone: Tsukiji Market in Tokyo

Tsukiji Market, the iconic location in Tokyo where a single tuna can go for insanely high prices during pre-dawn auctions, will close down in November. Even as controversy surrounds its planned closure and relocation, business barrels on. 

Work at Tsukiji begins at around 1 a.m. Haulers, drivers, wholesalers and other personnel funnel into the market grounds to begin their tasks for the night’s shift.

The day’s offering of bluefin tuna is laid out for bidders to inspect. Each man carries a pick and flashlight to inspect the quality of the bluefin tuna. To determine the value of each fish, bidders sometimes rip off frozen bits from the tail to get a feel for the flesh and fat content. 

Bidding begins at around 5:20 a.m. Unless two parties enter a bidding war, the entire auction
is often over within a matter of minutes.

Outside the bidding grounds, Tsukiji’s workers labor through the night. Tsukiji functions like a well-oiled machine. Forklifts zip by each other, trucks run through, and loads are moved on a variety of transporters. At times, things seem chaotic, and guards help direct the traffic, but the workers already have a good feel for the order of the market.

A few sushi restaurants are on the grounds of Tsukiji, and their doors open at around 6 a.m. They serve the freshest seafood possible, not only to tourists but also anyone who has just finished a night shift – entertainers, hostesses and, of course, the workers of Tsukiji.

A section of the market is meant for the retail business, where locals and small restaurants shop for fresh seafood. By 9 a.m., when visitors are allowed into the market, things are already winding down.

Cargo continues to be moved in and out of the market hours after dawn.

Tsukiji Market will likely close in November so that the premises can be remodeled ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Some shops outside the market grounds have already been razed.

The market will be moved to a location where a coal gasification plant once stood, and unsafe levels of lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other toxins have been found on the site.

This poster shows what will replace Tsukiji in its current location – a token representation of the fish market that once was.

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