The Tsukiji fish market is an Experience, with a capital ‘E’. Officially known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, it could alternatively be named THE SEAFOOD JACKPOT. This is where Tokyo’s restauranteurs come to wrangle over 450 kinds of fish that will later end up in front of salivating foodies, chopsticks poised in anticipation, all around the city.
The tuna auction that happens in the early hours of the morning is particularly legendary, and attracts sushi lovers from all corners of the globe (this was actually the only thing we did all trip where there were more foreigners in one place than Japanese. Probably because the locals are more sensible and put greater value on their sleep. Or because they’ve all already done it).
The thing with the Tsukiji tuna auction is that if you’re going to go, you have to commit. None of this strolling up at 430 AM, you stragglers!! I explain: there are two timed entrances every morning (except for Sundays and the occasional Wednesday). One is at 525 AM and the other at 550 AM, and only 60 people are admitted to each. So you’d think, grand total of 120 spaces for something that happens pretty much every day, couldn’t possibly be a line up EVERY morning. You would be wrong.
We were pretty nervous (Mike suggested just registering to bid for a tuna as surefire way to get in), so we arrived at 315 AM, and glory be, there were only about 20 or so people in front of us. We were given super fashionable lime green vests and herded into one half of a waiting room. By 4 AM, the second half of the room was filled with blue vests, and that was that. Despairing Americans could be heard wailing outside, and a suave Italian man tried and failed to find someone to bribe for a vest (seriously, true story. Get there early!!)
Eventually we were led into the auction area, where rows and rows of GIANT frozen tuna were laid out. We watched from the center of the room, attempting to avoid the liquid by our feet (water? fish juice? couldn’t be sure), as experts rolled and sniffed bits of tuna meat, assessing the quality and making their bids.
The whole thing lasted less than half an hour, then it was out into the rest of the market, which was already bustling with workers and carts as the sun peaked over the horizon. The thing to do after the auction is sushi breakfast in the outer market (the inner fish market doesn’t actually open until 9 AM, if you really want to stick it out). A quick tip for breakfast – everything we had read recommended a place called Sushi Dai, so we got in line and managed to stay upright when we were informed it would be a 4 hour wait. An hour and a half in, starving, covered in sweat and unable to hide from the sun, we took the advice of a nice man who mentioned his family had just eaten at a place right beside Sushi Dai and it was great (that’s what he said outwardly. Inwardly he added, YOU FREAKS).
We bit the bullet and ended up at the restaurant next door – I can’t tell you how it compares to Sushi Dai, but I can say with certainty it was pretty darn delicious. When we finished it was around 8 AM, and I was seriously weighing the pros and cons of curling up for a couple winks beside a giant cushiony tuna…