If you love sushi, or indeed any kind of seafood, you cannot possibly excuse yourself for not visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market when in Tokyo. This is the place to visit for some of the freshest sushi in Tokyo – freshest because the fish is sold onsite to the restaurant retailers that very morning. The action begins as early as 4:30am, when frantic retailers and gawking onlookers start lining up outside the tuna auction. Only about 120 visitors per day will get to witness the auction, which is as many as the infrastructure can accommodate, giving you a pretty good idea of just how crowded it gets inside. Tourists can start applying to see the auction at the Osakana Fukyū Center (Fish Information Center), located at the Kachidoki Gate in the northwest corner of the market, from 5:00am, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Watch out for the carts and trucks – the buyers and sellers here supply seafood to most restaurants and markets in Tokyo, so they’re not going to stop patiently while you get out of their way.
The market is easily reached from Tsukijishijo Station, but the Tokyo trains don’t start running until after 5:00am. Even if you don’t get up at the crack of dawn to see the tuna auction, the markets themselves are a sight to see. Countless stalls selling seafood of all kinds imaginable are set up in seemingly endless rows. Along with fish, you can find shellfish, crab, octopi, lobsters and squid, as well as non-seafood products like the very popular Japanese omelets.
I wander my way around the various stalls surrounding the main warehouse, trying to select one from which to buy my lunch. Many have lines snaking way past their neat doorways – you are only let into a restaurant when there is a seat available for you, and the larger sushi restaurants fit between ten and sixteen at capacity. Don’t despair at having to line up: you can use this time to try and decide between the multitude of fish based meals available inside. From what I could gather, there is no bad option – all of the restaurants are well provided with a wide range of fresh fish, and masterful Japanese chefs prepare all the meals. You might also learn a thing or two about fish: from the window of the shop I waited in front of, I learned about the preparation of tuna meat. ‘Nakaochi’ is scraping the meat around the bones with a knife, whereas ‘suki-mi’ is scraping meat around the bones with a shell and spoon. Furthermore, once you’re inside, there is no more waiting. As soon as you are seated, a hot green tea is placed in front of you and someone immediately takes your order. Within a minute, your generous meal is in front of you, usually accompanied by a bowl of hot, tasty miso soup.
After a delicious bowl of sushi rice topped with raw chopped tuna and salmon roe, I was completely full and absolutely convinced that lining up at Tsukiji Market for a fish-y meal is worth the wait. Not only will you have a unique Tokyo experience, but you also, in the process, will eat some of the best fish you can possibly imagine. Ideal.