[Originally written February 2017]
So eons ago, when I was on study abroad in Beijing, I wanted to go to Japan, but never did. Then when finally settling on moving to China after graduation, I wanted to go to Japan, but again never did. And so upon deciding to stay in China a second time, I knew I had to go to Japan. One of the reasons was a fish market. (Seriously.) The Tsukiji Fish Market is an absolute must for tourists in Tokyo. So I’m told. Why “told” and not “experienced?”
BECAUSE I NEVER GOT TO GO IN!!!!!
The fish market is genuinely world famous, the largest of its kind in the solar system. It was built centuries ago by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the period of Japan before its rapid modernization in the 1800s. It has stood in Tokyo ever since and ever revered.
The central market is closed off to the public for most of the year. Around it on the outside are myriad shops, either reselling raw fish or preparing it in restaurants. A walk around the hustle and bustle of even this is quite awesome. Sushi deserves to be fresh from the ocean, and the only way to get closer to the source is to eat it on the boat. (I guess if I take this to it’s natural extreme, the source is in the ocean. I digress.)
The real attraction is inside the market itself though.
Seeing it can be a hassle. There’s only 60 ish people every day who are let in because of space constraints, and so you line up super early around 3am if you want to be sure you’ll get in, and they let you in around 530am or so. But because this is a serious business with huge sums of money on the line, they retain the rights to kick people out, as well as simply just not being open to the public on a given day.
It’s an auction floor with all the fish going to be sold that day in the city, of which the most expensive is the tuna, which command six figure sums (in dollars.) And as you know, sushi-grade fish is super expensive, as is seafood in general. So you get to see capitalism in its purest form, with high stakes in an utterly unique venue. This is simply one of the reasons I wanted to be in Tokyo, but alas, it was to close in November 2016 for the upcoming Olympics, and so I would never see it in the original location.
Then, they postponed the closing, and woo hoo! I would get to see the fish auction in winter of 2017
This is how it generally works. They post which days it is open, and which it is not. Because I was on a tourist schedule, with but five days in Tokyo and a few of those tied up with day trips, my window to see Tsukiji fish market was limited to one particular night. And this specific night was the only night.
I left my hostel on the last train to the fish market around midnight, with two red bulls and a book in tow, and was set to stake outside a fish auction for six hours with no sleep. I get there, and they decided that because of the New Year, and the busy season, they extended the closure to the public another week, but had never posted it. Sooo basically I wouldn’t be able to get in.
I pleaded with a security with a cold heart, steady mind and dearth of English. Let down, I walked around the outside of the market, watching trucks zip in and out, deliverymen barking out orders, and the smell of the sea both wafting its way into my nostrils and taunting my position outside the market walls.
In any case, my hostel was 2.5 miles away. I thought I could walk it and set out for about 30 minutes. However, having marched literally 10+ miles that day, I couldn’t really make it further with heavy legs and decided to fork over roughly $25 for a pretty damn short ride, one that might’ve been a couple of bucks in Chicago. Taxis in Japan are prohibitively expensive. Just use the train!
Jumping forward to April 2018 (ie today), the market’s relocation for the Olympics has been postponed again, giving me hope that someday I can head to Tokyo and see the market in its original location properly.
I complain of mishap and circumstance, in a way blaming of the heavens only. When you travel, shit happens and you deal (or you don’t.) I understand the market is first and foremost a business, so I don’t toss contempt their way. It just sucks. The way it would suck if you went to the Arctic Circle for a week to see the Northern Lights and saw nothing instead.
Oh well, I was in the Land of the Rising Sun, and had plenty of time to create other memories.
Have you been to Tsukiji Fish Market? Let me know in the comments below what you think!
Like what you’re reading on Japan? Check out some other related articles in: The Japan Chronicles!