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Navigating Chaos: Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo | Japan

A menu outside one of the restaurants near Tsukiji

Tsukiji Fish Market – the world’s largest wholesale fish market – sells off an estimated 2,888 tons of 450 kinds of seafood each day. To put it simply? That’s a hell of a lot of sushi.

From lofted ceiling to puddle soaked floor, the Tsukiji Fish Market emits an energy that could fill a space ten times its size. Instead, it’s 900+ vendors are crammed inside a space so congested, only Tokyo could pull it off. Just like the city itself, the Tsukiji Fish Market perfectly hectic. You can take our word for it, or see for yourself!

While the Tsukiji Fish Market move was scheduled for 2016, you’re in luck! Due to cost and health concerns, the move has been postponed until winter of 2017. Find details on how to visit the the Tsukiji Fish Market in it’s original location below!

Tsukiji Fish Market Schedule

The Tsukiji Fish Market is best visited in the early morning while the market is most lively and the fish is fresh. You can either get up frightfully early for the tuna auction or enjoy a bowl of donburi in the Tsukiji Outer Market before exploring the main event. Below, you’ll find a rough Tsukiji Fish Market schedule:

  • 3:00am: Arrive to secure your spot in the tuna auction.
  • 5:30am: Tuna auction starts.
  • 8:00am: Middlemen and other wholesalers set up their stalls. This is also the best time to get breakfast in the Tsukiji Outer Market.
  • 9:00am: Fish market opens to the public.
  • 10:00am: Wholesalers start packing up and fish market winds down.

The Entrance to a Tsukiji Restaurant

the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market

One of the most famed experiences at the Tsukiji Fish Market is the tuna auction. City restauranteurs, middlemen, and foreign buyers will bid loads of money to buy some of the massive tuna sold here. The most expensive tuna to ever pass hands here was just a cool $1.8 million.

As it is a working auction, there are a limited number of spaces open to the public. If you want to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji, plan to get there around 3am to reserve your spot. The auction won’t start until 5:30am, but as it isn’t available for pre-booking, only the first 120 people who show up will get in.

Worth it? While the tuna auction may be some real Casino Royale stuff, it isn’t a make or break for the Tsukiji Fish Market experience. If you feel like getting extra sleep and saving on cab fare, show up around 8am to get sushi or a donburi bowl, and wander the inner market before it closes off at 10am.

exploring the Tsukiji outer market

While the Tsukiji outer market sells more produce, seasonings, and souvenirs than fish, it’s worth visiting for the restaurants alone. Perhaps the best of all fish market experiences is the Tsukiji Fish Market breakfast sushi. We came expecting the best thing we ever ate, and the donburi did not disappoint. Lines are awfully long so be sure to show up by 8am if you’re hoping to eat and make it into the inner market before it winds down too much!

Prices for donburi and sushi in the Tsukiji outer market fall anywhere between $12-$30, but we’re telling you now — it’s worth whatever you spend on it. We don’t want to get your expectations up or anything, but it should be the most highly anticipated meal of your life.

A alley of vendors near Tsukiji

A line forming outside a restaurant in Tsukiji

A menu outside one of the restaurants near Tsukiji

Another Menu Outside Tsukiji

A Donburi Bowl

inside the Tsukiji inner market

The Tsukiji Fish Market is a labryinth. We cut through the first narrow aisle between styrofoam crates and wooden boxes to avoid getting run over by the movers. The vehicles probably went no faster than a child zipping downhill on a bike, but their heavy loads made them a true threat for neglected toes.

A Cart Used to get around Tsukiji Fish Market

Crates used to Package Fish

Fish Knives Hung Near A Stall

A Wide Look at Inside Tsukiji Market

Cutting down a quiet row, we discovered plastic crates filled with scallops and their shelled brethren, and shrimps sold by the hundred. Everything of the marine variety was for sale, and the offerings continually evolved, aisle by aisle. Mackerel, eel, snapper and yellowtail stared up at us with thoughtless dead eyes. But passing by stall after stall of squids bathing in their own black ink and live octopus’ trapped in mesh bags was different. It was as though they were there to remind you that with every bowl of donburi comes death.

Many different Kinds of Fish at Tsukiji

Squid at Tsukiji Fish Market

On a wooden table top laid a massive tuna — some 100 lbs of it – frozen solid. A man with cheekbones nearly as sharp as his blades hoisted it up, and fed it through a machine like a board past a table saw, slicing the fish into filets with precisely smooth edges.

Blue Fin Tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market

Never mind that we later learned real precision comes from slicing tuna with a sword, but some mornings? You’ve just gotta get shit done.

A Man Filets a Fresh Blue Fin Tuna

The floor is constantly being hosed, to clear the guts away, most likely. There is a chatter and a a yelling, between coworkers and neighbors. Deep friendships are formed amongst close competitors. As the morning ends, accountants tally up the day’s sales with frenetic energy. The Tsukiji Fish Market is nothing short of everything we’d expected.

Travel Information for Tsukiji Fish Market

  • The closest station of all is the Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line, but it can also be reached from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. If you’re taking the JR, the nearest stop is Shimbashi, about 15 minutes from the market. The metro starts at 5am, so if you’re headed over for the tuna auction, you’ll need to take a taxi.
  • Sushi shops are little (only seating about 8!) so it’s hot competition to get a seat. Pick your spot, place an order, and be prepared to wait 30 minutes for the group before you to finish up.

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Have you been to Tsukiji? Did you think it was gruesome or fascinating? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Kerri
    January 7, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    This is one "fish tale" I could sink my teeth into! Nice video to give movement to the written discriiption if a once in a lifetime experience! Very cool!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      January 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Why thank you! We thought the scene lent itself quite well to a video. I’m sure you would have loved it!

  • Reply
    What the Hell are Capsule Hotels?: Tokyo, Japan
    December 7, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    […] The Tsukiji Fish Market […]

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