Tsukiji Fish Market

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Chances are you’ve queued up with the rest of the tourists in the early morning for fresh sushi at one of Tsukiji’s restaurants. But, sadly for many, the iconic fish market right beside them is closing down in 2013.

Considered the “heart and soul” of our city, the Tsukiji Fish Market is closing down after 78 years of business but will relocate to just a few kilometers away. The Tokyo landmark may be the largest wholesale fish market in the world but it has been struggling with run-down facilities and an increased number of visitors in the past few years, which seems to cause some difficulties for the fishermen and traders.

Tourists have now been completely banned from watching the famous early morning tuna auctions until January 19, 2013, in order to keep the fish business smooth-running in the holiday season. In fact, the high numbers of visitors and tourists interfered with the work of the locals, who are often reported as complaining that the fish market is an actual place of business and not so much a sightseeing attraction.

The issues are mostly related to sanitation management problems such as temperature control (issues caused by the entry and exit of large numbers people), problems with visitors impeding the auction and other trading activities and, well, just generally getting in the way as they look through the lenses of their cameras.

Despite clear rules (written in English on the Tsukiji Fish Market official website) such as “Vehicles have the right of way”, “Please do not touch the food” and “Bargaining is generally not done”, the fish market can sometimes be a chaotic experience. Cars, trucks and trolleys are usually coming from all sides and walking around the area can be dangerous for careless visitors who are too busy snapping those photographs to look behind.

Well, if you’re a fish market fan – there is plenty of atmosphere and tradition to make that so – don’t despair as the new market will be about ten minutes away in Toyosu, Koto ward, and is set to open in 2014. The brand new facility will cover an area of 408,000 square meters, 40% larger than the current market. The size will accommodate the swarms of visitors and the original venue could be renovated to incorporate a new marketplace.

However, health concerns have been raised about the new location: Tokyo Gas Co., which had a factory there, revealed in 2001 that the area contains high levels of lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cyanogen and benzene.

Although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is in the process of neutralizing the toxic substances from the former gas factory, not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea to build the new fish market over the contaminated site.

Hopefully the cleanup will be done so that visitors can safely buy fish again, and the activities can resume in a safe way. It’s sad to see such an iconic part of the city being shut down, but we’re sure the fish will appreciate the change of scenery as well. Visit it while you still can but beware of the holiday crowds!

You can read more at the Tsukiji Fish Market website.

How to get there: Tsukiji station on Hibiya line or Tsukijishijo on Toei Oedo line


Main image: bryangeek/Flickr


by Vivian Morelli