On the surface, it may seem like a good idea to move Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, from central Tokyo to a more spacious spot in Toyosu. After all, this new location (1.5 miles away on the opposite side of the Sumida River) is twice the size, and will feature cleaner, temperature-controlled buildings, more robust processing infrastructure, and streamlined transportation, thanks to easy expressway access.

But those potential benefits aren’t enticing for many of the market’s vendors. In fact, ten percent of them will shutter their stalls altogether because of the financial burden of moving to Toyosu. The relocation—slated to take place two years from now, to make way for development related to Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Olympic Games—has prompted 107 sellers to say they will consider scrapping their operations “…because they can’t pay for the moving costs or they don’t have successors,” according to a recent story in the Japan Times.

Meanwhile, vendors who can afford to make the move may find themselves cash strapped shortly after arriving, thanks to the new sites’ higher rental rates. And those gripes pale in comparison to the sellers’ gravest concern of all: Toyosu’s environmental issues. The new locale was once home to a gas plant that was suspected of sullying the soil, meaning that fears for vendor safety will accompany the high price tag for moving. One report noted: “Some of Tsukiji’s unionized traders have organized protests and are fighting what they call a move to satisfy the greed of real estate developers. A string of lawsuits also questions the move to a site containing toxic materials.”

The move is not without its influential backers, though. As a South China Morning Post (SCMP) story explained, one of the relocation’s primary supporters is Hiroyasu Ito of the Seafood Wholesalers’ Association, who says “the move is crucial for Tsukiji to handle modern-day demands for freshness.” He adds that new trends in transportation have made the design of old Tsukiji obselete: “‘Railroad freight cars used to roll in to the market and unload fish and goods (at Tsukiji)… We don’t use the rail cars any more. Now, refrigerated trucks drive around instead.’”

Other proponents have stated that the current Tsukiji fish market buildings “are past their durability period,” and that the transportation of their goods has caused innumerable downtown traffic jams. Meanwhile, the Tokyo government has said a new location would benefit the market’s buyers and sellers because “[t]he open structure of the [current] market does not lend itself to modern storage facilities.”

But critics say the true benefactors of the relocation are “…resort builders and casino operators who want to build up the spot in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.” Among the most vocal of those detractors is Makoto Nakazawa, a unionized trader who has emerged as a leading advocate for his fellow vendors, and a coordinator of protests against the relocation. As he recently told reporters, “Tokyo wants to move the market to satisfy the greed of real-estate interests here. I cannot think of another reason.”

—Kyle Mullin

Feature image: sebra / Shutterstock.com