If you want to watch the tuna auction at Tsukiji fish market you have to get there before 4am to get one of only 120 visitor passes. Not flippin’ likely! We aimed instead for the much more civilised 09:00, which is when the retail market welcomes tourists – before then, you need to be a bona fide fish-buying customer. This was the first time we had travelled the subway during the morning rush hour, but it wasn’t too bad until the last few stops.
The approach to the fish market goes first through a small market selling vegetables and other goods – hours of watching NHK in Thailand paid off when I was able to recognise fresh wasabi roots. After that there were lots of trucks electric carts moving about but it wasn’t clear where we were supposed to go, so we followed a tour group and eventually arrived in the vast fish hall.
The range of fish and seafood was staggering: world famous aquariums have fewer species. Squid ranged from 18″down to 1″. Huge triangular mussels over 10″ long and scallop shells 8″ across. Clams of various colours and patterns, in shells and removed. Live abalone in tanks sorted by size. A few eels but not many; no wonder eel sushi is so expensive. There were dozens and dozens of different kinds of fish – some I recognised but most I didn’t. Baskets held mounds of tiny white fry. Trays of brightly coloured roe. Whelks the size of my fist, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Tuna of various sizes were being cut into portions with huge knives. Most tuna is kept frozen in long freezers, but everything else was in polystyrene boxes with ice, and there was water everywhere.
Electric carts were moving around inside the hall, as well as occasional motorbikes and cycles. You really had to keep alert, and I still got my toes run over by hand cart of empty boxes – I simply couldn’t move out of the way because of other tourists.
When I say Tsukiji welcomes tourists, perhaps I should just say that it allows them in. Unfortunately it’s now such a popular sightseeing spot that the market traders and workers appear thoroughly fed up of snap happy gawkers getting in their way and not actually buying anything. Nobody was rude but the usual Japanese courtesy was lacking and it was the only time in Japan that I felt that people would really rather I wasn’t there. It’s not really surprising, and I doubt whether things will be able to go on like that for much longer – eventually a tourist will be killed or seriously injured and something will have to change. It would be difficult to ban tourists from a public market, but I can foresee a ban on photography which would discourage many and at least keep them moving.
We bought a box of tuna sashimi (complete with soy sauce sachet and cocktail sticks) so that we became bona fide customers (surprisingly we only saw one stall selling it – a missed opportunity by many) and went back outside, pausing to watch large blocks of ice being pulverised by an ancient crushing machine.
Away from the market we found a little area of seats and shrubs to sit and eat it. I had never eaten sizeable chunks of raw fish before (other than smoked salmon of course) but I liked it, although we then had to wash our hands in the bag of ice that the vendor had given us, it being a warm sunny day. We made our way back to subway and went to Daimon near Hamamatsucho, then walked towards one of the Yurikome railway line stations.
We’d intended going out to Odaiba, an area famous for futuristic architecture on an island of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, but we found a raised area overlooking the harbour and sat for a long while watching the boats. A passenger boat pulled in just in front of our vantage point, and dozens of passengers disembarked, all with luggage. We could see some of the Odaiba buildings and the famous rainbow bridge leading to them, so we no longer felt the need to actually go out there, and returned to Shinjuku on the Yamanote train.
We needed to locate the departure point of the bus that we would be taking the next day, but got very disoriented and it took a long time to find. It was only mid afternoon but we were too tired to anything other than return home on the subway. Annoyingly, I had twisted my knee and could only crosd my fingers that it would recover in time for tomorrow’s excursion.