Visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market Auction

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The Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is one of the most well known fish markets. The market is the biggest and largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, with almost every type deliciousness passing through. You’ll find tiny sardines to large tunas destined for sushi. While most of the inner market is off limits to tourists, there is a way to get a view of the famous fish auction.

Note that Tsukiji Fish Market has been slated to be relocated for quite some time. The window is closing on visiting the market before it moves to Toyoso which has been delayed until summer 2018.  The exact changes are unclear but it will definitely be different than the experience of exploring the nooks and crannies of the current market.

Here’s what you need to know about visiting the market:

  • It’s free.
  • The auction is not everyday. The market is closed Sundays, often on Wednesdays, and holidays. Check the Tsukiji Fish Market website for the calendar.
  • You’ll want to arrive early because space is limited and it is first come first serve.
  • As of this post, there is no public transportation that runs during these early hours. You can either take a taxi or walk if you’re staying nearby. We walked over an hour to get from the Sheraton Miyako to the market. It was a great way to get some exercise and see the city at night.
  • Your starting point is the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate. It’s a small room where visitors can arrive early and claim their spot. You’ll be sitting on the floor and tightly packed in so make sure you use the restroom before arriving.
  • You’ll be split into two groups of 60 since only 120 people area allowed to visit per day. Each guest will receive a colored vest (yellow or blue, depending on your group), a map of the market, and printed instructions in multiple languages.
  • Due to jet lag, we arrived a little after 3:00 AM, but the actual auction viewings are not until 5:25AM to 6:15AM. (We were one of the last spots in the first group of 60. However the second group did not fill up until just before 5AM.) Bring a book to read.
  • One of the wholesalers from the market will come in to describe his work and answer questions. This helps pass the time.
  • When it comes time for the viewing, the security guards will escort the group to the viewing area. You’ll get approximately 30 minutes before being asked to leave. If you’re part of the first group you’ll arrive before the auction starts and you’ll see people walking about inspecting the fish. Listen for the bell which signifies the start of the auction. You’re allowed to take pictures without flash.
  • After the viewing, you’ll exit into the rest of the market.
  • Then it’s time for breakfast! You’ll probably have a very enjoyable meal wherever you go in the market but you’ll see many tourists line up for Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi in the inner market. We were starving and got great donburi (bowls of rice topped with sashimi) at Nakaya one alley over.

Here’s the experience in pictures:

 

In the waiting area with Group 1 around 3:00 a.m.

An employee from the fish market auction floor comes in and talks about the process of inspecting the tuna quality. He demonstrates some of the hand signals in used during the auction by the bidders.

Map of Tsukiji Fish Market.

The fish market opens and workers begin their day.

On the auction floor where large tuna are ready for inspection.

Inspection underway.

The action starts with the auctioneers waving their brown hats in the air and ringing of a bell. The speed at which each tuna is auctioned off is very fast.

Once you’re done with the tour, it’s time for breakfast! After you exit you’ll have to walk around to the other side of the market to find the alleyways of restaurants and stalls. This is a donburi bowl from Nakaya.

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