TSUKIJI, CENTRAL TOKYO — If there is a living thing that swims, crawls or slithers its way through the sea — and it is even remotely edible (or in the cases of things like Fugu, barely so) — then you’ll find it here: Tsukiji, the world’s largest wholesale fish market.
This time around, diving deeper meant bringing the fishes to us.
Located just blocks from Tokyo’s posh shopping district, Ginza, Tsukiji market is more than its name implies. Not any kind of traditional market, its almost an organic organism that moves, pulses and grows of its own accord. This is where over 2,000 tons of seafood is moved daily — coming in by ship, train and truck, auctioned off in a flurry of action and whisked out to the sushi joints and high-end hotels across the country.
And it all happens in the dim morning hours when most of the city is sleeping. In fact, by 9am when the outer market is open to the public, most of the heavy action has already gone down, including the world famous tuna auction that sees some fish sell in the tens of thousands of dollars — not yen, dollars.
We came shortly after opening to explore the treacherous aisles and stalls that roll on for blocks in the unique, quarter circle market building. It’s vital you stay on alert at all times — between a constant flow of ice and water under foot, precision saws designed to dismember flesh and bone of any kind and the insanely operated lorries that zoom through the markets main arteries without regard for either seafood or humankind — there’s a lot waiting to turn you into tomorrow’s chum.
Two things that stand out the most: the sheer size of the operation, with the whole organization working in perfectly timed clockwork. And the sheer variety of fish available. I couldn’t even begin to list them here — many fish we could recognize by sight, even more that I’ve never heard of or seen in my life.
All were being prepared for a seafood-crazed public that is quickly making the harvesting of the world’s most delicious foods unsustainable. It can be hard to understand how the oceans, such a vast, seemingly unending space could ever be overfished. Then you come to Tsukiji and see the sheer quantities of food that are being torn out of the seas — every day.
After a dizzy exploration of the market itself, it was time for breakfast. And at Tsukiji, that means one thing: the absolute freshest sushi you’ll ever find in your life.
Japan’s second largest city is a quick 30 minute train ride from downtown Tokyo. In fact, the two cities truly blend into one mega metropolis (you can even reach Yokohama on some Tokyo subway lines).
Yokohama was built for one reason: its port. Despite the fact that Tokyo lies right on the sea, Tokyo Bay is far too shallow for major shipping lanes. Yokohama sprung up as Japan’s front door. It only helped that the American Navy’s Asian fleet used the town as its main port in the years after WWII.
In fact, that American influence still remains today. Yokohama’s chief claims to fame: eclectic jazz, tasty microbreweries and one of the nation’s most successful baseball teams, the Bay Stars. Strolling down its modern downtown streets, you get the feeling you could be in Portland or San Francisco… only the sushi is much better.
We used the city as home base, not only to explore its unique Japanese-American charms, but also the little towns further south along the Izu Peninsula. By this point, we were starting to get into the groove of Japanese life — avoiding the packed local trains, learning how to navigate the unmarked city streets and mastering the “vending machine” Ramen shops.
Each day we were diving a bit deeper — and whether it was the wet chaos of the world’s largest fish market or drowning in some of Japan’s best microbrews, we were coming up with some pretty tasty catches.