When you first get to Tokyo, you’ll be waking up at 3:00 a.m. because of jetlag anyway, so why not go to the Tsukiji Fish Market? This is the place to see tuna bigger than sumo wrestlers, ocean denizens you’ve never even seen in a science book, and then eat a big bowl of fresher-than-fresh sushi for breakfast.
Tsukiji is two square city blocks of market, warehouses, and shops…and so clean that if you close your eyes, you’d never know you were in a fish market.
The market is two blocks long: The Outer Market has many little wholesale shops selling fresh seafood, vegetables, and other things needed by seafood restaurants. Anybody can buy things there without a wholesale license. The second block is where they auction and cut up the fish, and that’s where they sell the giant frozen tuna. (Unfortunately, access to this part of the market is now strictly controlled, and only 120 people are allowing in to the tuna auction each morning. For detailed info on how to get yourself in, check the excellent TokyoCheapo blog post here.)
Even if we can’t get in to see the tuna auctions, we can still go into the wholesale shop part of the Inner Market after 9:00 a.m. Let’s check out the weird kinds of still-wriggling seafood and watch them cut up those huge frozen tuna. Note: Please be very careful and aware of your surroundings – the turret trucks that whip around the market delivering fresh seafood do not stop for picture-takers and can be quite dangerous. Also, remember that everything at the market is destined for someone’s plate, so don’t touch anything.
Even though big parts of the wholesale sections of the market are closed to casual visitors now, the area known as the Outer Market will still give us a hearty welcome if we want to buy something.
The booths lining the streets in the Outer Market also sell fishermans’ supplies, like geta (wooden sandals), rubber-soled workman’s two-toed boots, and razor-sharp knives.
Are you ready for breakfast yet? We can eat at one of the little booths that line the main street outside the market. Most have pictures of the dishes they serve – my favorites are negi-toro (finely chopped raw high-grade tuna mixed with green onions over rice) and maguro-ju (slices of extremely fresh raw tuna over rice.)
A slightly more expensive choice is Sushi Zanmai or Edo-Gin – both open 24 hours a day – for the best, freshest sushi you’ll ever eat. If you love tuna, try the tuna vertical tasting: one piece each of maguro, chū-toro and ōtoro (tuna, fatty tuna, and ultra-fatty-tuna). It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
If you’re more adventurous, try some of the fish and seafood they seldom serve outside Japan. One thing you can be sure of: what you eat here will probably be cheaper than sushi at home, but it will be fresher than the fish at the top sushi restaurants anywhere else in the world because…they all fly their seafood in from Tsukiji!
If you want to jump into sushi culture in a big way, why not take advantage of a great opportunity to learn how to make it from one of the sushi masters at the fish market? This four-hour, hands-on workshop (in English!) takes you from fish vendors to cutting board, as you learn how to choose your ingredients and make the delectable lunch that tops off the morning. More information is here, and you can make reservations online.
4:30 am – noon
Nearby destinations: Ginza, Ningyo-cho, Sengaku-ji
Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo. The first one is…