Fresh out of the Sea to Tsukiji: The Story of the Fish Market

By Christina Kim - March 19, 2016


Crates stacked up high on metal carts pushed around on wheeled trolleys, soft revving sounds of motor vehicles driving around the slippery floors, squishy sounds of Wellington boots on their tracks greeted by nods and hollers taking place above the murmurs of conversations wedged in between the stalls rob the darkness of its silence and slumber.

The imaginary world of dreams in one's deep rest amidst faint snores and breathing depict that of the customary routine cycle in the dead of the night when oblivion looms among the habituals.

On this side of the world, this is where it begins.

Flouting the rules set by the ticking fingers on the clock, a world in parallel definition comes to life as ships dock and boxes, crates make their way into their territorial places marked by unseen grids defining each stall manned by chopper and long knife-wielding mongers dodging the glisten on their dark plastic aprons.

Step away from the sharp tip of the knives moving back and forth, though held in steadfast hold by the man whose gaze are transfixed on the huge slabs of flesh mounted to conceal more than half of his face.

His work is heavy in weight but his skills and familiarity would ensure a satisfying and swift conclusion in a bid against the real opponent; time, for at the end of the day, it is the one with the biggest (and highest, in monetary value) loot, who wins.

Arduous and meticulous, the challenges are very real in this biological and nature defying routine though easily masked by the authenticity of the presence of ardor floating amidst the broad smiles and gaiety among these dawn breaking settlers.

They have a schedule to meet and a reputation to keep.

The world's largest wholesale fish and seafood market; or even just simply a wholesale food market of sorts standing firm on its own ground, unshaken by the hurdles to knock it off the chart.
A pride they wore for decades and will continue to; displaying the unseen badge glistening in the hearts of the nation.

Tsukiji Fish Market is the name, and more than just a market, it is a phenomenon.

The action-packed scenes described above take place right before the sun emerges; as early as 3.00am where mongers would prepare their chunks and slabs of fish as their winning entries to participate in the two-hour auction beginning from 5.20am.
The hours of 5.00am until 8.00am is the peak for the market; and that was the prequel to the presentation of the market making up my itinerary on my last visit (read it here).

The prequel; though brief was a promising one which flirted with my curiosity and toyed with my memories, barging in to claim a space of its own and invoked that deep longing in my sense of wanderlust to a vow of returning to seek that fulfillment of the sequel to complete my story.

This is my sequel.

I have seen the auction before the sun rises, and this time this is about the market after the early morning madness, into the market's persona in its habitual daily run.

The difference?

Gone are the large crates, the gigantic slabs of raw tuna and air flown salmon lying on the thick wooden boards or even of the struggling lobsters and crabs clawing at their nets as they lay awaiting in the deep water filling the pail for their fates.

The loud voices and laughter still fill the air; though in a different mode this time as these are now possessing the forms of the men standing at the stalls before the polystyrene-packs filled with the smaller slices of freshly cut fish resting on the ice cubes.

The scenes had transitioned from that of a processing and wholesale auction arena into that of the everyday market.

It is an interesting change; the prequel is all in the inner market (jonai-shijio) sheltered with huge roof over the building while fluorescent and light bulbs lit up the enclosed space as 900 over licensed wholesalers take charge of the raw processing, courting interested bidders to partake in the auction.

As the sun rises, the scenes fade and retreat to a silent background; ghostly even, almost flawless in covering its tracks of its earlier commotion just hours ago as though stillness was its only facade.


If you are here after 7 or 8 in the morning, you may be even deceived by its motionless front.

It could make an unknowing tourist turn away in disappointment, or even in confusion; grappling with the feigned wisdom of the navigation application which led them here in the first place.


Thankfully the sprawling design of the building complex would in some way; through its aligning adjacent lanes, lead one right to the next part, taking over from its predecessor, out in the air and right on the streets.

The excitement and loud enthusiasm as vendors compete in drawing the attention of the market goers; comprising of both local buyers and tourists alike, is unmistakable and can be easily detected as it fills the atmosphere, guiding even the lost wanderers to caving into their whims and straight into this open lair.

Walk past the inner market and straight into the realm of the outer market (jogai-shijio), where the action continues as the baton is passed from its inner counterpart.


It is a whole different world together; out on the streets where retail outlets and stores take their positions in rows, opening their doors to welcome the ravenous to enjoy a warm meal or even to snag a bargain or two; maybe even to bring home after their trip to this country.

There is something for everyone; and it is just like that morning market right back at home, except that it is also sets itself differently at the same time, happily settling in its own arrogance and unique branding beneath that similar facade of what appears to be just like an ordinary market.


Ordinary this is not, for the freshness abounds even when the brood of the sea are lifted all the way from the depths of their watery abodes and right smack in their new territory on land; claiming centerstage of attention from all over the world.

It is a fate they do not want and fought hard to escape, but Tsukiji is that wrestling ground for their final battle, and unfortunately, a losing one.

This is a wrenching scene the sea inhabitants would cover their eyes for and rate it inappropriate for their offsprings.
It is of contempt they view their human counterparts who turned a deaf ear to their screams as they writhed in terror being fished out of their bowls or as they end their lives at the edge of the cleaver.

Their lives made for the sumptuous trademark Tsukiji lived on.

It is for that relishing tastes out of their watery grounds to the ice cubes on the trays that saw the crowds on this part of the market.

If you are a vegetarian, this is not the place for you.
You may feel for them as you watch all the action; from their swimming in the shallow depths of basin pools onto weighing scales and probably more grisly moments before their last in the plastic bags or even on the barbecue pits.
I will not elaborate further.








I will leave that moment of silence for one to ponder upon the guilt and for the dead sea creatures.

Once we are done contemplating the stories of the sea, I will continue with the next part which could strike a direct blow at your conscience, and maybe appetites.

If there is any doubt over Tsukiji riding over the ordinary tag of your everyday morning or wholesale market, this would clear it once and for all.

Tsukiji Fish Market is definitely not just any market; while appearing to be one yet differentiating itself in an outstanding manner in parallel.

After all, this is the World's Largest Wholesale Fish and Seafood Market, or in the general category and there is that reason for it.

Tsukiji is definitely more than just a market, it is a phenomenon.

It is the place which brings life right out of the sea, and after the sea.

Place featured in this post:
Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場 Tsukiji shijō)

5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan

Open: Every day except on Sundays, some Wednesdays and public holidays

Tsukiji Fish Market will be relocating to a new location in Toyosu, Koto in November this year (2016).

*Author's Note: 

This is not a sponsored/promotional post, and solely based on author's personal opinions and do not represent the general public. 
Experiences vary from one individual to another.
You do not have to agree with me.

Art Direction and Photography Styling by Me.
Photos/Videos all belong to me and are copyrighted.
Please kindly ask for permission if you need to use any of my images.

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