Tsukiji Fish Market is a huge wholesale market that provides the fish for the entire city. It is also part of the history of the city. Dating to the Tokugawa Shogunate, it was founded in the sixteenth century to provide the best fish from Tokyo Bay to Edo Castle, which stood next to Akihabara in the park where the Imperial Palace now stands.
This massive Tokyo fish market was built on former marshland reclaimed with the dirt from excavations made to create the moats and canals of the castle. Once the best of the catch was supplied to the castle, the fishermen were allowed to sell the remainder to the public. Visitors looking for a Tsukiji Fish Market tour can still wander the outside market area that still boasts stalls selling fish that can be sold to individuals, as well as vegetables, fruit, and flowers.
A Tsukiji Fish Market tour is possible only in certain areas at certain times. Sometimes, no visitors at all are allowed into the wholesale areas. Two of the most fascinating aspects of the Tsukiji Fish Market experience are watching the amazing tuna auction and observing the professionals cutting fish (especially the large tunas). Having visitors observe these two events has been a subject of friction. At some point, so many tourists crowded into these areas that they hindered the workers, creating safety and sanitation issues. Since fish can so easily be contaminated and because so much of the nation’s fish consumption is the raw product, sanitation is important and the laws of Japan governing the handling of fish are quite strict. Thus, you can only enjoy a Tsukiji Fish Market tour of the tuna auction and cutting area between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., and sometimes that also is not available.
Dining at a Tsukiji Fish Market restaurant is another attraction for visitors. This is quite possibly the best sushi district in the world, and the many restaurants open around dawn when the Tokyo Fish Market has come to life and is in full bustling operation. Additionally, you can do some shopping for specialty items in the little retail stalls. Look especially for knives, in this country where knife making and expertise with knives has been brought to an art form.
Even if you are unable to enjoy an organized Tsukiji Fish Market tour into the auction and fish cutting areas, this is one of the largest fish markets in the world. There is plenty to see wandering around for a couple hours. But you need to arrive early to see most of the action. The fish are laid out for wholesalers to inspect at 3:00 a.m. so they know what to bid on when the auction starts between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. By 10:00 a.m., the big lots of fish have been trucked off to their various locations and cleanup is underway.
The Tokyo Fish Market can be reached by both subway and train. It is also located on the mouth of the Sumida River in the harbor area of Tokyo Bay, and can be reached by ferry or on river and harbor cruises. These cruises also often make stops at nearby Odaiba and Disneyland. Wear sensible shoes because the floors are wet and slippery.