Lesson Learned at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

I could go on and on when talking about my previous #JapanTrip.  This time, I'm going to share my experience in Tsukiji Market, also known as Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, by far the LARGEST and BUSIEST fish market in the world. 

With the increased number of tourists, many problems have arisen especially in terms of sanitation management; such as temperature control issues caused by the entry and exit of large numbers of unauthorized persons, and problems with visitors impeding the auction and other trading activities. Those are one of the reasons why:

  1. Tsukiji Market has banned public visitors from the Tuna Auctions on more or less 4 certain occasions since 2008. Please do check their holiday calendar before visiting.
  2. People wanting to see the LIVE Tuna Auction must register at the Fish Information Center near the Kachidoki Gate (get off at Harumi Street). Registration opens starting at 4.30 AM (but sometimes people would line up since 4AM or less!) on a first-come first-serve basis and only accepting 120 people a day - admitted in two shifts of 60 people each, and each group only have about 20-25 minutes inside the Visitor Passage. More about the live tuna auction here.
  3. Tourists are also not allowed to enter the Seafood Wholesale areas before 9AM (see yellow area on the map). By 9AM, business have started to cool down from the morning's hectic, means that you won't have to dodge so many trucks and trolleys.. so it's safer, but emptier.

Here's a basic map of Tsukiji Market to give you more ideas about what I just stated:

Source here.

Source here.


AND SO MY ADVENTURE BEGINS...

The only thing I regretted is that I had too much faith on Google Maps - it says the distance between my hotel and Tsukiji Fish Market is less than a mile, so it's still within walking distance. I took off around 4.30 AM and only empowered by 1 gadget with 30% battery + 1 pocket WiFi, I started walking following the map. As I walk further I realized.. I was lost. I tried asking but of course no one was there on the street at 4AM-ish. Tried crossing the bridge only to find myself... lost again. And it's freezing temperature at dawn, around -1°C, so I decided to go back to the main street and just hop on a taxi. The big D'OH moment was when the freakin' taxi also got lost although he was using in-car GPS! Quite a  cumbersome ¥1200 to be thrown off so early in the morning :|

Well anyway, I finally make it to the Fish Information Center right in front of Kachidoki Gate, but by the time I arrived there around 5.15 AM (can't believe I waste 45min for what Gmaps said only less than a mile walking distance - wtf), my heart dropped when I saw the red sign: 

 

Fish Information Center at the Kachidoki Gate, Tsukiji Market.

Fish Information Center at the Kachidoki Gate, Tsukiji Market.

Sorry, let me zoom it again for you: 

I knew this would happen, but apparently the disappointment is inevitable :(

I knew this would happen, but apparently the disappointment is inevitable :(

So there goes my lesson-learned in Tsukiji Fish Market: 

  1. PLEASE DON'T PUT YOUR LIFE ON THE HANDS OF GMAPS. Or any maps. Spare some additional frickin' time especially when you're being rushed by a certain limited deadline.
  2. At the end of the day, (sometimes) taxis are travelers' best friend. 
  3. Japanese are very strict about rules, and can get very grumpy if you disturb them while doing their job. Please pay attention and be really careful (especially at the morning traffic) with the trucks & trolleys - they steer in unbelievably fast pace and tends to look at tourist like we're a bunch of disturber (which we are, apparently :p)

SO I DECIDED TO HAVE SUSHI BREAKFAST INSTEAD.. 

Yep, what else would I do? Some says that no visit to Tsukiji is complete without a sushi breakfast. There are many, many small sushi restaurants standing side by side in approximately 6 alleys, and I regretted I didn't do my research well, because I just didn't know where to go. What surprises me the most, is the fact that it's only 5.30 AM in the morning, yet people are already lining up like crazy in front of most restaurants!

That day, eventually fate brought me to this particular restaurant. Maybe it's because there was this sushi-sommelier employee that is too kind by standing in front of the restaurant and explaining one by one IN FLUENT ENGLISH about the menu details that is written in Japanese. As a solo traveler that morning, I couldn't help but overheard the guy while he explains patiently to the European visitors. I'm sold. Take my money! I'm using only my appetite & the mouthwatering pictures to order!

At first I was kinda hoping that because Tsukiji is known as the biggest fish market in the world, then the price would be cheaper because it's easy to get your ingredient supply. But it's a fatal assumption because it goes the other way around: Because the fish are SUPER FRESH and possibly the highest quality in its class, having breakfast here is definitely not a cheap option. It costs minimal ¥1,500 to get you a bowl of freshly cut chirashi-zushi or kaisen-donburi (sashimi rice bowl) with minimal topping variety.

 

If you can read Kanji can you please let me know the name?

After a long-time thinking while drooling, this was my ¥1,800 breakfast called 'HAKODATE BOWL'.  Sashimi rice bowl with tuna (maguro) and fatty tuna belly (toro), salmon cut off from the largest salmon species, salmon roe, sea-urchin, and extra tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet) along side with miso soup, pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi.  

Do I really need to explain more? It was the BEST sashimi rice bowl I've had in years. First, its freshness tickled and invited your nostril to inhale deep and to pamper your buds. Every spoonful explodes in your mouth, the freshest flesh dipped in soy-sauce & wasabi goes great with the flaky rice; everything just melts perfectly giving an unbeatable sensation. Totally worth the price, the experience, and instantly healed the disappointment of missing Tuna Auction. 

HAKODATE BOWL, my ¥1,800 breakfast. TOP OF THE WORLD!

HAKODATE BOWL, my ¥1,800 breakfast. TOP OF THE WORLD!

UPDATE: While browsing the web I accidentally found its site! Turns out this particular restaurant I visited was called 'Ooedo' and specialized only in serving seafood bowl. As for sushi, I read somewhere that Sushi Dai and Daiwa-zushi is the BEST sushi counters in Tsukiji Market. (I think it's the one on my previous pictures where the lining-up was so crazy!) But if you choose to sample (probably) the best sushi experience in your life right from where it's originated, prepare some extra cash as 1 sushi set will cost about ¥2,500 - ¥3,900. Hey, it's not like we go to Tsukiji everyday, right? It's okay to pamper your tastebuds once in a while :)

Well, that was one hell of a journey. I should re-add 'Watching Live Tuna Auction at Tsukiji" on my wishlist again. Someday, maybe when they have relocated to the new area in Toyosu, Koto. But I glad I made a trip that day, at least the Hakodate Bowl did not disappoint, and I get to see (and touch :p) the real wasabi plant:

Focus on the three wasabi box, not the 'Doraemon "I LIKE IT" gigantic Dorayaki that is sold for ¥100!

Focus on the three wasabi box, not the 'Doraemon "I LIKE IT" gigantic Dorayaki that is sold for ¥100!

Oh and I also get to taste the famous Tsukiji's Tamagoyaki on the outer market area for only  ¥100. A bit weird for me because it's a dessert snack that uses condensed milk & sugar, so yes it is a little bit too sweet for my liking.


So long, Tsukiji, until we meet again someday. Cheers! 

TSUKIJI MARKET a.k.a Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku
Tel: +81-3-3542-1111

Establishment: Feb 11, 1935
Tsukiji Market on Japan-Guide.com