The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the most important market in the city – it’s where the seafood distribution goes down.
Due to the local importance and magnitude of the market, it also happens to be one of the most well known attractions in Tokyo; It’s a place just about every tourist who visits the city comes to see.
The actual tuna auction only takes place early in the morning and only 120 tourists per day are allowed to enter so they don’t disrupt the real business.
So since public transportation didn’t open until 5 am, and because I would have had to line up starting at 4 am to stand a chance to get in, and the only way to get there was by taxi at that time – which I honestly didn’t think I could afford – I didn’t make it to the actual auction (Luckily I had visited the Honolulu tuna auction a few weeks earlier).
But, even if you don’t get to see the auction, you can still show up at about 9 am to browse through the seafood wholesale area, and also to eat.
The sad thing is, the Tsukiji fish market will be re-locating to a new location sometime in 2015 in order to make room for a stadium I think. It’s very unfortunate.
I just wanted to share some of my favorite photos from walking around Tsukiji fish market.
1. Approaching Tsukiji Market
The outer edge of the official Tsukiji Market is also a wonderful place to wander around, with some great restaurants like Choku Soba Ramen – and old skool and delicious ramen street food stall.
2. Donburi at Nakaya
I arrived to Tsukiji fish market at about 8 AM, but the wholesale area actually doesn’t open for tourists until 9 AM.
So one of the main reasons to visit the market, is for the chance to have some sashimi or sushi for breakfast, and there’s no way I was going to miss out on this opportunity.
The most famous place to eat sushi at Tsukiji fish market, is a restaurant called Sushi Dai.
And while I really wanted to eat there, because everyone says it’s absolutely stunning, I simply didn’t have three hours to wait in line, so I opted for restaurant known as Nakaya, a place that’s also pretty famous for their donburi sashimi rice bowls.
It only took about 15 minutes of waiting in line, before I was able to grab a seat at Nakaya. The staff weren’t all that friendly, but the food was definitely insanely good. I ordered a donburi with slices of tuna belly, uni sea urchin, and salmon roe.
3. Getting around Tsukiji
Motorbikes and unique forklift trucks, are the vehicles of choice when it comes to navigating the Tsukiji fish market.
When walking around the market, you’ve got to be on your guard, so you don’t end up getting hit by a fish cart!
4. Tuna on Wooden Pushcart
As I mentioned before, it can be quite a challenge to actually visit the real tuna fish auction in Tokyo, but the good news is, if you just visit the Tsukiji fish market wholesale area, you’ll still be able to see plenty of giant sized tunas that were traded at the auction in the morning.
Get exclusive updates
Enter your email and I’ll send you the best travel food content.
The one pictured here, was pretty huge, and sitting on top of a wooden pushcart.
5. Tuna Spine
One of the coolest things to see at the market, is when a crew of fishmongers are slicing up a giant tuna.
They even have special swords, which are a couple meters in length, which they use to make a clean-cut down the side of the spine of the fish.
Some of the vendors are very friendly, and don’t mind at all if you take photos.
However it’s still very important to respect everyone of the market, not use a flash with your camera, and stay fully out-of-the-way of those working.
6. Tuna Steak
The hunks of high grade tuna could cost a fortune, but I was seriously tempted!
7. Red Slab
Some of the vendors, you can just tell, specialize in nothing but the highest quality of tuna – It’s really a beautiful thing.
This slab of dark red tuna was so delicious looking, and illuminated by those wonderful lights, that I actually wanted take a bite out of it right there, no seasoning needed.
8. Lanes of Tsukiji Market – Wholesale section
Being the biggest seafood market in the world, you can literally spend hours browsing all of the amazingly fresh seafood available.
The wholesale distribution area seems to go on forever, and there are countless vendors, each of them appears to specialize in a certain category of seafood.
Again, tuna is one of the most prized items sold at Tsukiji fish market.
There are so many different grades and qualities, and even parts of the fish. The tuna belly, which is whitish in color, is a favorite for many, while the dark red meat is also popular.
I don’t know how much these guys were about to spend on this big chunk of tuna, but I really wanted to be their friends, and head home with them for the feast!
10. Fresh Fish
Japanese food relies on quality and freshness, and at the market you’ll see fish that look extremely fresh, some of them still swimming in aquariums or buckets of ice.
11. Smaller Fish
Along with the giant tuna and other impressive creatures, there were also other vendors that specialized in smaller and cheaper fish.
Being a fish lover, I also really love to eat the smaller ones as well.
12. Fish I’d Never Seen
I’ve been to quite a few fish markets in my life, including the one in Seoul, but still at the Tsukiji fish market, I saw quite a few seafood creatures that I had never seen before.
That red fish looked like one of those long skinny balloons that you blow up and twist into a shape… anyone know what that fish is?
13. Cracking Open a Scallop
Scallops are one of my favorite items from the sea, and this man was prying them out of their shells with ease.
14. Curly Octopus
Another favorite of mine is octopus. Whether if be grilled or curried, I just love the texture and flavor of fresh octopus.
15. Scallop Inside?
This thing looked exactly like a scallop on the inside, but the outside almost looked like a giant mussel shell, so I’m still a little confused as to what it was.
But I can say it looked meaty and delicious!
16. The Horned Turban
I didn’t get to eat any of these when I was in Japan, but I wish I would have.
They are often called horned turban or a turbo cornutus officially, but I think in Japanese they are known as sazae. These sea snails are often grilled and eaten.
17. Transparent Shrimp
Even with some familiar seafoods like shrimp, there were so many different varieties and types. These shrimp for instance, were semi-transparent, and had unique red designs on their shells.
I think they may have been famous Hokkaido shrimp, but I’m really not sure.
18. Dried Fish in the Outer Market
Although most of the seafood in the wholesale section of the Tsukiji fish market is fresh, you’ll find vendors selling dried fish in certain areas, and in the outer market.
19. Dried Anchovies
Along with fresh sashimi and sushi, little tiny salted and dried fish like anchovies, can be extremely tasty as well.
I’m a big fan.
20. Shopping for Seafood
Some local Japanese people go to Tsukiji fish market to buy seafood for their restaurant or business, and others just go to purchase ingredients for themselves.
If only I had had a kitchen at the hotel I was staying at in Tokyo, I would have definitely purchased many things, maybe I would have even spent a fortune on fresh seafood – and it would’ve been totally worth it.
21. Seafood Odds and Ends
This guy was chopping up fish, mostly some kind of eel, from a table full of an assortment of odds and ends.
22. Just Wandering
You could wander around the wholesale are of Tsukiji fish market for a few hours and not get bored.
There are so many incredible creatures from the sea to discover, and so much action to experience.
23. Seafood Street Food
Just as I was about to leave the Tsukiji fish market and move on for the day, I noticed a man selling a scallop in its shell, topped with a number of other seafoods, and flame torched to cook it.
It was one of those things that I saw, and I simply had to eat, there was no holding back.
Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market is not only an amazing place to discover seafood and eat, but it’s also a glimpse into the importance of seafood in Japanese cuisine and culture.
Though the market will relocate, I hope it will rebuild and retain its importance in the Tokyo culture.
Have you been to Tsukiji fish market?
To check out my full Tokyo travel guide, click here.