Every traveller to Tokyo is, it seems, immediately bombarded with commands and questions directly pertaining to their presence at the famous fish market at Tsukiji, deep within the bay of Tokyo. It has been almost four months since I arrived in the city, which at the very least rules out using the experience as a barrier against jet lag, so at the continuous request of a particular parent and after no less than four failed attempts I came to be blinking in the very un-rainy seasonal sun at nine o’clock in the morning.
The 5 am tuna auction is perhaps the most well known aspect of this place, but given that photography is generally not allowed and that getting a place would require me to get the last train from Koenji and wait for four hours, I thought it far more pleasant to skip the whole affair and simply see the post-auction market in action. Surprisingly, the market proper was almost free of tourists. Unsurprisingly, the guidebook-recommended sushi restaurants on the outskirts were not. This allowed me some quality time with some totally unconcerned fishermen in their natural habitat.
As many guidebooks say, tourists at tolerated here rather than welcomed. One has absolutely no right of way amongst the serious looking men wielding comically enormous knives or dock workers speeding about on dollies piles high with frozen fish.
This has definite advantages to the budding street photographer, however, as it allows him to move about effectively unnoticed by his subjects as they go about their morning. The bulk of the day’s commerce has actually been completed by the time tourists are allowed in, so there was a general air of reaching the end of a long morning amongst many of the staff, who were relaxing and having breakfast while their superiors worked on the accounts. Nevertheless, fish were still out and being sold at a steady pace.
While Tsukiji may not be quite the number one attraction Tokyo has to offer (in this wanderer’s opinion, at least), it is most definitely an experience for those looking for ‘the real Japan’. The replacement of sugar coating with a mix of slime, fish blood and water will be refreshing for many. I personally chose sleep over the tuna auction, and have few if any regrets about doing so. Other sources have advised that it is best to avoid the main sushi restaurants where the queues can hit two hours and explore the area a little more to find shops where the fish has had to travel a grand total of 30m further. Just be sure to have your camera ready and your wits about you.