The Tsukiji fish market (Tsukiji Shijo) is steeped in history, supposedly dating back to the 16th century, and one of Tokyo’s top attraction. Which is slightly odd because the Tsukiji fish market is not a tourist attraction but a working fish and seafood market ― the largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo and Japan. There are seven useful things to know before visiting the Tsukiji fish market.
The market is always busy with trucks and forklifts zooming around the market under the cover of darkness. They can only be noticed by their flashing lights and sounds as they appear while reversing out of one section of the market only to disappear through the plastic door covers of another section of the market.
Here’s 7 things to know before visiting Tsukiji Fish Market!
Visiting the market was high on my list of things to do when I visited Japan. It was a “come hell or high water, situation.”. I had seen the lively videos on YouTube and read articles about the tuna auction and how the first tuna auctioned at Tsukiji market is usually the most expensive tuna of the year. A dead fish reaching prices that would allow me to afford a small flat in London, was something I had to see.
Also, there has been continual discussion and postponing of relocating the Tsukiji Market from its current centrally located home near the upscale Ginza shopping district.
The Tsukiji market has the famous tuna auction which is something to behold within itself. This auction has such an enticement that it draws people from far and wide to sit in a cold room on a concert floor for two hours to watch an event performed entirely in Japanese!
And it’s more than worth it! I would have paid money for the experience. As I said before, the tuna auction is held entirely in Japanese and makes the ‘cash in the attic’ auctioneers look like they are not even trying! I would suggest watching a few videos of the auction like the one here to see how everything goes down.
One thing I did not expect when I visited the market was a 30 – 45 minutes schooling about the various types of tuna, how the tunas are stored (-60 degrees) once they are caught at sea, which allows the tuna to be kept for up to two years.
How the buyers check the tunas by picking at it using a fork like tool to check how fatty or lean the tuna is. The cut, colour and texture of the meat and how the buyers discuss the price points before the start of the auctions.
But most importantly, what the hell does those bloody hand gestures from the buyers mean to the auctioneer and how many years would it take me to learn them?
There are two main parts to the Tsukiji market, the outer market (Jōgai-shijō) and the inner market ( Jōnai-shijō). The outer market is where you’ll find all the sushi markets and ramen shops. The entrance to the inner market is right next to the Namiyoke Inari Shrine but that’s not where you enter for the tuna auction (confusing I know), but at the fish information centre in the Osakana Fukyu Centre.
The inner market is where the tuna auction is held and where wholesale fishes are bought and sold.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is NOT a Tourist Attraction
I think this point needs to be emphasised -The Tsukiji Fish Market is NOT a tourist attraction, but a place where people run their business and earn their living despite the tourist appeal.
The tuna auction is a business first and as such, no flash photography is allowed during the auction. If you disrupt or interrupt the auction in any way, you’ll swiftly be put out.
Don’t be offended if you’re told to get out of the way of the trucks moving around or told not to take pictures or video of people when visiting the market.
Flash photography is a straight up NO! NO! In the inner market – you don’t want to provoke a knife-wielding fishmonger. It might not end well for you!
Some shops don’t mind discreet photography. But don’t overdo it.
But don’t expect the people in the market to stop for you because you’re trying to live your Instagram life by taking 1000 selfies and getting in their way.
Remember you are not paying to be there, they are not getting a cent from you and they don’t owe you anything. So be respectful, polite, and alert. Follow the rules of the market, and the Tsukiji tuna auction will be an unforgettable experience.
Harsh I know, but come on guys this is a free experience that can be stopped at any time, so don’t ruin it for everyone.
Entrance for Auction
Registration for visitors to the tuna auction is on the 1st floor of the Fish Information Centre in the Osakana Fukyu Centre. It pays to know this in advance to save time wandering around the market at 2:00 am in the morning.
I learnt this the hard way as the taxi dropped us off at the main entrance to the market near the Namiyoke Inari Shrine. We then had to walk with another couple for good 10 minutes in the rain while trying to find the building where we could register.
To watch the famous tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, you should get there at around 3:00 am, or even earlier. Yes, you read that correctly, 3:00 am.
If you go during peak tourist season, people may arrive earlier. When I visited the market in April, we got there at 2:30 am and there had been people waiting outside the waiting area since 1:00 am.
With only two sets of 60 people allowed to watch the tuna auction, it is a first come, first serve kinda gig. So, waking up and getting there at an ungodly hour or going with a private tour will be your only options.
I suggest you save your money, get there early and use the cash to buy sushi for breakfast.
The market’s opening hours for people wanting to see the tuna auction is 3:30 am to 6:00 am and only 120 people can watch the auction. Officially at 5 am, the market security personnel will distribute the visitor’s vests to the first 120 people in line.
However, when I visited the market, there were already about 20 people queuing and it was raining so the security allowed us into the waiting area early and gave us our vests.
We were divided into two groups and given two different colours of high visibility vest. These yellow and green vests to differentiate between the two groups.
The first set of tourists attend the auction between 5:50 am and 6:05 am, while the second set can view between 6:05 am and 6:20 am. Once all 120 vest have been handed out that’s it! If you didn’t get a vest that morning, then you’re out of luck and will need to try again the next day.
You could be waiting for two hours or more, so it’s ok to sit on the floor. Next to the wall is the best place. Bring snacks and make yourself comfortable, it’ll be awhile.
Once it gets close to the auction time, you’ll be guided from the waiting area to the auction area by the staff. They will ask you to stay in an orderly line as you march through the market (much like prisoners marching together) this is for your own safety. Don’t try to step out of line, you will be quickly shouted at to get back in place or be run over by one of the many trucks coming from what seemed to be every possible direction in the market.
If you’re not interested in seeing the tuna auction but still want to see the fish market. You can arrive a 9:00 am, visitors can enter after 9 am (visitors before 9 am, will be asked to leave).
Check The Market Calendar Before You Visit
Tsukiji fish market is not opened every day. The market is normally closed on Sunday and most Wednesdays. Make sure you check the calendar below before you visit.
Yes, I know the calendar is in Japanese but you can easily check the calendar on the official Tsukiji Market (Tsukiji’s English-language homepage).
Avoid the days marked in RED!
Getting To Tsukiji Market
I took a taxi to the Tsukiji Market. As at 3:00 am in the morning there was no public transport.
Tsukiji Market is in the heart of central Tokyo, near the swanky Ginza neighbourhood.
If you’re travelling later in the morning to visit the market, the closest station is the Toei Oedo line’s Tsukiji Shijo Station and the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line’s Tsukiji Station.
If you’re visiting for the tuna auction early in the morning, taking a taxi from your hotel or hostel, will be your best choice.
There were people who even stayed at hotels near the market so that they could arrive early enough to catch the auction.
Here are few hotel options
Pack Warm and Light and Bring Cash
The market is cold and wet, so make sure you carry a lightweight warm jacket. Wear closed toed shoes or trainers that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.
Flip flops or open shoes are not permitted for safety.
Carry cash because there are few places that accept credit or debit cards.
You’ll eventually want to go to the restroom after waiting for almost two hours. However, there is a restroom with a squatting toilet but the lights weren’t working on the day of my visit.
So basically, I had to piss squatting while trying to use my phone as a flashlight. “Classy” Ladies, do yourselves a favour and carry extra tissues, hand sanitizer and your phone in case the lights aren’t working.
Visit Before It Moves
The Tsukiji Fish Market will not be in this historic central location for long and this was one of the main reason I wanted to visit the market before it was moved.
The market is destined for relocation despite the numerous opposition against the move to the Toyosu, which was originally planned for November 2016, but has been postponed several times and a new date for the relocation has not yet been set.
Tsukiji Market is not a tourist attraction and certainly not for everyone. If you are squeamish or don’t like fish give this a miss. You’ll find that the Tsukiji is the world’s largest and most efficiently run fish market and is an incredible place to visit.
If you’re keen on having a unique experience while visiting Tokyo and learning about Japanese food, then visit the Tsukiji market.
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