Tokyo, Day 2. Tsukiji fish market.

November 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm 9 comments

It is 5.30am on a cold Tokyo morning and, in a wet warehouse, the head of a small man pops up above the crowd. A bell rings and the masses – exclusively men in their wellies – turn their heads to greet him. He waves his fist and starts to shout, easing into a rhythmic chant; “Nee-sen-nee-sen-nee-sen-nee-sen”. The crowd starts to buzz and then twinkle, flashlights blinking momentarily from one corner and then another to signal participation. The bell, still ringing, speeds up as the man on the platform strikes his best Superman pose once, twice, three times. As the bell reaches fever pitch and the man’s air-punching starts to resemble a popular 70s dance, the show stops as suddenly as it began and the crowd shuffles away.
Anywhere else this sight would be a curious, agriculture-based protest but in Tokyo, it’s just an average early morning auction in Tsukiji Fish Market. Here, the fishermen sell the best of their daily booty and the cream of the crop – tuna fish that often weighs upwards of 70lbs – is lined up along the concrete floor for vigorous examination before it falls under the hammer. The rest of the catch is sold individually or in bulk in the hundreds of stalls set up across the rest of the market. Fish so fresh that they wriggle in their carrier bags are perused by restauranteurs and sushi chefs while sword-yielding vendors slice, gut and behead their wares with the precision and skill of Samurai.
On the metro on the way in, while I was still picking the sleep out of my eyes, the thought of dodging motorised carts and squeltching through fish guts was not as appealing as you would imagine. All this changed though, when we stumbled into the fish market and a man with a hand cart sped by with a fat tuna fish that was longer than me and more closely related to a whale than that stuff you scoop out of a tin. In a front stall a man was casually whipping live fish out of a tank, chopping off their tales and slitting their necks with a heavy cleaver. As disgusting as it all should have been, the careless skill of the vendors along with the ferocious size of their stock (there were scallops as big as a fist and prawns that could take on a lobster) was completely absorbing and, as Gary hopped about with his camera, I had the greatest time wandering from stall to stall, totally invisible – fish guts or no fish guts.
Tokyp 022 edited
Inevitably the fish market was followed by some epic sushi and tea in Sushi Zanmai. Day 2 in Tokyo – so far so good!

More photos from today can be seen on the gallery page.


Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bob "Stuck in Dublin" Murphy  |  November 4, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Yay! I wanna be the first to comment!

  • 2. leebie  |  November 5, 2009 at 12:56 am

    wwwwowsa, im so glad you two are doing this blog, i feel more travelled already, its like i was there. In fact this conversation will happen tommorrow:

    Me: Did i ever tell you about that time i was in a tokyo fish market?

    Someone: You were never in a tokyo fish market.

    Me: Excuse me? I think i’d know. Sit down and i’ll tell you about it…it was 5.30am on a cold Tokyo morning and, in a wet warehouse, the head of a small man popped up above the crowd. A bell rang and..

  • 3. Eoin  |  November 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Great first post. who knew that beeing awake at 5.30 in the morning could be made to sound so interesting

  • 4. James Spencer  |  November 6, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Lovely first post guys, great story and photos. Did I say Damn you yet? 🙂 Sooooo jealous!

  • 5. John  |  November 6, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Well said and shot guys. Reading it is even better than being there. Just don’t stand in the middle of the road snapping taxis – its dangerous! Great pic though

    • 6. yearlongbreakup  |  November 6, 2009 at 3:52 pm

      it’s ok John, we had a green light!

  • 7. John  |  November 6, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Ok remind me – green in Japanese is what in Engrish?

  • 8. Kirst "v.much afraid of fish eyes"  |  November 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I feel like i’m v.much part of this narrative.
    I do love all your pics and stories. Ye’re not that far away.
    Sure just look at ya there… NO, not THere… Ya, a little right,
    behind that fish mongerer, to the left of the hanging baskets,
    and beside the shrimp (Ro being the only female with fair/blond hair nd all for miles).

    Enjoy!! 🙂

  • 9. Ode to Asia « Chronicles of a year-long break-up  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    […] 7.Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan The phrase ‘fresh sushi’ never rang as true as it does in Tsukiji Fish Market where fishermen and chefs meet to haggle over a 70 tonne tuna fish or a handful of live prawns. While the rest of Tokyo is still sleeping, skilled tradesmen gut fish with one hand while texting with the other and demonstrate just how easy it is to turn an eel inside out. […]


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