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Last Call: A Guide for the Final Visit to the Tsukiji Market

The end of an era is looming—the almighty Tsukiji Market is relocating for a brand new look. Pay a last visit to this seafood sanctuary and take in the scenery you won’t find anywhere else.
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The largest of its kind in Japan, the Tsukiji Market is the seafood trading hub in Tokyo. The structure is divided into two main sections: the inner market (jōnai-shijō), designated for licensed wholesale dealers and fish auctions, and the outer market (jōgai-shijō), comprised of smaller wholesale stalls, retail shops and restaurants.

While you might see it in almost every travel guidebook, Tsukiji is actually constructed for industry professionals. To minimize disturbing business activities, tourists are required to remain low-key while roaming around various parts of the complex. Indeed, the biggest charm of the market lies in the opportunity to observe the fishermen, wholesale dealers and restauranteurs who approach their work with the utmost concentration and professionalism. The smooth running of this massive organism relies heavily on the cooperation of visitors so that every worker can carry out their work efficiently.

Citing safety and sanitary concerns back in 2001, the government decided to relocate the market to the nearby Toyosu district. The move is scheduled to happen in October this year, and the current location will be transformed to better facilitate transportation during the 2020 Olympics.

Here's a schedule to get the most out of this special experience in its current home:

 Tickets for the tuna auction will be distributed at Fish Information Center—the blue building—in Harumi-dori.
Tickets for the tuna auction will be distributed at Fish Information Center—the blue building—in Harumi-dori.

Tuna Auction

Time: 2:30 a.m. (or earlier)

Many people see this as the highlight of their visit to Tsukiji, and that’s fully justified. It’s a truly unique spectacle with only 120 tickets available for tourists every day.

The tickets are distributed at the Fish Information Center in Harumi-dori on a first-come, first-served basis. Officially, the tickets won't be given out until 5:00 a.m., but due to the large number of visitors lining up before 3:00 a.m., the staff often issues them at an earlier time. The first 60 guests receiving the tickets are assigned to view the first auction taking place between 5:50 a.m. to 6:05 a.m., while the rest join the second session from 6:05 a.m. to 6:20 a.m.

To secure a spot, it’s advised to get there before 2:30 a.m. Stay at a hotel in the Ginza area, which is only 15 to 20 minutes away from the market by foot. The auction is closed every Sunday and on some Wednesdays. Ask the staff at the hotel to confirm before heading out.
Many restaurants and grocery shops occupy the outer market.
Many restaurants and grocery shops occupy the outer market.

Uogashi Yokocho and the Outer Market

Time: 5:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. 

Early risers, reward yourselves with a satisfying feast at Tsukiji. Uogashi Yokocho and the outer market are dotted with fabulous restaurants and grocery shops, with sushi being the focus of most eateries. A fraction of those, like Sushi Zanmai (at the outer market), are open 24 hours. Other notable joints, Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi, open at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., respectively, with branches at both the outer market and Uogashi Yokocho (Building 6). The sweetness and umami of the fish make for an unexpected, yet highly appreciated distraction while waiting for the sunrise.

Don’t miss out on other signature Japanese delicacies you’ll also find at Tsukiji. Yonehana (Uogashi Yokocho Building 8) purchases fresh eels at 4:00 a.m. every day and opens its doors an hour later, cooking up warming, succulent fish fare to feed hungry patrons. Also recommended are Tenfusa (Uogashi Yokocho Building 6), known for its tempura, and Fujimiya (Uogashi Yokocho Building 10), the only place at the market serving soba noodles.

With a hearty meal ahead, awaken your taste buds by hopping into small coffee shop Aiyō (Uogashi Yokocho Building 6). It serves freshly ground coffee every day starting at 3:30 a.m.

Wholesale and Distribution Market

Time: 10:00 a.m. to Midday

The wholesale and distribution market is exclusive to food industry professionals before 10:00 a.m.—general customers are granted access only after that time. Composed of the seafood and fruit and vegetable areas, the former has almost double the amount of stalls of the latter, hence the bigger attraction. (The number of shops will shrink from 630 to around 500 after the market's move to Toyosu, meaning it’s really the final chance to see the market at its grandest.) While you’re inside, remember not to enter any shop, touch anything or take photos without consent, as to avoid any disruption to the vendors at work.
The Tsukiji Market is scheduled to move to Toyosu soon.
The Tsukiji Market is scheduled to move to Toyosu soon.
Whether the new Toyosu Market will inherit the allure of Tsukiji remains unseen, but diners can expect the same dedication to fresh produce from the market workers. Wherever it’s located, the market will remain in the limelight of the Japanese dining scene. Regardless of the talks over the market’s possible return to Tsukiji after the Tokyo Olympics, the glory of the current Tsukiji Market can only be experienced in this moment.

Put in on your travel itinerary before fall!

This article was originally written by Xiao Shan and translated by Vincent Leung. Click here to read the original version.

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