Tokyo: Tsukuji Fish Market
Get There: ５丁目-２-１ Tsukiji, Chuo (Note that the inner market is scheduled to close on October 6, 2018, and relocate)
As someone who treats alarm clock snooze buttons like a game of whack-a-mole, I’ve always found people who get out of bed before midday to be a bit fishy. But when it comes to the Tsukuji Fish Market, it’s genuinely worth missing out on some beauty sleep. While the rest of Tokyo is dreaming of the deliciously fresh tuna sashimi they’ll be chomping on for lunch, fishermen and buyers are already getting down and dirty in their gumboots at the dawn tuna auction.
Finding this famous section of the market from the main road is hard — you need to look for the Osakana Fukyu Centre (Fish Information Centre), and only 120 gaijin are admitted to it each morning (except Sundays and some Wednesdays). This means that if you want to be one of them, you have to get there super early. I’m talking before 5am, so go straight from the nightclub if you need to. Unfortunately, trains don’t start running till later on, so you’re going to have to suck it up and get a cab. We arrived at 4:40am, and were the last lot to be ushered in to the waiting room – the people behind us had the door slammed in their face. (Okay, so the door was closed gently because everyone in Japan is so polite, but you get the gist.)
One set of 60 auction-goers are let in at 5:25, the other at 5:50; so in the meantime, you just have to sit in the waiting room in your hi-vis vest binge drinking vending-machine coffee in an attempt to stay conscious. The walk from the waiting room to the warehouse is treacherous and kind of like a game of Frogger – everyone speeds around on mini turret trucks without any care if you end up roadkill. The warehouse itself is absolutely insane. You stand in the middle jostling for photo space under the strict eye of a guard surrounded by rows and rows of granddaddy-sized tuna.
They’re literally 200kg plus – the kind of fish that probably scared humans into becoming land-dwellers. Swarms of surly men stride around the icy floors driving knives into the fish to determine how dead/tender/delicious they are, and every few minutes, an auctioneer will stand on a chair next to one and start screaming in Japanese to the sea of bidders. If you were thinking of scoring yourself one, think again: not only do they speak so fast that prices are indistinguishable, but the fish can sell for hundreds of millions of yen, which is more than a million Aussie dollars. Then, in 20 minutes, it’s all over, and you’re thrown onto the streets to fend for yourself.
Annoyingly, the other cool bits of the market that sell whacky creatures from the deep don’t open till around 9am. If you want to kill time until then, you can head to one of the zillion mini sushi stalls and shops that are already open to breakfast on cod roe and raw cuttlefish. Alternatively, if you don’t have a fish fetish or a stomach of steel, I’d recommend going back to bed and coming back later. Although you will undoubtedly have at least one whingy friend who complains that the fish markets were a complete waste of time, they seriously is a once in a lifetime experience, and you should definitely make the effort to go if you’re in Tokyo. But be warned: never again will you believe John West when he claims his tins are the freshest.