Tsukiji Fish Market

Search “Japan” or “Tokyo” in Google, open any guide book, or talk to any visitor and they’ll be sure to tell you about one place: Tsukiji Fish Market.

You’d think, with my love of all things touristy, that this would have been one of the first things I checked off my list. Well, you’re wrong.

The thing is, it’s not exactly close to where I live. It is in terms of being in the same city but it’s not when the tuna auctions start at 5am and no trains are running yet. So to get there on time, I would have to find somewhere closer to sleep and to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t really be bothered.

That was until they announced they were going to move the market for the Olympic Stadium later this November. The countdown is on.

Today is a national public holiday (celebrating culture apparently) so, being a three day weekend for me, I finally set off to Tsukiji.

Still, I was unwilling to pay for a hotel room when I planned to leave halfway through the night. That left me with two options: pulling an all nighter at an American franchise restaurant called Jonathan’s or crashing at a manga/Internet cafe. I chose the latter.

So what does ¥1500 for four hours get you?

This.
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And this.

Day 510: whelp, this is home for tonight. This tuna auction better be spectacular.

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It wasn’t the most comfortable place but I didn’t exactly get a comfortable nap either.

Overall, it didn’t take too much effort to set out at 3:15am.

Usually, there are two tours available: 5am and 6am. Once they reach the quota of 60 people for each group, you’re out of luck.

So, knowing people would flock there at 4am, I planned to make it by 3:45.

If you’ve ever been to Ginza – or anywhere in Tokyo for that matter – you’ll probably have seen a lot of traffic on the roads and footpaths alike. In comparison, this is what it looks like in the dead of night. 

And at last, with some directions given to me in a mixture of Japanese and English by an outer fish market shops keeper, I made to the the auction gate.

The closed auction gate.

The market is regularly closed on Sundays and, being a public holiday today, the auction was held a little earlier yesterday.

Amidst some very affronted foreigners, the guardsman rewarded my disappointed smile by pointing to a restaurant on the map he handed to me.

“5 o’clock open,” he said, not quite in a whisper but close enough to one. “早くね (hayaku ne: hurry!).”

As it turns out, he was sending me to 寿司大 (sushi dai), a popular sushi restaurant.

I should have heeded his advice immediately. But I was tired and cold, so I wandered around a bit around the outer markets, which was starting to wake up.

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Eventually, when I made it to the line, it had already started raining. It didn’t stop until that afternoon.

Until sunrise, I barely spoke except to offer sharing my umbrella with a British couple waiting behind me. They politely declined and I started drifting in and out of sleep.

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When the sun did rise around 6am, however, we started to chat with the people around us.

For me, that was the same British couple I had offered the umbrella to a few hours back.

They arrived in Shibuya on a Saturday night – Halloween, of all times. In case you haven’t heard, there was quite a party going on that night, even for Shibuya standards.

For people who went through that on the first night and then missed the tuna auction after a ridiculously early morning wake up, they were very cheerful and chatty. I even heard them practicing Arabic, his native language, before sunrise.

Five hours later, at 9.30, we were pressed up against the doors and windows of 寿司大.

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Slightly hysteric at this point. I remember saying, “Yesssss, I made it, Mum. I made it!”

They offer two sets: the chef’s recommended set for ¥4000 or a smaller set for ¥2600. Needless to say, after waiting five and half hours in the rain, we all went for the chef’s recommended.

At the end, we had started talking to others around us as well, including a New Yorker, two other Melbournians from South Bank, a Taiwanese American from Washington state, and a Japanese man who confessed to me in Japanese that he didn’t speak English and had no idea what we were chatting about.

But what else would we be chatting about by this stage? Sushi and warmth.

In reality, we were excited about the warmth and worried about the sushi. None of us were sushi experts and, even if the sushi was amazing, we weren’t sure if it would be worth the wait. Or, to quote us that morning, if it would “blow our minds.”

Regardless, when we were finally ushered in, we were ecstatic. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces.

We wanted warmth and got it. The restaurant was heated. They served us hot tea and miso soup. They thrust hot towels into our hands as soon as we were seated. (“あったかい (attakai: so warm!),” I squealed happily.)

And the food? Oh, the food. As I’m writing this, I wish I had taken photos so I could show you what we ate. But thinking about writing this post was very low on my priority list at that point.

Unlike the sushi I usually eat, they made each one fresh for us, meaning it was warm. They also told us not to use soy sauce for a lot of them as they had either marinated the fish or brushed sauce along the top for us.

It did blow our minds. And even though I went home exhausted, soaked to the bone, and having barely seen the rest of the market, I went home happy.

For the most part, the happiness came from the food. But, true to Japanese culture, the staff showed exceptional service.

I chatted with our waitress once I had enough food in my system to think.

“日本語できる? (nihongo dekiru: can you understand Japanese?)” she asked when I asked for another cup of tea.

“ちょっとだけ (chotto dake: just a little),” I smiled sheepishly.

I told her that I had slept in the manga cafe and was planning to sleep for the rest of the day under my beloved kotatsu. As I was leaving, I discovered she told the chefs.

“ごちそうさまでした (gochisousamadeshita: thank you for the meal),” I said, shuffling out the door.

“ゴメンね (gomen ne: sorry),” they bowed slightly. “気をつけてね (ki wo tsukete ne: take care)! Get some sleep!”

Thoughts?