Monday, March 9, 2009

Tsukiji Fish Market

So there we are, two aging business travellers on the streets of Tokyo at 4:45 am, braving the wind and rain in order to watch some foreign chaps sell fish. Fair enough, probably wasn't going to sleep much more anyway, but it still didn't feel quite as good an idea as it had the night before!

The hotel we were using - Royal Park Shiodome Tower - is no more than 10 minutes walk from the fish market so at least it was no big deal getting there. It has two entrances and we picked the first one, going in by way of the fruit and veg market that's housed in the same building.

As you can see, there's a lot of water sloshing about so point 1 is to make sure you wear shoes that are waterproof. Point 2 is to wear shoes you don't mind ending up smelling of fish! Actually, having said that, the floors are remarkably clean considering all the piscene-based hacking that goes on there. Largely, I think this is because the fish is either sold whole or, in the case of tuna, solidly frozen when sliced-up.

So what could you buy? "Pretty much anything you can think of that comes from the sea" is the answer, combined with quite a lot of things that you would have trouble imagining could come from anywhere at all. I think we saw krill at the small end of the size scale right up to massive tuna. In between ranged everything from shell fish, through flat fish, octopus, sea cucumbers, squid, snapper - the list is virtually endless. Some retailers were wholesale, some retail. And no, I didn't feel like buying any of it to bring home thanks very much! Can't imagine what the sniffer dogs at SFO would make of half that stuff; lunch, probably.

The market itself is a warren of individual stalls, many of which are bi-level with an upstairs portion acting as the office. Running up and down the gaps between the stall are small powered trailers, each of which is clearly on some sort of mission that you, the foreigner, are interfering with. Beware these things! To be fair, you are wandering around their offices, cluttering up the place and not buying anything so given all that then actually the rightful occupants were quite understanding.

We went over to look at the tuna auction but it's all sealed off and no visitors were permitted. Glanced through a door that opened and it looked like there were shrouded corpses lining the floor. The frozen exteriors of the tuna, combined with their shape, made them all look like bodies that had been wrapped for burial. Fascinating stuff.

The overall impression left by Tsukiji is that there's no way the seas of this planet can continue to deliver such a bounty. This was one day of the six days a week worth of commerce that's transacted here. Japan apparently accounts for 10% of the worlds consumption of fish, the largest slice of which goes through Tsukiji.

Can we really keep up this level of supply? Tuna are getting harder and harder to find and it's not clear to me whether or not Japan practices much in the way of fisheries management and preservation. Either way, though, Tsukiji is doomed. The Tokyo government is planning to relocate it soon to another part of Tokyo. See it soon, therefore, before either it moves and loses the uniqueness it has today or the fish runs out.

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