Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tsukiji Market Of Tokyo

"Tsukiji market is wide and deep. 
It is much mysterious than the Bazaar of Istanbul. 
You aren't see'em all within a day." 

Kuni Konomu

I finally made a visit to the world's largest wholesale fish and seafood in Tsukiji, Tokyo.

One great thing about my first visit is to be taken around the place by a local who has seen how the market had changed for the last half century. I got to know Mr Kuni Konomu (he prefers to be referred as Mr K) at the Japan International Seafood Expo recently. I was told he is a professional when it comes to Tsukiji Market and I immediately asked for his contact details. After a few exchanges of mails, there I went, to the Tsukiji Market on the last weekend.


The signboard at the Tsukiji-shijo Station (築地市場) on the Toei Oedo Line (都営大江戸線).

The first thing that greeted me upon getting down at the subway station was not the station attendant taking care of the flow of the passengers and trains at the platform. Neither was the huge number of tourists. It was the fishy smell of the fishes and seafood few hundreds meters away haha!

So next time, if you happen to smell some fishy smell when you got down from the train, you should know you are at Tsukiji, although you might not be able to read the Japanese on the signboards lol!


The lost-and-found notice board, located just next to the police box.

The lost-and-found board is indeed one of its kind and it is even more interesting is you understand what is being written on it. The reason - you can almost never find other same board, where people lost or found all sort of interesting stuff, such as frozen fillet, taro (里いも), Japanese flying squid (スルメイカ), berries and etc. Imagine if a similar board is placed in some random market in Malaysia, what would be written on it?

Maybe stuff like santan pekat manis, telur itik kampung, betik separuh masak haha! 


The fresh stocks of seafood that were bought by the retailers at auction or from middlemen. The goods are loaded into trucks and carried back 
to their own shops in town.


Fresh tuna in the polystyrene boxes. These are just the small and medium sized tunas.

Tsukiji Market started as a riverside fish market near the Nihonbashi bridge that dates back to the 16th century. In 1657, Edo (Old Tokyo) was devastated by the Great Fire of Meireki, and the Tokugawa shogunate decided to fill in the coastal area of Edo. Using advanced civil engineering, the land was reclaimed from the Tokyo Bay and named Tsuki-ji (築地), which literally means "constructed land". The place used to be quiet with only shrines and homes for Samurai.

Then in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed much of central Tokyo, including the Nihombashi Fish Market. The fish market was then relocated to the Tsukiji District and began its operations in 1935, making Tsukiji a prosperous and bustling town. Today, more than five centuries later, it has earned the status as one of the biggest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. It is now a large wholesale market for fish, seafood, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo.

The sight of the many varieties of fresh fish and seafood, plus the busy atmosphere of scooters, trucks, forklifts, sellers and buyers hurrying around, some answering to continuous phone calls, in the middle of the advanced and developed Tokyo metropolitan is something fascinating. This in turn, has turned Tsukiji Market a major tourist attraction and the number of tourists have increased dramatically over recent years. 


"Turret trucks" (ターレ) transporting goods around the market. Each of this multipurpose vehicle costs about one million yen (RM 40,000).


The always busy passageway upon entering the wholesale area on the left side.


The wholesale area at nine in the morning where most of the wholesalers have ended their business for the day.

Mr K has frequented Tsukiji Market since his high school days and from that, I believe not many people are able to match his vast knowledge about this market. Visiting the market over the years had made him used to almost every corner of the market and he knows a fair numbers of traders at the market. Most of them are his close acquaintances, whom he has known for many years. In fact, some of them are his close family friends, who has known each other since his grandfather days.

When he took me around the inner market, several wholesalers there waved at him the moment they saw him. A great indication of how well is he known among the traders at Tsukiji Market.


Many types of tsukemono or pickled stuff which are made from fresh seafood, that explains the presence of dried ice on the shelf.

The inner market where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auctions take place, is so huge, that even myself whom I considered is quite good in directions, might get lost in it. There are just too many narrow alleys and corners that look alike in the wholesale area. According to Mr K, there are roughly about 600 shops in this wholesale area alone!

Just like how the name goes, the products here are basically sold in huge bulks, and it is almost impossible for you to purchase two little squids, or half kilo of salmon from these wholesalers. However, using his reputation as someone who is already known by the local traders there, he bought two packets of smoked dried fish (forgot exactly what fish was that haha!) from one of the shops there.


A tuna head, which measured about 60 centimeters in diameter!


Mr K calls this the tuna coffin. Yes, the huge tuna are really huge that they require wooden boxes as big as the size of a coffin for human.


One of the wholesalers wiping off the water vapour on the surface of the tuna. Those are the tuna of the highest quality, 
which can fetch more than 10,000 yen (about RM 400) per kilogram. Crazy, right?


One of the workers cutting the frozen tuna with a band saw.


After some time walking with Mr K, I have learned some basic knowledge to determine the grade of the tuna. This is considered 
the "lower" quality tuna, yet they still do not come cheap.

We continued our tour to the outer part of the market, which is located just adjacent to the inner market and caters to the public. The Tsukiji Outer Market, known as the Jogai Shijo (場外市場), is Japan's "Food Town", where one can encounter all of Japan's traditional foods.

A mixture of wholesale and retail shops along with numerous restaurants line the narrow streets, and new culinary trends are born here. Here, all sort of food related goods, knives and fresh seafood products are on sale in smaller portions.


It was the typhoon season, hence the gloomy weather and business were unusually quiet on that day. 


The outer market of Tsujiki.


Aritsugu (有次), a shop that sells kitchen knife, has exists for more than 400 years.


 All knifes bought from here has life-time guarantee.

Tsukiji Market is also famous for its sushi restaurants (Mr K refers them as sushi bars), lined up along two narrow streets just outside the inner wholesale market area. They are usually opened from the wee hours of five in the morning and closed by two in the afternoon. In other words, you go to Tsukiji Market sushi restaurants for breakfast, not dinner.

I noticed a long queue, comprising about fifteen to twenty people at Nakaya (仲家), one of the sushi restaurants sitting at the corner of the rows of sushi street.  As far as my memory is correct, I didn't see a single Japanese there; all queuing-up were foreign tourists. Long queue at a certain eatery place usually gives an impressions that it serves great food.


The row of sushi restaurants at the outer market of Tsujiki.


Nakaya (仲家), one of the more popular sushi restaurants in Tsukiji Market.

However, I believe it is all about chain effect. One person see a queue is building up and he joins the crowd. Another person then see the queue is getting longer and he do not wanna miss out on the fun as well. That's how long queue usually happens in restaurants. The best example in Malaysia would be the two cendol stalls at Penang Road. Another factor is that most travel guide books recommends almost the same spots to tourists. So, we cannot blame them as most of them are first timers there.

Combine the two factors above and you will be able to work out that why they related to each other very well. You line up for hours and logically, you will be hungry. When a person is hungry, any food will taste good. And after they spent some time lining up and dine at the sushi restaurants, they will tell you the seafood tastes so fresh and delicious compared to other places, and is just like what is written in the guide book.

I then popped a question to Mr K out of my curiosity, asking him which sushi restaurant is his personal recommendation, as he has literally grown up in this market. His immediate response was a smile. But I insisted him to tell me his personal favourite restaurant and to my surprise, guess what he told me? Surprise, surprise; he does not recommend any sushi restaurants there, because he feels there are nothing extra ordinary.


We then stopped at a green tea shop - Wadakyumeicha (和田久銘茶部・三久), which has been Mr K's wife favorite green tea for the past thirty years.


Yamadashi (山だし) tea, which has a distinctive taste and aroma. It can be either served hot or cold.


Wonderful combination of colours of the pickles. This pickle shop is Mr K's personal favourite shop.


The first ever Yoshinoya restaurant, which started business in Tsukiji market in 1926.


It initially started as a gyudon restaurant in Nihonbashi in 1899, but moved to Tsukiji due to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.


Of the many restaurants along the street, this one is quite interesting. It suits best for customers who has unusual demands, 
like half katsu, prawns without the tails, less sauce, more spicy, etc. because they are ready to prepared the meal according to each customer's wish.


That is why, almost nobody actually orders their meal from the menu of this restaurant haha!


Katsuoboshi (鰹 節), or dried, fermented, and smoked skip jack tuna of various grades. I took a few pieces of the highest quality flakes and indeed,
they tasted different from the normal ones.


The katsuoboshi that has been processed into powder form, usually used as the main ingredients for dashi.


For longer storage life, some may prefer to get these wood-block katsuoboshi, which can last up to twenty years.


Shioda store, which sells various kinds of nuts. The couple who run this store are professional when it comes to nuts, 
as they can describe to you in details about each types of nuts, how to cook them, etc.


There are roughly about fifty types of different nuts sold in this store. Even for the black nut alone, there are about eight different types!


Porcelains sold at wholesale price.

There was one time a friend of Mr K, an American, came to the market with a luggage. When he got back, his luggage was fully filled with these porcelains haha! Apparently, these products are popular among the Westerners and they sell at great price. Besides that, Mr K's son has a deep interest in pottery. So, whenever he feels like buying a certain porcelain dish, he will bring along his son to Tsukiji Market, point the design he likes and his son will then buy the necessary materials and hand-make it at home. Cool, ain't it?

Going to Tsukiji Market on Saturday on every other fortnight, is something like a routine field study trip to Mr K. He usually goes there to shop for seafood for his family consumption. Saturdays are preferred because the market closes on the next day and most traders will try to clear off their stock which means the price will turn much cheaper by late Saturday morning.

Mr K is also currently in the process of writing a guide book about Tsukiji Market and he is already more than two-third to completing his book. Among the challenges he faces is to keep up with the latest information on the shops he featured in his book.


We then stopped at Shoro (松露), a shop that is famous for its tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) or Japanese omelet. A wide variety of tamagoyaki on the display shelves.


Coincidentally, the shop offered free cooking lessons to anyone who is interested to try preparing the tamagoyaki.


Despite having attempted on several Japanese dishes, I have never tried making tamagoyaki before, so I thought why not giving it a try.


Laughing at my own eggs (pun unintended) haha wtf!


Took a photo with Mr K and the chef who guided me through the whole process.


Sheng Teng, a new friend from KL whom I got to know at Tsukiji Market. What a small world it is, to meet a fellow countryman so randomly at a cooking lesson!

Suffice to say, my eggs turned out quite nice haha! Unexpectedly, the staff also took a group photo and gave the photo along with the tamagoyaki I made to bring home. How nice is that! What a memorable way to remember my first experience of preparing tamagoyaki.

I later found out that the next girl who joined the cooking lesson was a fellow Malaysian in Waseda University. Our group photos are uploaded in Facebook, so if you are interested to see my eggs, you can go over there and take a look lol!


Our final stop was to have our lunch at Tentake (天竹), just a short walk from Tsukiji Market.


This restaurant has five floors in total, with the forth and fifth floor are usually reserved for parties and reservation is required.


The waiting area of the restaurant that is currently managed by its third generation.

Again, Mr K has been eating in this restaurant since he was a young boy and he knows the owner very well. Besides the normal seafood dishes, this restaurant specialises in fugu or puffer fish dishes. Yes, that lethally poisonous killer fish, that despite the dangers it poses, has become one of the most celebrated and notorious dishes in Japanese cuisine. During the Showa Era, fugu is the only food officially forbidden to the Emperor of Japan, for his safety.

I let Mr K to do all the ordering because I believe he can never go wrong in his orders. For starters, he ordered a combination of three kinds of sashimi and fugu tenpura.


Aji (carangidae), maguro (tuna) and hotate (scallop).


Fugu tenpura; it was my first time tasting fugu and it does not taste like fish, but more like chicken.


Kakiage-don (かき揚げ丼), consisting of rice topped with deep-dried squid and sauce.


Fried fugu fins.

The food in Tentake was generally good, though not extra-ordinary. The price was reasonable as well, when you consider the quality and the freshness of the food served. We spent the next couple of hours after our meal chatting at the restaurant, before we bid farewell at the station. That's the end of my first visit to Tsukiji Market and I gotta personally thank Mr K for taking me around that morning.

Thank you for reading.


kooks said...

hi calvin, glad to read about Tsukiji Market from your blog. at first i was confuse of whether to include tsukiji market in my "must visit" spot for my coming trip in tokyo but i guess it definitely a must. one of the reason being the variety of seafood to see and of course not to miss the japanese food there. will try to search for the above restaurant as u recommended!

calvin said...

@ kooks:
hi kooks. good to hear that this entry made you changed your decision to include tsukiji market into your tokyo itinerary. i believe you will never regret your decision after you paid a visit to this wonderful place.

some of the seafood you see at tsukiji are usually not found elsewhere. and if you are lucky enough, you will get to try on the fresh sashimi samples which are just too good!

have fun there! (^.^;