So I’m back in Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup (more on that here), and I finally made it to Tsukiji fish market! Even after living here for over a year, and having made so many visits to the city before & since living here, I somehow never got around to it before. I guess that was partly because I had no real interest in getting up at 4 in the morning to go and queue to watch the Tsukiji tuna auction, which for many years was top spot on the Tokyo to-do list for many visitors (Lonely Planet gave it top billing). I also guess I prefer seeing bluefin tuna swimming in the sea to seeing them lying frozen on a market floor… but I’ve still always wanted to go to Tsukiji for some super-fresh sushi, and we did once make an attempt to go for a sushi breakfast one Sunday morning after drinking all night but got there only to realise the market was shut for the day.
The tuna auction (along with the rest of the wholesale market operation) recently relocated to the new (and far larger) market buildings over at Toyosu, but the old ‘outer market’ of Tsukiji (where the restaurants serve individual customers) is still in the same place and still operating exactly as before. The ‘inner market’ is being torn down (still very much a demolition site when I visited yesterday), but the few city blocks of the outer market are very much alive & kicking. It’s a fairly compact area with a grid of streets interconnected by narrow alleyways running through the buildings, all lined with restaurants and vendors. The place has heaps of character and there’s fantastic seafood on all sides (it comes straight over the bridges from Toyosu so it’s still completely fresh every morning), and it’s a far more interesting and lively place than Toyosu.
The main things on offer are of course sushi & sashimi, and the top Tsukiji must-try that is kaisendon (literally ‘seafood bowl’), basically just a bowl of rice with raw seafood on top. Prices range from 900 yen for a basic salmon bowl up to pushing 4000 yen for the deluxe versions with various fish, scallops, crab claws etc all piled up on top. Here’s the typical line up at a kaisendon place:
As noted above I’m not a fan of wrecking the oceans for a tasty meal, but then I also do love seafood, which may sound like a contradictory position to be in but actually it’s not that hard to check which seafood is or isn’t good to eat if you give a shit about sustainable fishing and the state of our oceans (and they are in an absolute fucking state); there’s a handy guide here, and with that in mind I had a bowl of raw salmon & salmon roe over rice (oyakodon, 親子丼, literally ‘mother & child bowl’) from this place:
It may not look like much:
…but it was 10/10 outstanding. The ikura (salmon roe) were the best roe I’ve ever eaten for sure, and the salmon was right up there. It was quite a small serving for 1000 yen, but really this is the best sushi/sashimi/seafood meal you’re likely to get in Japan without busting out 200+ dollars per head for a top end restaurant. There are of course similar fish markets elsewhere like Sapporo & Osaka, but Tsukiji is easy to get to and far easier to work out for the average casual visitor without much Japanese language ability. In addition to kaisendon & sushi/sashimi joints you can also find plenty of vendors serving oysters, scallops etc (with optional blowtorching), grilled fish skewers, octopus and so on.
It’s not all seafood though – the above salmon bowl was chased down with a delicious green tea ice cream (which I failed to photograph before inhaling) and there are a few places selling meat and various veggie options like rolled omelettes. Even if you don’t eat anything, this is still the most interesting and photogenic market I’ve been to in Japan and a great place for a wander.
Tsukiji is dead easy to get to, a short walk from either Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Line (best connections for Tokyo Station/Ginza/Asakusa areas), or Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo Line (which comes direct from Shinjuku). The market’s open from 5am to around 2pm, I didn’t actually get there until 1pm but everything was still open; things did start shutting down though, so if you want to take your time and get several rounds of food in try to get there a bit earlier!
If you’re wondering whether you should go to the sterile new Toyosu or venerable old Tsukiji, there’s an easy way to decide. If you want to see the tuna auction, go to Toyosu bright & early (and you can get breakfast from one of the restaurants there – many of the most famous Tsukiji restaurants moved over or opened a second branch); if you’re not bothered about the auction, definitely go to Tsukiji, it’s far more interesting and makes for a nice morning out before heading off elsewhere for the afternoon.
See here for more detail on how to visit Toyosu (you need to make reservations for the best tuna auction viewing platform).
Dig ramen? Check out my post on Tokyo’s Michelin star ramen shops