Tsukiji Fish Market closes today, marking the end of an era. The legendary Tokyo fish market, which opened in 1935, will move to the new Toyosu Fish Market opening nearby on 11 October 2018. While it’s been on the cards for years, the relocation is finally a reality. And we’re a little sad.
Tsukiji Fish Market closes today, 6 October 2018, marking the end of an era. The famous Tsukiji tuna auction already closed to the public on 15 September, which probably pleased most of the long-suffering vendors. The whole lot is being relocated just ten minutes away and a new Toyosu Fish Market will open in Tokyo in less than a week.
Thankfully, the Tsukiji Outer Market will remain open. While this might seem odd, the Outer Market, where specialist shops sell handmade knives, kitchen supplies, and regional products and ingredients from across Japan, actually has a wonderful atmosphere of its own and is a food lover’s paradise.
Tsukiji Fish Market Closes Today – Tokyo’s Legendary Fish Market Moves to Toyosu
The Tsukiji Fish Market closes today, which means no more early wake-up calls for the tuna auction nor lining up for sushi outside for food tourists to Tokyo for a while – until Toyosu Fish Market becomes the bucket list destination that Tsukiji was.
While many travel writers and bloggers praised the sushi restaurants outside Tsukiji Fish Market, the truth is that while they were fumbling with their chopsticks, the best fish was already on its way to the high-end restaurants in Tokyo and beyond. Tokyo food lovers we know actually prefer the simple teishoku (set menu) joints on the perimetre of the Outer Market.
Soon after Tsukiji Fish Market closes today, work will begin to tear the structure down. The site is slated to become the main transport hub for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Ironically, one of the apparent reasons for the Tsukiji Fish Market closure was hygiene concerns, however, there have been concerns expressed about the site of the new Toyosu Fish Market relating to chemical contamination from its former role as a gas plant.
To be frank, the ‘bucket list’ foodie experience of watching the tuna auctions became a millstone for Tsukiji Fish Market. Wildly oscillating rumours over the years about what time it opened, whether you had to book a ticket or do a tour to see it, and whether tourists were still even allowed to visit (for many years traders wanted tourists banned), left a lot of decaffeinated foodie travellers stranded at 3am dodging forklifts, trolleys and carts as the day at the market got underway.
Besides, unless you’re a visiting chef or fishmonger from abroad, what’s so special about seeing rows of dead fish being displayed on a wet floor? The reason Tsukiji Fish Market became one of the things to do in Tokyo was because of ‘bucket list’ travel. That’s the only reason that the tuna auction became a must-do Tokyo experience for those who would otherwise not be interested in culinary travel. There were even bonus points for having to get up at 1am to do it while still battling jet-lag.
When we first visited the Tokyo fish market with a Japanese culinary tour guide, we arrived at Tsukiji’s inner market well after the tuna auction had ended and tourists were already lining up outside the sushi joints – as per their guidebook instructions.
The atmosphere of Tsukiji fish market, while still bustling, was relatively relaxed because the pressure of the auction was over. As we wandered through, some of the vendors were finishing up for the morning, while others were allocating which sections of tuna were heading to which restaurant.
Our guide knew some of the fishmongers, who she bantered with about how much they’d sold that day. The vendors were friendly and chatted and didn’t mind us poking around. It was by far the best time to visit.
So are we a little sad then that Tsukiji Fish Market closes today? Was the experience special? Perhaps only if something equivalent to the following happened…
A fishmonger who had a whole tuna on his cutting board enthusiastically called us over to have a closer look at the fish when he saw us. The tuna – a “small one” at 70 kilos – had been sold and he was starting to portion the fish when we arrived.
The fishmonger expertly quartered the bright deep-pink tuna, and then, with a huge smile on his face, he turned and unexpectedly passed me a plastic take-away tray, poured some soy sauce in it, and with his huge knife cut a few slithers off the tuna and put the pieces in the tray for us to taste*.
This is how the tuna is tasted when they’ve finished evaluating the fish. I took some. He took some. And we both smiled. It was sublime. It was by far the best tuna sashimi I’ve ever tasted.
“It’s amazing that just yesterday this fish was swimming in the ocean,” he said with a grin.
That morning tour still remains my favourite market experience ever – and I’ve done dozens since so, yes, I’m a little sad that Tsukiji Fish Market closes today. I really hope that the new Toyosu Fish Market offers the same opportunities for contact with the fishmongers – without having to get up at 1am to do it.
*Scroll through the images above to see the tuna – and the smiles.