Adventures in East Asia

Tsukiji Fish Market Part 2 - The Awesome Fresh and Frozen Tuna Auctions

When Linh and I caught sight of all the fresh tuna in the Tsukiji Fish Market, I was a little prepared since I'd seen photos of the scene only a few days earlier during research for the visit.


However, nothing beats experiencing being right next to them all, with their huge size and number, laid out bare on the floor.


I wasn't surprised that they were dead since pandemonium would no doubt ensue if they all attempted to flap their way back to the bay. But with freshness in mind, I'm sure they weren't dead for long.


After our arrival in the area, it took no more than 15 minutes to find the tuna. Our train got to Tsukijishijo at 5.21am and my first photo was shot at 5.36am.

Fresh Tuna Auction Area

We actually arrived at the fresh tuna area by accident, being the first pair of tourists by one of the large open doorways.


Watch this video below for a sense of the atmosphere:

Both Linh and I shot plenty of photos and video footage before more tourists joined and we were waved away, with one English-speaking worker firmly, but kindly informing us of the "visitors area" further down on the left.

The Visitors Area - Frozen Tuna

We dilligently made our way to a door marking the visitors area, which turned out to lead to a narrow walkway, in between two open spaced warehouses full of frozen tuna. The walkway was almost packed, with visitors hemmed in with low barriers. There's nothing to complain about however, since the experience was pretty polite and there's little jostling required for picture taking.


There was actually an attendant especially for the visitors, who held a sign stating a limited viewing time of five minutes and who attempted to wave visitors along the walkway to the exit at the other side. Not many people seemed to budge though.


Check out this video to see the frozen tuna:

Frozen Tuna Inspection

As we watched the frozen tuna and the men walking amongst them, we saw that they were checking for the quality of each tuna (same for the fresh tuna too). Each fish was already slit open at the belly and also had their tails cut off. It was at the tail end, that punters were picking at samples of the meat, sometimes hacking a piece off, and rubbing it between their fingers.


The dudes wearing baseball caps have numbers on them and I later found out that they were the only potential dealers who were officially licensed to bid and purchase the tuna on offer.

It wasn't before long that auctioneers (and their note-taking assistants) took their places atop little wooden platforms, and started to sing-shout their way through the tuna stock auctions to the patiently waiting bidders.


Tuna Auction Statistics

According to our Tokyo Lonely Planet City Guide, about 2246 tonnes of fish, worth over 1.8 billion JPY (£1.2 million) are sold in Tsukiji Fish Market everyday. Apparently, its not unheard of for a single tuna to fetch an incredible 20 million JYP (£135,000)! There was one particularly large tuna there that we saw - about a third larger than any other, but I've no idea what that would have cost the bidder.

Tuna Auctions

Auctions took place at several spots around the warehouses, sometimes simultaneously. We discovered that although we arrived just after 5.30am, auctions didn't start until after 6am, with the time before used by bidders to inspect the stock.

Preparing for Tsukiji Fish Market and Visitor Etiquette

During "preparations" for our visit to Tsukiji Fish Market, we read that it was advisable to wear old clothes that could be cleaned straight afterwards. We also read that workers in the market had grown annoyed at increasing numbers of inconveniently-wandering tourists at the auctions, so it was good etiquette to be discreet and keep out of their way.

It could have been putting a combination of the two in action, but we found that any fishy smell, like the interaction with the workers there, was minimal. We took care to respect the livelihoods of the people there and tried successfully to stay discreet, having given right of way to them each time without question.

When taking photographs, the use of a flash was also known to particularly aggravate market people, and so notices warning against this were up. I took precautions beforehand by setting a higher than normal film speed, shooting RAW for flexibility and accounting for fluorescent lighting in the white balance.

Once we felt we'd soaked in enough tuna, Linh and I made our way out of the warehouse to the back. The way took us alongside more heavily-refridgerated warehouses closer to the river, and these were stocked with even more frozen tuna waiting for their turn at auction.


Tuna Slicing

As we rounded the corner, we also passed by a small workshop where a couple of firm-handed men were cautiously dividing up frozen tuna with a machine saw.


You can see them in action in this video below:


At this point, we had covered the tuna auctions, but had yet to see any of the actual market. More in the next post.

More photos of the Tsukiji Fish Market gallery on Flickr

This entry posted in : Attractions. Culture. Japan. Tourism.

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