May
27
2007

The Tsukiji Fish Market

There were fish guts on my pants. But I didn’t mind. Just watching the fishermen slice up those large tuna was worth smelling like one.

It was 6:30am. Kim and I were wandering around the Tsukiji Fish Market. Japanese fishermen rushed about their work without a care for gawking gaijin like us.

Except for that one lady who started screaming at us in Japanese. She sounded angry, though she could have been telling us about a painful bunion on her foot, for all we knew.

We got up early so we could experience this rare sight. According to our friends, this fish market is going to be moved someplace else someday. For cost reasons, I believe. So we wanted to see it while it was still in Tsukiji. Plus, everyone and their grandmother and neighbor and talking pet toad told us to go and eat the extremely fresh sushi and sashimi here.

“You have GOT to go to Tsukiji and eat the fresh sushi there!” they exclaimed. So we had to go. If anything, just to get them to stop exclaiming that.

The market was frantic. Fishermen scurried around by foot or on motorized carts that would run you over if you were stupid enough to get in the way. The tuna were enormous. About the size of small children. The fisherman eagerly hacked away at the fish, carving them with electric saws and slicing them with large knives. The raw fish meat was bright red, as were the guts and blood that spilled onto the floor.

What appeared to be administrators or managers sat inside booths next to each section of fishermen. They were generally old ladies with glasses. I think it was one of them that screamed about her foot bunion to us. Sorry about your foot bunion, lady. I’m sure there’s cream for that.

Like Pacman in a maze, Kim and I gobbled up imaginary pellets as we wandered around the market, trying to take in as many sights as possible. We took pictures of everything. National Geographic could make a comprehensive documentary with our photos.

And if we were Pacman (Pacmen?), then the motorized carts were the ghosts. They moved surprisingly fast, even with their piles of frozen tuna. We saw other tourists there too. One guy was almost sideswiped by a cart. Another got splashed as the cart ran through a puddle.

I think the fishermen actually got a kick out of us being there. They probably have a competition amongst themselves: every time you splash a gaijin, you get a free tuna.

None of them seemed to mind us photographing them either. Maybe they got a kick out of that too. “Look Ma, some gaijin took a picture of me and now I’m on National Geographic!”

The morning culminated in a breakfast of fresh fish. Our friends directed us to building six, where a long line of locals and gaijin waited outside one of the sushi bars. Well, the line wasn’t that long. Just ten or so people. Kim’s been here before, and in her previous visit, there were hundreds of people.

The sushi bar was tiny but the fish was WOW. Like, utterly, WOW. Heavenly. I think my sashimi was still flipping around and gasping for air, so fresh it was.

Normally, I can’t stand uni (sea urchin). It has a stony, fishy taste with a grainy, buttery texture. It’s an acquired taste, especially for Westerners. But fresh uni is different. It’s less fishy. This one was so fresh it just tasted like stones.

The toro (fatty tuna) was so smooth it was like biting into a bar of butter. Same for every other piece of sashimi. The shrimp was still wet from being freed from its shell and washed.

Sushi chefs here hand you each piece by hand and you’re supposed to eat each piece by hand too. With fish this fresh, eating a slice of ginger between each sashimi is also important, so you can cleanse your palette and enjoy its full flavor.

I expect the locals here, who probably see fresh fish every day, to be sick of fish. But the sushi bar was full of them too. You could hear Japanese, English, German, Italian, and all sorts of languages here.

We left Tsukiji full and content. “This place ruins me,” Kim stated. “I can’t eat sushi again for a whole year.”

I nodded. What an experience. We saw large tuna being chopped into bits, survived the motorized carts, and ate fish that was swimming just hours ago. We got back onto the subway with fish guts on our pants and smiles on our faces.

. . .

Have you ever been to the Tsukiji Fish Market?

Be Sociable, Share!

  • Lina

    Mike Lee! I can’t believe you’re in Japan now! Where’s the explanation?! Well, at least post a picture, will ya?

  • http://mikelee.org Mike Lee

    Oh, heh, sorry, these are stories about my trip to Japan. I’m back now.

    And here are photos!
    http://flickr.com/photos/mikeleeorg/sets/72157600171209059/

  • http://taterthought.blogspot.com/ Diana

    Yes! I’ve been there. It rocks. and it’s true. fish for breakfast = butter.

  • Lina

    Hey, thanks for the link! =) I just saw the photos. Awesome!! I loved the captions – they cracked me up BIG time!

css.php