Fish so fresh it should be slapped

September 1, 2011

Golden-eyed fish

At a dark and rather unfortunate hour on a Thursday morning, Tatsuya and I drove from Kokubunji into Tokyo proper to go to the Tsukiji fish market. Most of the main sales occur before 6 am, so waking up before dawn at 4 am is a prerequisite if you want to see giant fish being sliced by large knives. By the time we reached the market, the sun had risen and it was already intensely humid. The first thing you notice about Tsukiji is the smell: not of fish, but of gas odors mixed with rotting vegetables and general grime. All manner of vehicles cluster around the entrance to the market.

Entering the market

The most common means of transportation inside Tsukiji was a small cart powered by a round gas tank that doubled as a steering column. These carts would go tearing around between stalls and vendors, spewing fumes over fresh fish.

Super sketchy gas-powered carts

To get to the fish market proper, you have to walk past the vegetable vendors.

Vegetable market


Vegetable market

A giant stalk of celery.




Lotus roots.


And yes, a square watermelon (going for about $100).

Square watermelon

One store sold sandals and geta.

Giant geta

Shops decorated their walls with morning glory flowers, or asago.


My favorite was the “spicy things” store, dedicated to selling, well, spice.

Spicy stuff shop


They even had giant sticks of cinnamon for 200円.

Giant cinnamon sticks

Non-fish aside, the real reason we came to Tsukiji was to see seafood being filleted. To whit, here’s a knife vendor for all your fish slicing needs.

Knife shop

Tsukiji’s vendors hawked shellfish, eels, fish, octopus, and numerous other sea creatures that might be straight out of tall tales of the ocean.


Golden-eyed fish


Chop chop

Octopus tentacles

Octopus rounds


Spiral shells


People shucked clams.

Shucking clams

Eels were throw, still wriggling, into tubs.


Fishmonger was throwing eels into this box

Tuna, or maguro, is a big deal at Tsukiji, and you see carts of it going every which way.

Tuna going by

Big tuna

We encountered three men slicing up a tuna with a knife about two meters long.

It takes three to tuna I

It takes three to tuna III

It takes three to tuna II

The intricate process of slicing and carving turns a giant fish into neat pieces of meat ready to sell.

Tuna steaks

The market is huge and covers several acres along the docks.

Rest of the market

You can even buy whale meat.

Whale meat

We dodged a fleet of racing gas carts and headed outside of the market to a little side shop selling bowls of fish served over rice. Tatsuya had giant shrimp, scrambled eggs, sea urchin (uni), and tuna.

Tatsuya's breakfast

I went with salmon (sake), salmon roe (ikura), uni, and some strips of seaweed.

Salmon, caviar, and uni

The caviar had a faint tinge of citrus; the uni was sweet with floral hints, and the salmon was generally amazing. For waking up at 3:45 and braving the smells, carts, and fish of Tsukiji, breakfast was entirely worth the journey.

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