Tsukiji Market (1935-2018)
October 7, 2018 8:20 PM   Subscribe

The bells ringing out at 6 AM signal the final tuna auction at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market. Many merchants are in mourning. Some have decided to retire. Others are migrating at dawn [video] to new facilities in Toyosu, still skeptical that tourists and old customers will follow.

Thoughts and reminiscences from a former fish trader at Tsukiji and current tour operator.
posted by cichlid ceilidh (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Booo!

That’s been a staple of my trips to Tokyo over the years.

Here’s hoping that Toyusa will live up to the experience.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:31 PM on October 7, 2018


The old Tsukiji site will provide temporary parking for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and eventually become a tourist centre.

Idiots.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:31 PM on October 7, 2018 [26 favorites]


Well damn, that is a thing. One of the stranger memories of my childhood is getting dragged around the place with my parents as a tourist in 1978.
posted by mwhybark at 8:32 PM on October 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm off to Tokyo in a few days for a week of tourism. My brother has been a city resident for the past twelve years and for a large chunk of that time he lived within a stone's throw of the new site. He watched it go up.

My time at Tsukiji Market is absolutely one of my fondest memories of my first trip to Tokyo - how the loveliest sushi chef in a tiny place there at 8am immediately recognized that although this white girl didn't speak any Japanese she sure as hell was down for some obscure morning fishy delights, the bustle and rush of everything, the unfathomable array of dried and pickled and salted things, how what's out there will immediately connect you to the season and the turn of the earth. I've always loved markets, and what small amount of traveling I do almost always involves visiting one. I rank Tsukiji up there in the top spots no question.

My brother knows I've been sad about Tsukiji since the first time he mentioned the construction of the new site. I think that next week, if we have time, I'll go. Just to lay my eyeballs on it, but hopefully I'll find that it wasn't the spot so much as the people, and that they'll be making a go of building up the layers of history and sense of place that was so strongly present at Tsukiji. But still.

.
posted by Mizu at 8:55 PM on October 7, 2018 [12 favorites]


Oh, lord, I have very strong, very angry opinions about this. Proponents of the move have said "don't be so shocked, this was in the works for 30 years." My response, roughly, is that if you had 30 years to find a new place for a fresh food market, maybe you could have found a better place than the site of a former gas refinery where the ground is polluted with benzene and other toxic waste. One of my little hopes and dreams for the concept of a responsible government is that it takes strong steps to ensure that the food supply is safe and trustworthy, and this is not that.

Bear in mind the location of Tsukiji, on the riverfront, across from the Hamarikyu imperial gardens. Supposedly, the site will be used as a transportation depot (read, bus parking lot) during the Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics, in this like in pretty much all other things, are a blatant real estate land grab. I have two predictions coming out of this. One, within ten years, we'll have reports of illness related to tainted produce coming from the new market, and those will be suppressed "for the greater good." The other is that the site of the market will end up being developed by Mori or whoever and we'll end up with yet another cluster of incredibly high end condo buildings for the super rich, complete with another high end brand shopping complex aimed at them. The Tsukiji out market, full of the shops and restaurants that used to cater to the market is supposedly not going anywhere, but when the Mori Building people move in, I imagine most of the shops there will find themselves unable to afford the rising rents.

Progress claims yet another part of Tokyo's culture and heritage, except that progress means "more money for developers and the hacks they've paid off to get what they want" which, after careful consideration, seems to be what progress really means most of the time.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:15 PM on October 7, 2018 [33 favorites]


Was there in March, almost got run over, the pace is something else and the article does very little to describe the scale (heh) of things.
posted by furtive at 9:17 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was there twelve years ago, and I actually did get run over! Well, sort of. I got struck from behind by a fast-moving Blade Runner fish scooter. The driver yelled at me and then sped off. I think I weighed about as much as the vehicle. To actually get ran over would have required me to physically throw myself beneath the fishmobile and assist it over my body.

That was also the day I learned you can cut a frozen tuna with a bandsaw.
posted by compartment at 10:12 PM on October 7, 2018 [7 favorites]


Fish is going out of fashion anyway. 'Unsustainable', 'depletion' and 'extinction' are words that spring to mind. Maybe the supply/demand ratio will fit with the luxury condo crowd that can afford increasingly rare tuna.
posted by adept256 at 11:00 PM on October 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


still skeptical that tourists and old customers will follow.

What a strange way to frame this. None of the wholesale vendors in the Inner Market wanted tourists invading their workplace every morning, getting in the way, touching the merchandise and taking photographs.

Imagine if a thousand tourists came to your workplace every day, bumping into you and knocking things off your desk, and there was nothing you could do about it. (Then imagine them bragging about getting in people's way while they were working.)

I suppose the handful of tiny, overpriced restaurant stalls that were in the Inner Market maybe won't have three-hour lines anymore if they move, but I find it hard to feel sorry for them - they had a pretty good run.
posted by Umami Dearest at 11:03 PM on October 7, 2018 [20 favorites]


My daily go to coffee mug is a raku cup we picked up at one of the houseware stalls at Tsukiji when we visited Tokyo in... 2010.

We arrived in the morning from Kamakura where we were staying with friends. Our hosts joined us that day for our tour of the city and one of whom found a couple of her favorite fish at the market at the most incredible price and so those fish joined the tour group. We stashed them in lockers at train stations as we made our way through sumo and imperial gardens and crows and street fashion and high fashion. By the end of the day the fish had given their all, a fact which I’m sure the commuters we joined on the long evening train home would deny if asked while its truth they bravely endured.
posted by notyou at 11:09 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


.
posted by ikahime at 11:26 PM on October 7, 2018


Umami Dearest is dead on about the worker vs tourist issue. If there's anything positive for the workers and companies moving to Toyosu, it's that it's in the middle of nowhere (as close to that as you can get in an urban area of 30 million people, it is that, with little access by train). The people working there are working, and the tourists bring nothing to the market itself, which exists to sell produce. The shops that sprung up around it weren't, in the beginning, even for tourists, they were cafeterias for workers. There will be amazing little shokudo at Toyosu, too. That big of a labor force needs places to eat. That doesn't mean it's supposed to be a tourist site.

that said, the Chiba city market near us has similar, wonderful restaurants, and yes, we've gone there for lunch
posted by Ghidorah at 11:32 PM on October 7, 2018 [9 favorites]


Was there [...], almost got run over

But then, you repeat yourself.

I always assumed "Tsukiji" was Japanese for "quick on your feet".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:36 PM on October 7, 2018


And as a random aside, the vegetable guy came into the restaurant Saturday morning, bringing our order as usual. We never really talk, just change pleasantries. I'm busy prepping, he's got deliveries, and I'm a gaijin, which is still a barrier for a lot of Japanese people when it comes to small talk (though it's better these days).

He stopped at the kitchen window, apologizing for any disruptions in the coming week as kinks are hammered out. I asked him how he was doing, and what he thought about the whole thing. He wasn't happy about it, and wished they didn't have to move, but was resigned to it, and hoping it works out. I had a similar talk with the guy who brings the meat.

Flat out, if guys who work in the produce industry in Tokyo are being open and honest about their feelings about the move with a foreigner alone in a restaurant making pizza sauce at 9 am, trust me, they are upset.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:40 PM on October 7, 2018 [33 favorites]


Yep, this is and always has been just another Olympics-associated land grab and incredibly short-sighted typical Tokyo urban non-planning. Mori Tsukiji Hills coming soon. Goddamn, Ishihara!

The only good thing that may come out of this is that maybe tourists will get out and explore a bit more. Toyosu is a horrible place and no tourists should ever go there. But there are fishing cooperatives and auctions all over the damn country and some of them actually want visitors. Try Shiogama.

🐟
posted by Gotanda at 12:42 AM on October 8, 2018 [8 favorites]


This was a place I've vaguely wanted to visit. That and Akihabara.

But Umami Dearest just cured me of all of that by incidentally reminding me of what it was like to try to actually shop for groceries in Pike Place Market on almost any given day in the summer or especially a Saturday.
posted by loquacious at 1:03 AM on October 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


> Umami Dearest:
"What a strange way to frame this."

I've never been and tried to convey what I read tersely: There appears to be at least a second order interest in tourists on the part of vendors. The Tsukiji name draws tourists. Restaurants that buy from Tsukiji can advertise their association. Some of those restaurants are located in the market itself. From Reuters:
"We finally made Tsukiji a famous brand and now they're trying to destroy it," said Kiyoshi Kimura, who owns one of Japan's largest sushi chains, Sushi Zanmai.

His gravelly voice rising as he wept, Kimura recalled opening his first sushi restaurant in Tsukiji 17 years ago in a bid to draw tourists and revive the market. Kimura is famous for his winning bids at the market's New Years auction, where in 2013 he paid a record $1.76 million for a bluefin tuna.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 1:33 AM on October 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't really have much of a place to stand on Tokyo fish markets, but this quote

His gravelly voice rising as he wept, Kimura recalled opening his first sushi restaurant in Tsukiji 17 years ago in a bid to draw tourists and revive the market. Kimura is famous for his winning bids at the market's New Years auction, where in 2013 he paid a record $1.76 million for a bluefin tuna.

is seemingly intended to make me feel bad for the man who spends millions on endangered fish (as previously covered on the blue, mostly as a media stunt) because he has to relocate his business?

Also, the primary vibe I'm getting from this place from the stories here is that the tourist trade was increasing the inherent danger of an already old and poorly laid out industrial set-up? Almost getting run over is a fun tourist story, it's appalling working conditions. Not sure why that's a plus.
posted by neonrev at 3:25 AM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


"What a strange way to frame this."

That wasn't meant as a criticism of your post (although I see it may have come off that way), but of the often facile media coverage of Tsukiji Market in general, and the relocation in particular.

I can understand why Mr. Kimura might not be too happy with the move - Sushi Zanmai has nearly a dozen branches within five minutes of the market, and they get massive media coverage every year from their publicity stunt of paying heaps of money to win the New Years' tuna auction. But they're not typical.

There are many, many well-established sushi restaurants in Tsukiji's (public) Outer Market and nearby streets; they did good business there for decades before the recent tourist boom and they'll continue to do so - they're not moving to Toyosu. The Outer Market will still be in Tsukiji, and personally I find it much more interesting and fun to visit than the industry-only wholesale market, with the added benefit that you're not making a nuisance of yourself as an unwanted guest.

The mere fact that the Inner Market was ever accessible to tourists at all (let alone tourists bringing their babies) is a real anomaly, and a byproduct of Tokyo's overall high level of public safety. Anywhere else in the world, the market would have fences and security guards, and intruders would be arrested for trespassing.
posted by Umami Dearest at 4:25 AM on October 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


There's a wonderful fish market in Aomori where you can pay for a bunch of tickets, get a bowl, and go round picking your own sushi. My Tsukiji visit on the other hand was decidedly underwhelming. It's just a fish market after all.

The whole hoop-la with the "let's move to contaminated land" saga (as with many Tokyo Olympics things, such as "let's build another stadium because we sure don't already have one heh heh") stinks.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 4:48 AM on October 8, 2018 [6 favorites]


The people working there are working, and the tourists bring nothing to the market itself, which exists to sell produce.

I've lived in Tokyo for years, and I've only ever been to a few of the restaurants on the fringe of the market. I've read and heard enough about the tension between the people working there and the tourists (many of whom show up early for the auctions after staying out all night, drinking), so much so that I really don't have much interest being part of the problem.
posted by zardoz at 5:03 AM on October 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


Metafilter mods: Imagine if a thousand tourists came to your workplace every day, bumping into you and knocking things off your desk, and there was nothing you could do about it.
posted by mecran01 at 6:17 AM on October 8, 2018 [8 favorites]


Imagine if a thousand tourists came to your workplace every day, bumping into you and knocking things off your desk, and there was nothing you could do about it. (Then imagine them bragging about getting in people's way while they were working.)

A complete aside, but this is a pretty good description of working in retail.
posted by Dysk at 6:57 AM on October 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


While I don't doubt that this is a land-grab, there has been talk of moving Tsukiji since long before Tokyo put in a bid to host the 2020 Olympics--a little web searching just now found citations going back to 2004, and I recall this being a topic of discussion before that—in fact, I visited Tokyo in 2004 and made it a point to visit Tsukiji then because I was afraid that would be my last chance to see it.
posted by adamrice at 7:39 AM on October 8, 2018


For those in the know, were there other available sites the wholesale vendors would have preferred if a move was inevitable?
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 9:36 AM on October 8, 2018


Mr. bananana and I went there during our honeymoon last fall. It was a cold, dreary, very rainy day. We weren't familiar with the area at all and didn't know where we were going. When we finally found the tourist entrance of the market, we walked through very quickly while I took bad/blurry pictures of various fish while trying to stay out of the way of the workers and their vehicles.

The whole experience was distressing in an exhilarating way, for me, and in a non-exhilarating way for Mr. bananana, who couldn't wait to get out of there.

I am happy to report that we saw massive oysters, and afterwards we ate chocolate-filled croissants at Rupan/Le Pain.
posted by bananana at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2018


Ummm, are we not going to talk about the legion of rats that are expected to be released during the deconstruction? Won't someone think of the rats?!
posted by fearingamerican at 11:44 AM on October 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


I remember visiting when I was ten, 34 years ago. It was magical as a kid. All the fish and other sea creatures, the sheer variety of it all. I have no idea if we were disruptive - it was so long ago - but I hope we weren’t.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:27 PM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


While I don't doubt that this is a land-grab, there has been talk of moving Tsukiji since long before Tokyo put in a bid to host the 2020 Olympics--a little web searching just now found citations going back to 2004, and I recall this being a topic of discussion before that—in fact, I visited Tokyo in 2004 and made it a point to visit Tsukiji then because I was afraid that would be my last chance to see it.

There's a lot to hate about the Olympics, but yeah that's not really a factor here. Just next to Tsukiji is Ginza, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Developers have been drooling over that sweet sweet land the market sits on for decades.
posted by zardoz at 1:37 PM on October 8, 2018


zardoz, it's true that the drooling has been going on for years. Personally, things like this, and the "hey, we're going to use this for the Olympics" rah rah stuff is what makes me think, very strongly, that the Olympics and the push to get them here was mostly, or at least upwards of an arbitrary 35% a cover for real estate companies to grab as much land as they could. I don't think it's too paranoid, given politics here, to imagine representatives of Mori, or whoever, and construction firms saying "do this, and we'll save a piece for you." Clearly, developers have wanted that land for years, and to me, the Olympics were the justification for getting the ball rolling, in this like in so many other gentrification projects around Tokyo.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


This seems to be a happening in and around everywhere lately. Leases doubling; old buildings demod for condo towers, another version of the old black and white photograph history section of any towns FB page.
Not that it doesn't seem to always suck.
Weekend destination - local CONUS asian market/fishmarket. It used to be a K-Mart. Awww, nice to know things improve somewhere at least! :)
posted by Afghan Stan at 7:39 PM on October 8, 2018


Ummm, are we not going to talk about the legion of rats that are expected to be released during the deconstruction? Won't someone think of the rats?!

As well as a clowder of very spoiled cats?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2018


« Older The worst may yet be to come   |   The City At The Bottom Of The Sea Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments