I am running on two hours of sleep and three cups of coffee. This morning, I woke up at 3:00a and took a taxi to Tsukiji fish market to watch the famous fish auction.
The fish market opens to visitors at 6:00a, but only the first 120 people standing in line are allowed to spectate. I arrived an entire three hours in advance because I didn’t want to risk getting shut out. On the previous morning, several of us had tried to enter fish auction at 4:00a. But we were too late. Before even leaving the hotel, we were informed that the line was closed. A large group of 60 MBA students from MIT Sloan had showed up at 3:00a and hogged all of the spots.
Thankfully, we arrived early enough this morning to be allowed inside!
After an hour of standing in the cold, the first 60 people in line (including me) were taken to a warm waiting room and given orange vests to wear. We were also told the rules of the fish auction. Namely, observers are not allowed to shout, wave our hands, or take photos with flash. The auctioneers are conducting real business.
Around 5:30ish, the guard led us through the fish market to the auction room. Here’s a video of the process.
This is a picture of the auction ground. The sellers cut off the tail of the giant tuna so that the buyers can take samples. The buyers carry around large hooks which are used to chip away at the tail meat. Experienced sellers touch the meat to sample the texture, check the color, and taste the meat. I have a video of the testing process here.
The actual auction begins with the ringing of a bells. Then, the auction master shouts (to a beat) at sellers who make hand signals. Here’s a video of the live auction. At the conclusion, the seller walks around to the fish and place sheets of paper over the ones that have been sold. The buyers carry away their winnings with a long hook-pole.
Outside the fish market, we watched the buyers load the fish onto their trucks. The buyers are mostly middlemen who resell the best fish to big hotels and restaurants.
By this point, the sun had risen. We followed the guard to the exit point and returned our vests. What an adventure.
What to do now? We decided to go with Masaki (our classmate) to a local raw fish restaurant. But first, we needed to circle around Tsukiji and re-enter the market. This is a picture of a Shinto shrine we passed along the way.
We wandered the streets for a little while. Basically, none of the shops open until 10:00a. However, many of the market stands were available for browsing.
Here are some stands.
This is a cool mural we saw on our way back to the fish market. The frog creature operating the boat is a kappa.
We walked back to the fish market and passed by these trucks. To our left, there was a series of funny ‘tourist rules’ printed on separate signs. I took a picture of each one and will post them separately.
The little shops on the left are actually all sushi restaurants. The are very narrow rooms that consist of a chef and a long table with stools. It takes about 45 minutes to make it from the end of the line to a stool. However, the sushi is worth it!
$8 sushi! It tastes delicious though. Our chef was a fun old man who had prepared sushi for over 50 years! He was also a great salesman and pushed each of us to buy several more pieces with his charming personality.
I checked my watch after walking around the fish market and it was only 9:00a! The day was just beginning and I felt like I had already done so much! I guess sleep really is over-rated. All you need is coffee.