[Tokyo, Japan] Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場), the world’s most famous fish market, is the must-go for first time visitors to Tokyo Japan. This popular wholesale market is where you will experience the real-life seafood auction with some of the biggest and freshest fishes you have ever seen in your life.
What To Do
If you are willing to wake up early enough to take an expensive taxi ride over, go for the tuna auction. However, the total number of visitors a day is restricted to only 120.
Foreigners who wish to view the auction have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50am, while a second group of 60 visitors will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15am. I hear of visitors going at 4am.
If you do not mind skipping the auction, Tsukiji Market stays open until 1pm, though the real action does not exactly happen beyond 8am, and many shops close after 10am.
The next best time to visit is probably 9am because the wholesale market inside Tsukiji is off-limits to visitors until after 9 am.
How To Go
Many tourists may make the mistake of stopping at Tsukiji Station itself. The nearest station to Tsukiji Market is actually Tsukijishijo Station, reachable by the Toei Subway Oedo Line (The Magenta coloured line). If you would take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to the Tsukiji Station, it would be about a 10 minutes walk.
You can take the Oedo Subway Line directly from Shinjuku Station to Tsukiji Shijo Station. The one way trip will take about 20 minutes and cost 260 yen (SGD$4, USD$3.32).
What To Eat
A sashimi and sushi breakfast is a MUST at Tsukiji. Imagine how fresh the fish would be since this is THE market where all the best sashimi comes from. Tsukiji’s most popular sashimi restaurants can be found in inner alleys of Building 6, reached by walking in from the main entrance. You can also ask directions from the friendly security guards around, or follow tourists armed with the Lonely Planet.
Although they are many sushi joints at Tsukiji, two shops attract the longest queue – Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司). Many chose to walk in random shops during their visits, without the queue, and their standards won’t be too far off.
Sushi Dai is the easily most popular joint in the whole of Tsukiji, with queues snaking at the side of the shop, and can take from 2 to 3 hours for your wait. Starting operations at 5am, the set of 10 pieces and 1 roll will set you back by 3900 yen (SGD$61, USD$50).
For something very similar in quality and a much shorter queue, move to a shops away at Daiwa Sushi, which is actually run by the son of the owner of Sushi Dai. It is said that the father and son team fish together and compete to see who can catch and make the best sushi in Tsukiji.
I queued for about 40 minutes at a more tourist-friendly English speaking Daiwa Sushi before I was led it a small side of the shop which can sit about 10. (Even after I finished eating at Daiwa, I noticed that the queue at Dai has not really moved.)
The Omakase chef’s choice is 3,500 yen (SGD$55, USD$45) for seven sushi and one roll. If you work the sums, each sushi will be about $7 – much more expensive than usual. The flavours will depend on the catch of the day, typically including ebi (shrimp), uni (sea urchin), hamachi (yellowtail), tamago (sweet egg), tuna rolls, as well as a bowl of miso and green tea.
Just as I was still wondering if I should have paid that much, the first sushi I tried was almost life-changing, unforgettable, extremely fresh that the meat almost melts in your mouth. Not exaggerating. If you never liked sushi, this may change your mind.
It was so unbelievable that my dining partner said, “So this is how sushi actually tastes like. What have I been eating all my life?” (True enough, any sushi eaten back home just does not taste good enough anymore.)
Despite the fact that we all woke up very early in the morning, traveled long distances, and queued for a while, this sushi meal at Daiwa was very enjoyable, and informative. The chef preparing the sushi would find time to joke and explain how you should eat sushi right. Sure, it is not cheap, but I can never fault the Japanese for their service standards and food quality, ever.
So what happens after this early meal? Make your way to high-end Ginza which is just a few stations away for some shopping, provided you do not smell too fishy.
Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司)
Tsukiji Market Part 6 Building, 5-2-1 #6 (5-10 min walk from Tsukiji Shijo Station). Tel: +-3 3547-6807
Opening Hours: 5:00am-1:00pm (Closed Sun, some Wed)
Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場)
5-2-1 Tsukiji (Tsukijishijo Station, Toei Oedo Subway), Tel: +81 03-3542-1111
Opening Hours: Outer Market 5:00am-1:00pm, Wholesale Market 9:00am-1:00pm, Tuna Auction 5:00am-6:15am. Closed Sundays, holidays, and the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month