{Japan: Explore} Check another one off the bucket list: Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction

Tsukiji Fish Market

In a Nutshell:

  • Where: Tsukiji Fish Market
  • When: June 4, 2012, really really really early
  • *Notes: Website, Kachidoki Gate to sign up to watch the auction, we got to the market at 4:40 AM and were #16 and #17 for the second group, it’s freezing in the auction area — wear a jacket!

Full Report:

If you’ve ever been to Tokyo then I’m sure that before you went everyone and their mother told you that you needed to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  Located in central Tokyo,  it’s the largest seafood market in the world.  With approximately 900 dealers hawking their fares, you will see varieties of edible sea life that you never even knew existed.


But everyone knows the real money is at the tuna auction which takes place in the inner market.  And while watching the auction has been on my bucket list for ages I didn’t get to go until last year.  Due to certain unforeseen circumstances I was unable to go on my 2007 and 2008 trips to Japan.  Okay, I confess, I just wasn’t able to wake up in time.  But on our 2012 trip, M put his foot down and said we were going no matter what.

No matter what meant waking up at an ungodly hour — 4:00 AM, and yes, by that point in the trip I was totally on Japan time.  It meant that my eyeballs burned when I put my contacts in because they were so red and bloodshot from lack of sleep.  It also meant that I neglected to comb my hair, brush my teeth (I believe I took a swig of mouthwash so I wouldn’t be entirely gross), or even wash my face.  I didn’t even bother to change out of the shirt I slept in.  In short, I looked like the 4th member of Nirvana.

We caught a taxi in front of our hotel (Tokyo Hilton in Shinjuku) and 20 minutes and 4000 JPY later we were getting dropped off in front of the market’s main gate.  However, the area to sign up for watching the auction was at the Kachidoki gate (see map here) and we had to walk a couple of blocks to reach it.  By this time it was 4:40 AM.  Shortly after getting in line we were all given little slips of paper with instructions and a number.  M was #16 and I was #17.  At that time I wasn’t sure if we were in the first group or the second group but as time ticked by and we all remained standing in line it became pretty apparent that we weren’t in the first group.

At 5:25, things started happened.  First we were ushered into a room where we were each given green vests and instructed to watch a video on the rules of the tuna auction.

tsukiji fish market tuna auction video

Then at 5:50, we all left the waiting room and started walking to where the tuna auction was being held.

walking to Tsukiji tuna auction

Check out the fashionable green vests we got to wear!  But seriously, it was a good thing we got them.  We stood out like sore thumbs making it easier for the guys zipping around in their carts to see us.  Not only that but they provided a little extra warmth.  The tuna auction area ended up being freezing!  All the guidebooks tell you to wear your most beat-up shoes since you’ll be encountering fishy water puddles but what they should be warning you about is the subarctic temperature in the auction room.

tsukiji tuna auction

Tsukiji Fish Market


At this point, we visitors all had our cameras/iPhones/camcorders out and were busy taking pictures and videos.  A funny note about “we visitors”: practically none of us were Japanese.  I would say half of us were from the good old U.S. and the rest were from various European countries.  It was almost weird to hear English being spoken by people other than M and I!

tsukiji fish market tuna auctioneer

“Who’ll give me a gazillion yen for this fine tuna here? Two gazillion bid, now three….”

The auction was fast paced and tunas were being sold left and right, probably at amounts more expensive than my house.  It was kind of awe-inspiring to realize that the fish in front of me would soon be served up in sushi restaurants all around the globe.

tuna auction

We were allowed to watch the auction for 20 minutes or so and then we were ushered back outside.  As fun as it had been to be there, it was a relief to be able to thaw out my chilly bones!

tsukiji fish market

It’s a funny thing but a number of blogs/websites about Tsukiji Fish Market have a picture of that mound o’ Styrofoam so I needed one to call my own.

Back at the gate:

tsukiji fish market

This made me feel terribly sorry for anyone who had gotten to the market too late to register for the auction.  Can you imagine waking up that early (or just staying awake all night) and being turned away?  And it very well could have been M and I.  There have been instances where all reservations were taken up by 4 AM.  So we were truly lucky.

To complete our visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market we had a wonderful breakfast at Daiwa Sushi (I will definitely write about it in another blog post) then it was back to the hotel to catch some much needed zzzzzzzzz’s.