Tourists Versus FishmongersTsukijji is one of Tokyo's most popular attractions. Each morning, at least 500 tourists visit.
Tsukiji wasn't constructed as a tourist attraction. It's essentially a gigantic warehouse (it's the size of 44 football fields). Tourists just started showing up (in the 1960s). They eventually got a reputation as interfering with business at the market. Tourists would obstruct traffic, enter restricted areas, bring suitcases, set up tripods or let their children run around the market unsupervised.
Tsukiji is a crowded and chaotic place of business where large amounts of money change hands. A single tuna auctions for $10,000 to $160,000 USD.
Forklifts and other machines drive quickly through the narrow corridors of the market.
New RulesTsukiji Market instituted several rules and restrictions to ensure continued access to the market for tourists:
1. Tuna auction
Access to Tsukiji's famous tuna auction is restricted to 120 people per day on a first come, first serve basis. Applications are accepted at the Fish Information Center (onsite) beginning at 5:00 AM. Tourists are admitted in two groups of 60 people at 5:25 ~ 5:50 and 5:50 ~ 6:15.
2. Wholesale Market
Tourists are no longer permitted in the wholesale area of the market before 9:00 AM. The real action is in the early morning. The market is essentially wrapping up around this time.
Visitors are now encouraged to visit the outer market that's open to the public and the restaurants outside the wholesale area.
3. Young Children
Tsukiji market isn't recommended for families with young children. It's a dangerous environment for young kids (e.g. forklifts speeding around). The market asks visitors not to bring strollers.
4. Obstructing Business
Tsukiji market asks visitors to try to stay out of the way of business at the market. Tripods and luggage aren't permitted. Flash photography is also restricted in the wholesale market areas.
5. Safe Shoes
It's recommended to wear safe shoes (i.e. no sandals or high heal shoes).
What About the Vegetables?Tourists call it Tsukiji Fish Market. However, the official name of the market is Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market. Locals call it Tsukiji Market (Tsukiji Shijo).
Whatever you call it — there's more than just fish at Tsukiji. It's also Japan's largest vegetable, fruit and meat market. Tsukiji is the largest wholesale food market in the world.
Other goods such as professional grade fish knives are also sold at Tsukiji.
Is Tsukiji Moving?Tsukiji sits on some of the most expensive land in the world beside Ginza.
Tokyo's government has talked about moving Tsukiji since the 1970s.
They plan to build a new market at Toyosu and close most of Tsukiji by 2014. This is controversial. The new site Tokyo's government has selected was once occupied by Tokyo Gas Co. It's heavily polluted with toxins — raising food safety concerns.
Tsukiji ControversyBluefin tuna are an endangered species that are threatened by overfishing.
Japan is an island nation whose traditional foods are completely based on vegetables and fish. Japan has the world's highest per capita consumption of Bluefin tuna. Most of Japan's tuna trade happens at Tsukiji.
Visiting TsukijiTsukiji is consistently ranked amongst Tokyo's best attractions.
If you plan to see the tuna auction it's recommended to arrive slightly before 5:00 AM and line up at the fish information center. Most days, the 120 spots for the fish auction fill up fast.
Tsukiji is widely recognized as having some of the best sushi in the world. Restaurants open early.
Getting ThereTsukiji Market is within walking distance of Tsukiji, Shinbashi and Shiodome stations.
All three stations are similarly close to the market. It's recommended to check a train route finder to determine which station is easiest to get to from your hotel.
Tokyo trains don't run before 5 AM. You may need to take a taxi if you plan to arrive early.