Thursday, September 10, 2009

A fishy business

In a country whose predominant food source is fish, it is perhaps no wonder that one of the main attractions is to visit Tsukiji Central Fish Market. The largest in the world, about 2246 tonnes of fish is unloaded fresh from the docks to be sold and auctioned here every day.

A visit to see this phenomenon requires an early start. The market closes completely at 1 pm, most of the action is done by 8 am and if you want to see the auctions (where it is not unheard of for a single tuna can fetch 20 million yen) you have to be there well before 5 am. Not being naturally the earliest of risers, myself and a friend set our alarm for 6 am and arrived sometime after 7 am.

While the outer market is easily found from the subway stop, finding the real heart of the fish market was not as obvious as we had hoped. In spite of this being a major tourist attraction, it is primarily a place of business and you have to walk through a chaos of trucks shuffling boxes to reach the right area. We were temporarily stymied before we tried the age-old technique of following other gaijin (foreigners) which, after avoiding being run over and looks of irritation that would have been shouted curses in any other country, let us tumble into the right area. All things considered, it is perhaps not surprising that tourists were once banned from visiting here; frankly, we were a damn nuisance (^.^).

The fish market itself is a vast collection of closely packed stalls with containers displaying fresh fish and seafood in hundreds of varieties. Tuna, octopus, crab, lobster, eel, shrimp, blowfish, squid, hundreds-of-things-I-couldn't-identify-but-would-try-given-half-the-chance were stacked to overflowing and cut up before our eyes. Some of the fish were so big the plastic used to transport the carcasses away in resembled body bags at a scene of a crime.

After taking our fill of the sights, we moved to the next traditional step in this trip of having a sushi breakfast. Restaurants close to the fish market do a thriving business in selling the extremely fresh fish to hungry visitors and we queued for about half an hour before getting a seat at the small bar. The sushi was incredible and we had a selection placed in front of us that was made from fish that was almost certainly alive and splashing only a few hours previously.

Yes; stupidly early but yes; stupidly worth it.

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