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« fish market (part two) | Main | Akihabara »

fish market (part one)

Posted Tues. Sept. 4, 10:53 am, Tokyo time

Located on the edge of Tokyo Bay about 2 km southeast of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo's Tsujiki Fish Market is the biggest wholesale fish market in Japan, and one of the largest in the world; it handles almost all the seafood consumed in Tokyo. Boats begin arriving at 3 am and the auctions begin by 5 or 5:15 am. Every day, five million pounds of fish are delivered here, with over four hundred different types of seafood. The guidebooks we read all strongly advised tourists to arrive by 5 to catch the best of the action.

We woke at around 4:30 a.m. This would have been a tougher feat had we planned this day trip later in our visit, but with our bodies still somewhat confused by the time change, it was somewhat easier. Jeff and I tried to be quiet as we slipped out of the apartment, to avoid waking Alison. It was still dark outside, so we were surprised to see two cabs sitting by the sidewalk nearby. When we walked up to the first one, however, we saw the cab driver stretched out in the back seat with a pillow and blanket, fast asleep. Not having the heart to wake him, we went to the next. The driver was also asleep, but sitting up.

I knocked on the window, feeling guilty but also anxious to get to Tsukiji. He blinked awake and pushed a button that automatically opened the rear door for us. After getting in, I said "Tsukiji kudasai"; I couldn't find the proper cab phrases in my language book, so figured adding "kudasai" would make my request sound more polite. Later, I discovered that I was saying, "Give me Tsjukiji, please." The cabbie looked confused, so I showed him the kanji characters for Tsukiji in my Tokyo book. Nodding, he set off.

After a brief moment of panic when the driver asked us something in Japanese (we suspect he was asking us in what part of Tsukiji we wanted to be dropped off), we got off in a warehouse area with a number of stalls set up along a sidewalk, with large trucks parked nearby. fish around. Jeff and I suddenly realized that we had no idea how to find the actual fish auctions, and I had no clue as to how to say "fish auction" in Japanese.

We decided to follow a couple of young men wearing backpacks...hopefully they were tourists like us. Or maybe (since they obviously knew where they were going), they were heading to the area with the fish auctions. Our tactic seemed to work, since we found ourselves in a gigantic hangar-like area filled with more than 1600 stalls displaying every kind of sea creature imaginable. It was incredible...I've never seen so many different kinds of fish and shellfish.

We seemed to be ignored, which was fine with us. Everyone was busy getting stalls set up. Men were rushing all over the place with wheelbarrows and carts, and we had to be alert to dodge the motorized mini-trucks that zoomed around at high speeds.

Following the perimeter of the warehouse as well as what looked like brighter lights, Jeff and I soon found the auction area. Here we found rows of frozen tuna which had been unloaded from the docks. Each was numbered and labelled with stickers indicating their country of origin and weight. I had no idea tuna were so HUGE. Holy cow. Apparently each tuna sells for between 600,000-1 million yen (about CAN$8,000-$13,500, depending on quality). The tails had been cut off and were also on display; Alison later told us that this was another way wholesalers could judge the quality of the fish.

There was a haze of mist rising from the tuna...not sure if this was simply because it was frozen, or because of dry ice. Whatever the cause, it gave the scene a surreal quality as wholesalers wandered through the aisles examining the fish. Each seemed to be carrying a white towel hanging from one pocket (probably for wiping their hands after looking at each fish?), a flashlight (which they used when looking inside the fish), and some kind of pick which they swung into the fish. Not sure about the pick thing; Jeff and I speculated that the feel of the pick hitting the fish might be giving the wholesaler an idea of the quality, or how frozen the tuna was. Then they'd scribble something on a piece of paper and go to the next fish.

Whenever there was an auction, someone would ring a bell. The auctioneer would start yelling something in Japanese which sounded remarkably like a North American auctioneer in terms of speed and rhythm. Some would add a lot of arm and body movement, almost like a dance. In the crowd of waiting wholesalers, sometimes hands would go up, stirring the auctioneer on to further yelling. At some point, the fish was sold, was marked and loaded onto wheelbarrows and carted away. We never saw cash exchange hands, only what looked like coupons or receipts.

Nearby, several trucks were unloading large blocks of ice. Sometimes an order was obviously for ground-up ice, and the ice grinding machine would go to work, spewing out a white river of the stuff which was collected in heavy bags and loaded onto the delivery cart.

(To be continued later today....)

Today's Blatherpics:

- Wholesalers examining tuna.

- Taxi ride just before 5 a.m.

- Eels.

- One of the many auctions that took place in Tsukiji.

Today's Poll:

Have you ever flown in a plane alone? (if you've never flown, please don't answer this poll, thanks...that way I can also find out how many people have flown at all)

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