Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tokyo Fish Market

A fishmonger stalks the cobblestone interior of the fish market.
The hotel desk clerk gave me some pointers about where to go in the morning. He thought that the fish market might be a bit far to walk, but I was keen for the exercise and the sightseeing. It took a while to get there, but only because I was gawking at the buildings and poking my nose in the various shops along the way. The entrance to the enormous Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (Tsukiji Market) is a bit deceiving; it is, essentially a big parking lot and drive way. Trucks of all shapes and sizes were going in every which direction. The building itself was an industrial looking thing, that actually consists of s series of building. Most of the vehicles were belching forth from the various entrances around the paved area.

Inside was organized mayhem. People and vehicles were moving in every direction and at every speed. Motor carts honked, men yelled, boxes crashed to the floor. There were large boulevards through which small vehicles moved. Branching from those were smaller "streets" separating the various fish stalls. These passageways were crowded with buyers, sellers and a few tourists. I've been in plenty of crowded markets and figured I'd seen it all when I stopped in amazement at the sight of this thing. 

One of the many motor carts hauling fish through the market.
Inspecting a fine piece of tuna.
This unusual cart hauls fish between the large roads and the smaller stalls inside. The bed is standard enough, as far as motorized carts go, I suppose, but the drive mechanism is ingenious. The barrel shape at the front houses both the engine and the drive wheel. To drive, the operator pushes down a large ring at the top. A sturdy outer ring serves as the wheel. It can turn 360 degrees, enabling it to navigate the narrow passageways between the stalls. I did my best to find a driver willing to let me try it out, but I was unsuccessful. 

I arrived at the market much too late to see the fish auction. The tuna is laid out around 4AM and everything is over within a few hours. I later learned that the auction has been closed to tourists. I did get a chance to see the tuna being processed, however.

A fishmonger uses a sword-length knife to slice the tuna.
It was still mid-morning, but the shops were actively closing down. The fish had been prepared and packed and the buyers were few and far between. The merchants were cleaning up and settling their accounts. 

A vendor completes his bookwork for the morning's sales.
Outside the market, Styrofoam boxes were being collected in a large pile. These were fed into a hopper where they were melted into blocks for recycling.

There were still seafood delights to enjoy nearby. Only a couple of blocks from the Tsukji market is a consumer market, complete with fish stalls, restaurants and shops. I wandered through the alleyways of the market, on the look out for delicious things to eat and potential souvenirs.
Horrifying in appearance, but surprisingly delicious.
I was determined to have some fresh, authentic sushi. The little shops in the market were really small, sometimes seating only a dozen people. I found one shop that looked promising and squeezed in at the counter. I ordered three pieces of sashimi and a small saki. The bill came to over twenty bucks! Yes, Tokyo is certainly expensive.

While a lot of Western tourists go for traditional Samurai swords as a high-end souvenir, being more practical, I was interested in picking up a sushi knife. There were a few shops selling them, and even making them. I took the time to inspect the various types of knives on offer. The prices were staggering, so I consoled myself with an organic brush instead. 

I enjoyed sampling the various teas from the friendly vendors. They had a staggering assortment of green teas ... all of which tasted, well green.

Like most markets, the vendors are more than happy to let you sample their goods. Some make elaborate displays to do so. What I most enjoyed, was listening to this woman invite passersby to sample the shop's seaweed paper.

See more photos of the fish market, and Tokyo, here.

No comments: