Truly one of the most overwhelming and incredible experiences on any visit to Tokyo, is the Tsukiji fish market.
We woke up much earlier than normal for this chaotic experience and navigated the early-morning transit system to arrive on the outskirts the market. Standing by the gate, pre-coffee, still groggy, we look at the gauntlet that must be run to reach the main door.
Forklifts and other loading vehicles are zooming in every direction, workers in hard hats weave between the madness with expert precision.
We make our go, stumbling left and right, jumping backwards from time to time to avoid being run over by a moving lift. The dumb foreigners stand out like a sore thumb amongst the local pros.
Reaching the door, we enter. Organized mayhem is the only way to describe what is going on inside. The monstrous building goes on as far as the eye can see. People yelling loudly, yet respectfully (as the Japanese always tend to do) as they fight for the freshest product during the auction.
It Smells Like Fish
But it doesn’t stink.
It’s the good smell, the smell of a fish market that is so well-maintained and cleaned, that the only smells that exist are the ones from only the freshest product brought in mere hours before.
We walk wide-eyed and dumbfounded through row after row of booths and tables. Fishmongers eyeing us curiously, beaming with pride as we show the slightest interest in their bizarre and beautiful products.
Passing one stall, we watch as a man slaughters a fish using a method known as Ikejime. He grips a flapping fish with firm hands, swiftly sliding a thin metal rod through it’s spine, through it’s brain. Killing it quickly and painlessly. The muscles are relaxed during death, resulting in a more tender meat.
Further down, we watch as a worker expertly slices a large slab of tuna with a long, katana-like knife. With surgeon-like precision, he carves evenly weighed pieces of top-grade sashimi that will end up on a plate in some top Tokyo restaurant in only a few short hours.
Beautifully displayed octopus, stingrays and fish of every imaginable colour. Clams and oysters, mussels as big as your hand. Unrecognizable finned beasts that could spawn horror stories of monsters from the deep. From simple, whole salmon to individually portioned bits of tuna of quality we could only ever imagine to afford, we wander around in a stunned haze.
Coming from the Prairies of Canada, it’s difficult to find a decent fresh fish market at all, let alone a Mecca like this.
Following nearly two hours walking aimlessly through the labyrinth of stalls, we eventually make our way back to where we entered. A little more confident this time, we cross the lot once more. Standing on the street, bellies rumbling now, we look around for the closest sushi joint.