The last post in this travelogue is about a favorite place of mine: If you visit Tokyo, you must visit the Tsukiji Fish Market. Tsukiji is a wholesale market for fish, fruits, vegetables and one of the world’s largest fish markets. Plans are underway to move the market in 2016, so time is limited if you want to see it as it is today.
The inner wholesale market is now closed to tourists before 9 a.m. In 2010, I was fortunate to attend a photography workshop with Magnum photographer Abbas Attar, where we visited the inner market early in the morning before the closure to tourists. It was an eye-opener, but I can understand why they closed it off to visitors; the people there are doing business and outsiders in the cramped alleys can interfere with their livelihood.
Based on my single, limited experience, the action in the inner market winds down around 8 a.m. or so, which means you don’t get much visiting after 9 a.m. (I could be wrong, as I’ve never gone after 9 a.m.). As a photographer, I regret that I’ll never see the hustle and bustle of the inner market again, but as a visitor I don’t mourn the loss, because I’ve always felt that there’s so much more to see, do and eat for tourists in the outer market!
Sushi Dai is one example of the amazing food you can find there. The famous restaurant served the best sushi I ever had in my life when I visited in 2010 – it made me feel like I’d never really had sushi before I ate there. It was worth getting up at 4 a.m. and queueing nearly two hours in the cold for.
But this time, my wife and I were tired from all the early morning traveling and decided to skip Sushi Dai. Instead, we tried Daiwa Sushi, which is next to Sushi Dai (and is apparently related). The wait is shorter, we were in line for fifteen minutes or so before we were seated. Some say the two shops are just as good, in our experience Sushi Dai clearly tasted better. If you’d never been to Sushi Dai, I think you would still enjoy Daiwa Sushi (we did), but it’s not as flavourful and lacking in Sushi Dai’s finesse (one serving, for example, had too much wasabi).
If you love food, I recommend that you pencil in two visits to have breakfast at Tsukiji, just because there is so much to eat there. Besides Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi, there’s an abundance of restaurants, serving everything from sushi to tempura to ramen to soba to fresh, raw oysters. Watch for where the locals congregate and follow your nose.
For example, there’s a stall on the main street facing the road, one of the first you’ll see when you walk from Tsukiji Shijo Station. It serves the most amazing beef stew – you’ll smell its mouth-watering deliciousness before you see it and when you do, you’ll see it’s so crowded people stand to have it. Even though it was so good, my wife and I shared a bowl so we could continue eating other also-good delights.
Besides the food, there’s much to see. The Tsukiji outer market is a place where locals come to buy produce, and you can enjoy buying or sampling preserved vegetables, fruits, hot omelettes, mochi deserts, as well as find traditional utensils, handcrafted knives and more – just come hungry and soak in the life that is one of the largest markets in Tokyo.
P.S. Before you go, check the official Tsukiji Market website to see if the market is open on the day you’re visiting. Don’t be like a certain tourist who reached the market at 5 a.m. only to find it completely deserted. Boy, was that guy lucky he was alone that one time, and not on holiday with his wife, who would have eviscerated him after he died of embarrassment.
Note: I benefitted from reading fellow travellers’ experiences as I was planning this visit, and these posts are my way of paying it forward. However, I’ve realised that reading about what to do in a foreign land isn’t complete without knowing the people writing about it.
My wife and I don’t enjoy hurried visits, we’re travellers who prefer to take our time getting to know a place. We’re not big on shopping, and prefer cultural to party places. We love standing in nature, and would give up a day in the mall for a day in the mountains. If you’re planning for your own visit while reading my recommendations, I hope you’ll keep these caveats in mind.