Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tsukiji



We got up at the crack of dawn during our stay in Tokyo to see the tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish market.

Theodore C. Bestor recently published a book on Tsukiji, which he subtitled "The fish market at the centre of the world". It is not such a crazy claim. Tsukiji is by far the world's largest, selling $5.7 billion worth of seafood a year (New York's mammoth Fulton Fish Market only manages about $1 billion), and pulls in an unimaginable array of seafood from all over the world. "Six mornings a week, between four and ten o'clock," Bestor writes, "Tsukiji is a maelstrom of frenetic motion ... At dozens of separate auctions for hundreds of distinct varieties of seafood, crowds of traders bid fiercely against one another in arcane hand gestures and venerable semi-secret codes. As the auctions end, workers wielding gaffs and handcarts haul gigantic tuna carcasses and crates of dried sardines, tubs of sea bream and trays of octopus across the wet cobblestones to the long sheds that house the market's 1,677 stalls. " From these small family-owned stalls, Tsukiji feeds a nation obsessed with eating the best fish the world has to offer.

We got to the market at about 5.30 am and saw the tuna auction. The fish covered the floor of a huge hall full of squadrons of professional bidders, who went from fish to fish hacking off little samples of flesh from the tails to assess the quality. Every now and then an auctioneer would stand on a chair somewhere in the hall and toll a hand bell to gather the bidders. There might be several auctions going on in the hall at any one time and each auctioneer had his own style. Some almost sang their monologues, others were all manic arm movement and monotonous chuntering. Here is one of my terrible videos.

The day before we visited the market we went to one of Tsukiji's best sushi restaurants. It was an education to see the extraordinary institution that supplied our super fresh flesh.

2 comments:

Rockstar said...

Only just got round to reading this....it really was a great experience, wasn't it? Don't think the video really captures the excitment and atmosphere though...

Quinlan said...

Great that you got there. Maybe you heard that they're moving it out some remote place in Chiba and closing it to tourist visits. I guess we've been getting in the way over the last few years. So enjoy the Tsukiji fish market while you can, it won't be available soon...