With slight fanfare in the form of short speeches by the top honchos and a ceremonial toast of sake, the new Tsukiji Uogashi building (note: not the new market in possibly-contaminated Toyosu, which now won't start business until late 2017 – at the earliest) was opened to the public on November 19.
With the original Tsukiji market still firmly where it's stood for well over 80 years, Tsukiji Uogashi is currently a bit of an underdog. However, for a visitor, wandering around makes for an experience that couldn't be more different from the chaotic jumble of old-school Tsukiji.
Here, the interior is sparklingly white and squeaky clean, with the fluorescent lights overhead leaving a somewhat sterile impression at times. During our visit, only the first (fish market) and third (food court) floors were open to the public, with the second floor – set to house more fish stalls, of course – apparently opening to the public at a later date.
Most of the current vendors offer some free samples, so you can kind of snack your way through – although the ubiquitous 'don't eat while walking' signs might make you think twice. Just don't drop that little slice of fishy goodness.
While browsing the first floor, we stumbled upon a small exhibition with black-and-white photos of Tsukiji through the ages (more specifically, between the 1980s and 1990s). They were taken by Seiichi Motohashi, a multi-award-winning photographer and capturer of the passing times. In a bizarre twist of fate, he was present at the exhibition that day, so we took the opportunity to briefly chat with him about how Tsukiji has changed.
According to Motohashi, the changes haven't all been for the better, with the automatisation of many formerly manual processes turning the market into a button-pressing fest instead of a 'craft', as well as leading to a breakdown in communication among those working.
People don't stop to chat any longer, he noted, although he also remarked that this isn't a trend exclusive to Tsukiji – during his years-long documentation of the area around Ueno Station, the photographer saw his surrounds change dramatically from somewhat sleepy to a full-scale bustle, with the old-school shitamachi feeling slowly disappearing. When asked if he would continue documenting Tsukiji after the move to Toyosu, his answer was a firm 'Probably not.'
After our chat with Motohashi, we headed to the third-floor food court – but not before checking out the vast outdoor area. The rooftop spans a rather sizable zone, with great views of the sprawl of Tsukiji's streets below, as well as the wider vistas of the fish market. Gazing out at the yellow carts zipping through crowds queueing up for the multifarious restaurants and food stalls, we secretly felt happy that Uogashi had opened before the move.
Back inside, we picked one of the three open shops to grab some lunch. If it's fish you're after and you're coming from the rooftop, pick the first one on either the left of the right: the one closest to the central entrance mainly serves curry for famished workers. We tried out the sashimi teishoku and the mixed fry teishoku: both were massive and very good value considering the size and quality.
Note that just like the rest of Tsukiji, Tsukiji Uogashi is more of a (late) morning affair than anything else: most stalls close around 2pm and may even have sold out some popular items before that. For a peek into the future of Tsukiji, this newcomer does merit a visit, but definitely wander around the rest of the area first – you never know how long it'll still be there.
Photos by Kisa Toyoshima