A walk around the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market may leave you feeling a little sour, knowing that 80 years of history will come to an end when the market is relocated to Koto Ward in November. Or maybe it’s just the pungent smell of fish. In any case, we suggest you head to Tsukiji at 9am, which is when the Inner Market opens to the public. You may have heard about the 5am tuna auction, but unless you’re a Japanese fishmonger and your livelihood depends on it, there’s no good reason to get up before the crack of dawn and queue for hours to watch men shout over dead fish.
After alighting at Tsukijishijo Station at a reasonable hour, say ohayo to the day with coffee at Aiyo (Bldg 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku). While the clientele of the restaurants and cafés surrounding the market was originally fishermen, now you’ll see hordes of hungry tourists and salarymen settling in for sushi. By contrast, Aiyo has remained local and is frequented by veteran vendors who engage in oldchum banter as classical music plays on a radio as old as they are. It’s sad to know that this age-old establishment, among others, will also soon be forced to close its doors. When you’ve had your fill of caffeine and politely feigned drinking the obligatory tea offered afterwards, head over to the Inner Market. Or at least try to. You’ll find yourself partaking in a fun but possibly dangerous waltz around pushcarts and mopeds rushing to and fro, carrying all kinds of sea creatures lodged in beds of ice. Once in the market, you’ll see the entire oceanic kingdom of Japan displayed before your eyes, with fish, crustaceans and invertebrates of all shapes and sizes for sale. You’ll have a field day if you happen to be a marine biologist.
To taste the fish, hop over to the Outer Market for a stroll. Grab an egg omelette on a stick from Yamacho (4-16-2 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), which is not only delicious but will also serve as a welcome starter to all the seafood that’s to come. Our next stops are Nisshin Tasuke (4-13-18 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), where you should try the eel on a skewer, and Tsukugon (4-12-5 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), whose chiyoda (onion wrapped in a streak of bacon) is heavenly. The rule of thumb for navigating the labyrinthine streets of the Outer Market is to avoid tourists and follow your nose, all the while filling up on free samples offered at stalls, including roasted soybeans and crisp nori chips.
The Outer Market
If you’re still hungry for more, we suggest a trip to Sushikuni (4-14-15 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku) for their admittedly pricey but delicious rice bowl, which comes topped with a variety of sashimi, copious amounts of salmon caviar and tasty uni (sea urchin), for which the restaurant is famous. To satisfy your sweet tooth, grab a taiyaki from Sanoki-ya (4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), which is sweet red bean paste enclosed in a crispy pancake shell that looks (but rest assured does not taste) like fish.
Taiyaki from Sanoki-ya
For some after-food shopping, check out Jugetsudo (4-7-5 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), a shop that specialises in nori and tea, and Hitachiya (4-14-18 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku), where you can buy Japanese kitchen tools and cute sake cups in the shape of Mt Fuji. If you still have energy for a short walk, stop by the iconic Tsukiji Honganji (3-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku) to calm your mind after the hustle and bustle of the market. The soothing scent of incense that pervades the temple will come as a fragrant change.