Japan 2012: Day 4 – Tsukiji Market Tuna Auction

Tsukiji market is firmly on my “favourite places list” for Tokyo.
I have an obsession with wet markets and one in close proximity with outlets that serves fresh sashimi with seafood straight from the sea? Heck, that’s my kind of market for sure!

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From the start of my Japan trip Tsukiji market was well on the list of places to go for me. In fact, my trip was so last minute it didn’t even have an itinerary to begin with. All I know is that between my flight to Tokyo and my flight departing from Osaka, there are 12 days in between for me to do whatever I want.

That was all that was planned; if you can call that a plan.

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It was upon arrival I found out from my hostel (Sakura Hostel in Asakusa – this hostel really rocks I tell you) that the Tsukiji market auction has a procedure.

To save myself from typing it all out, do take a look at the visual below.

Japan Day 1 Sakura Hostel Asakusa Tokyo Japan-001

Ah, so there are no trains to go there at such early hours!
A quick check with the reception revealed a taxi fare of almost 3000 Yen with a 300 -500 Yen surcharge for the ungodly hour and another 300 – 500 Yen booking fee. Total damage would be around RM160 – RM180.
Call me a cheapskate but all these numbers were scary! 🙁

After much deliberation, I decided that RM150++ just to get there to watch an auction might not be worth it.
But it’s still too early to tell since that was on the day of the arrival so I figured something might come up along the way and I’ll just see whatever happens over the next few days.

And it so happens that I made some friends during my stay at the Sakura hostel (my 1st hostel in Asakusa area) over the next 2 days. I mentioned about Tsukiji and Bruce (he’s from California) said he would be interested to go as well. Sharing the cab fee is not a problem. Hell yeah! I’m going to Tsukiji! 🙂

BELOW: The common area of Sakura Hostel Asakusa area. Great place to meet fellow hostel mates!

Japan Day 1 Sakura Hostel Asakusa Tokyo Japan-002

So I went to the reception & made necessary arrangements, referring to the calendar to ensure that the tuna auction is indeed happening on the date of our visit.
It was inevitable that someone calculative as me would have thought of getting more people to come along to share the taxi fare. I’m sure everyone wants to see the tuna auction right? Plus it would be fun to go in a group!

Japan Day 1 Sakura Hostel Asakusa Tokyo Japan-014

So I started asking around, just random strangers during breakfast in the common hall. I guess I’m just thick-skinned that way 😛
But my efforts paid off. Though with more rejections than agreements, I managed to get 5 people who’s up for a 4.00am Tsukiji Market adventure.

As luck would have it, I had to change hostel on the night before the trip. Sakura Hostel Asakusa didn’t have space (if you remember I did book my hostel last minute and only for one night). Upon arrival, I extended my stay as I didn’t know where else to go but on the 3rd night, it was fully booked.  I managed to get on hostelworld.com to book ONE night at another hostel nearby.
NOTE: I don’t recommend anyone to follow my way of traveling. It was really “live each day as it pass“! Hahah!

Anyhow with me missing at the hostel for one day, at 9.00pm the night before the trip 2 person pulled out, another 2 went MIA so I was left wondering if I should go. It seems that I’m left alone to foot the taxi bill.
In the end, I decided I’ll go anyways; after the rather encouraging remarks on my FB status where everyone says I should! 🙂

FB screensht Tsukiji to go or not

So at 3.00am I woke up, took a 10 minutes jog over back to my old hostel and well well well, what do you know!
There were 2 of the original group up and waiting for me! So it turned out well after all, 3 of us instead of the original 5 but still 3 to share the taxi fare and the experience versus me alone 🙂

Now with the long story out of the way, I’ll let the pictures take over.

Tsukiji Market Tuna Auction - Tokyo Japan

Our taxi fare: 3710 Yen = RM143.00.

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The meeting point for the auction market is the Kachidoki Gate. See below the “map” from http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3021.html.

a basic map pf tsukiji market - rebeccasawblog

Here’s how it looked like at 5.00 am in the morning when we reached there. You see the guy in red pants? He’s Elliot, one of my partners in crime that morning. The queue starts there.

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Here’s a short excerpt from the same site.

Visiting the tuna auction

The number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day, the maximum number which the market’s infrastructure can accommodate. Tourists, who wish to see the auction, have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50, while a second group of 60 visitors will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15.

Expect that the maximum number of visitors is likely to be exceeded on busy days, and that some later arriving visitors may not be able to see the auction. Successful applicants will be able to view the auction from a designated visitor area. It is not allowed to view the auction from anywhere else or to use flash photography or to interfere with the business action in any other way.

Now you know why I have to hail a taxi at 4.30am?

Once we announce ourselves to the marshalls on duty, they ushered us into a room as below.

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We were handed a leaflet with map & rules plus a yellow vest that’s compulsory for identification purposes.

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rebecca saw blog - tsukiji market

Here’s Fabia, one third of our trio that morning!

Fabia

Inside everyone waits till the auction hour (depending on your batch it can be 5.25 or 5.50am ) While waiting the TV in front plays slides that lines out the rules for the viewing later. It goes on repeat so you’ll be hearing it over and over again.
Anyhow everyone just chilled while waiting in anticipation  for the auction itself.
I dare say it’s a first for everyone as there were an air of excitement and everyone looked pumped up though it was dreadfully early in the morning!

Once the clock strikes 5.25am without any delays we were escorted in a straight line to the auction hall. It’s still very dark and we had to use our phones to illuminate the way.

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This is where the action is, and it’s important for everyone to follow the rules and we were reminded again and again that we will be asked to leave immediately if otherwise.

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The officers in charge barely speaks any English, but “Keep quiet” , “No flash” and “Go” were the common phrases heard throughout the morning.

Once inside, we were left to stand on one side of the hall behind low barricades and reminded to stay put. It’s important to stay in front for the best view.

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There is no one to explain or run through “the program” with you. You’re left on your own to well, figure it out and take whatever shots or footage you can in the time frame given.
The auction hall is like a chiller itself. It’s really cold and my fingers got numb over my shutter button!

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After observing for a while; here’s my deductions:
The potential buyer will use his pick to hack at the tail of the fish; where it’s already cut for the purpose.

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Then he pinches some meat from the area he hacked and rubbed it between his thumb and fingers to checking on the texture. At times, he smells it too.

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I observed further that some would write on a little notebook that they carried with them, presumably the numbers of the fish they chose to buy or perhaps some notes.

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After 20 minutes or so, a bell would ring and a Japanese man speaks into a microphone loudly and very fast. Since there were no one to explain things to us, we were left to guess that that must have been the “auction” part, though we were not entirely sure how did the buyers submit their intended purchases, or how was the final buyer decided.
I mean this is an auction right? The potential buyers are somehow required to offer their price for the fish and the highest bidder will win the tuna of their choice?
I can’t tell as I can’t understand a word of Japanese. And unlike those antiques auction where people raise their boards to indicate bidding, there was nothing of that sort here. Everyone just stands around and watch the Japanese guy as he spoke.

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Other than the whole tuna fish, there were these slices of fish on display.

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I had absolutely no idea why they were displayed in such a manner and what they were.

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The one above was just in front of me as someone lifted up the ice packs to inspect so I got a lucky shot. Right after he took a look, it was covered by ice packs again.

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After our time is up, we were ushered out and to the outer market where we had to return the vest.

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tsukiji market tuna auction - rebeccasawblog

It was almost 6am + by then and much brighter. Right after I returned the vest, Elliot, Fabia and I went over to Sushi Dai, one of the most famous sushi joint in the whole of Tokyo. You can read about the cod sperms sac and the luscious nigiris I had HERE. :DD

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Anyone here knows of any other markets like Tsukiji in Tokyo? I’ll like to visit for sure the next time I’m in Japan! Please leave a comment here! 🙂

Pictures in this post: 
sony nex f3