Eight tips for surviving and thriving at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market
Tokyo's fabled Tsukiji Fish Market is among the city's most popular tourist destinations, but the frenetic pace of the inner market and the massive sprawl of the outer market often leave visitors with a lot of questions. Here are eight things to know about Tsukiji that will not only significantly boost your chances of survival but will make any visit better (and more delicious).
Inner-market tip: Obey the rules
As you make your way from the street toward the inner market, you may see a long row of illustrated rules for visitor behavior. As the first sign clearly states, it's not a sightseeing spot; it really is a working market. With the privilege of getting to peek at the market come certain expectations, including the assumption that you will stay out of the way and not take pictures without asking.
Inner-market tip: There is no such thing as pedestrian right-of-way
Perhaps nowhere else in Tokyo are you more likely to be run down than at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Workers barrel down the narrow aisles at high speeds in delivery vehicles that look like a cross between a keg and a forklift. Your only hope for survival is to channel everything you learned from the video game Frogger each time you cross a walkway or street.
Inner-market tip: Steel your senses
If you're sensitive to smells, pregnant, or just feeling a bit off, you should reconsider a trip to the inner market. From the pervasive smell of fish to the light haze of delivery-vehicle fuel and cigarette smoke in the air, this is a seriously pungent place.
Inner-market tip: Catch it before it's gone
The controversial decision to move the inner market has been getting a lot of attention lately. The move, which right now looks like it will occur sometime in 2016, is meant to correct the issue of crumbling infrastructure without interrupting the daily business of the market. However, some fish sellers oppose it and many wonder how separating the inner and outer markets will affect the vibrancy of both.
Outer-market tip: Read the signals to find great food
To find the best food in the outer market, keep your eye out for men in tall boots. Rubber boots are standard wear for market workers, and it's almost a sure thing that they're not wasting their time on average eats. Or, just scope for lines. If locals are willing to wait, there's likely to be a delicious payoff.
Outer-market tip: Find a peaceful moment
The Namiyoke Shrine, about a block from the Inner Market, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to protection from ocean accidents. Stones honoring the souls of the fish dot the quiet garden, and large painted wooden lion heads guard the entrance.
Outer-market tip: Seek different dtreets for different specialties
Restaurants specializing in different popular Japanese favorites—for instance, set-menu sushi, casual sushi (a la carte), ramen, omelets, and the like—tend to cluster together on different streets.
Outer-market tip: It's not all about fish
Shops in the outer market sell all sorts of things, from knives to traditional ceramics and tea. You can easily spend a few hours shopping in the narrow lanes. And prices at many of the shops compare favorably to those elsewhere in Tokyo.
Text & photo: Christine Sarkis / smartertravel.com