A Day at the World's Leading Fish Market

The sea from the north to south is
marked with its own individualistic characteristics and its rich and strong
tide is thriving with fish. The Toyosu market located in the coastal line of
Tokyo gets its fish and vegetables from all parts of Japan and also other
countries. It is boasted as the world's largest market, particularly for marine
products. Let’s have a peek at a day in this market, which best represents the
Japanese food culture, focusing on fish.

A Tuna Auction (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

From Tsukiji to Toyosu: turning over a new leaf for the fish market

The roots of the marine products market of Toyosu can be traced back to early period of Edo era. The riverside fish market that had begun in Nihonbashi, suffered from heavy damages due to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, and moved to Tsukiji. It started as Central Wholesale Market in 1935, and on October 11, 2018, it was rebuilt into the current Toyosu market with 1.7 times more area than the Tsukiji market. The facility has 3 buildings: marine products wholesale market building, fish intermediate wholesale market building and fruit and vegetable market building. Although, in recent years Japanese people are said to be moving away from fish, its presence is still overwhelming. Every day approximately 1,400 tons of fish are brought here for delivering them to places ranging from expensive restaurants to our dining table.

A Tuna Auction (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

0:00: The market runs even at midnight

At Toyosu a day begins at different times for different suppliers. Trucks loaded with perishable foods from around the country start arriving from early afternoon to midnight of the previous day. Huge tuna fish arrive one after another at the wholesale market of tuna. Before the “Seri” (open sale, auction) takes place, “mutual sale” transactions of one to one negotiations surprisingly start from 0:00. The negotiation battle between professionals, over fresh fish like horse mackerels and sardines, continues all night.

Tuna Reaching the Toyosu Market (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

5:00: The country’s fish, tuna of all types gather in one place

Subsequent to the auction of fresh fish that begins at 4:30, the auction of sea urchins starts at 5:00. Around dawn, preparations of the tuna auction, the main event in the market, reaches its climax.

There are all sorts of tuna: from rich and full-flavored blue-fin tuna known for its high quality, to southern blue-fin tuna for sushi and sashimi, to plain fat yellow-fin tuna. Furthermore, there are big eye tuna and albacore. Having a long history of being eaten from the Jomon period in Japan, different varieties of tuna come from all parts of Japan and other countries throughout the year.

A Tuna Auction (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

5:20: Previewing with sharp eyes

Intermediate wholesalers and sale and purchase participants for supermarkets etc. are allowed to participate in the auction. Previewing of tuna arranged in a line is done before the auction begins. Since tunas are heavy, some people will check using a harpoon. There would also be ones taking notes desperately, and ones having some confidential discussion. Quality is examined closely by looking at the section where tail of the tuna is cut. Visitors can observe this sight from the observation gallery on the 2nd floor, or from the special observation deck reserved for the visitors selected through a lottery.

A Tuna Auction (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

5:30: And the auction begins!

Finally the auction begins when the bell rings across at 5:30. The rhythmical calls of auctioneers resemble rap music or sutras, and fill the auction area. The auctioneers handling approximately 200 live tunas and approximately 1,000 frozen tunas every day are chosen from the employees of wholesalers and only those who passed an examination in Tokyo. The finger signs indicating the desired bid price of the purchasing wholesaler, common “gestures” are nonchalant and hard to understand for others.

A Tuna Auction (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:00: Sending out to the buyer

While you may be overwhelmed by the force of the auction, the auction is finished in no time. While auction moves from live tuna to frozen tuna, tuna is packed 1 by 1 in boxes and to preserve freshness, are covered with large quantities of ice and are rushed to the adjacent intermediate wholesale market building.

Turret Trucks Passing Through the Connecting Passage (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:10: Busy passageway

The earlier Tsukiji market was an open building mainly composed of roofs and pillars, so there was no distinction of outside and inside. The structure was easily influenced by the outside temperature. On the other hand, since Toyosu Market is a closed facility, all functions are housed in the building. A total of 4 passages connect the fish wholesale market and the intermediate wholesale market. The temperature of the wholesale market is maintained at 10.5 degrees and the intermediate wholesale market at 25 degrees and stays hygiene. The summer season of Tokyo that has become hotter in recent years, or the harsh winter, proves to be a nuisance for people related to the seafood business, but things have become more comfortable. The passageway can also be perfectly opened and closed with sensors. The facility shows its pride of being the world's best fish market through commitment.

Toyosu Market, An Intermediate Wholesale in the Morning (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:15: Visitors keep pouring to Toyosu

Chefs show up as well in the market located close to the sea, in the midst of canals and parks. It is about 10 minutes by car to the previous Tsukiji market. When market was relocated to Toyosu, initially, there were problems such as traffic jams, but they seem to have been gradually solved.

Intermediate Wholesale Market (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:23: Intermediate wholesale market comes to life

Visitors are forbidden to enter the intermediate wholesale market. Since it is an indoor sealed building, all the turrets have been electrically powered to prevent exhaust emissions. A lively scene of the turrets going back and forth, represents the basics of logistics - “delivering to the designated place on time”. Turrets are small, but can easily carry a load of 1 to 2 tons. To withstand that weight, wheels do not have pneumatic tires, but are entirely made of rubber. Driving a turret requires a small special car driving license, and it is a full-fledged vehicle that can be driven on public roads.

Toyosu Market, A State of the Intermediate Wholesale Market (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:30: Fish professionals trusted by professional chefs

The marine intermediate wholesale market has 1,574 segments and 487 traders (as of July 1, 2019). Each store has its own characteristics. There are a variety of shops from ones that handle only tuna to ones that specialize in crustaceans. Fish professionals who are prepared to answer very specific questions, are waiting for the chefs who perform their skills in Tokyo, a city visited by connoisseur of good food from all over the world. They recommend fish that would meet the needs of a chef, and are proud of their judgment.

Kurihara San, the Intermediate Wholesaler “Echitora” (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:40: Morning of an exclusive tuna specialty wholesaler "Koshitora"

“After all, tuna is the king of fish,” says Mr. Kurihara, representative of tuna specialty wholesaler “Koshitora” and vice chairman of the Omono Gyokai (business association) of tuna suppliers. “It is known as an exclusive fish, but this fish has been loved in Japan for a long time. It is also important in terms of resource management. In many ways, it is a fish that is often talked about." The world's tuna catch has doubled in 40 years from 1975 (FAO statistics). He said that resource management is essential to protect the tuna culture.

Tuna Filleting (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:45: Cutting tuna with a special knife

It is now time to cut the purchased tuna. Once the place to make a cut is carefully determined, lowering the blade takes only a moment. There is a loud sound when a 60 centimeter long blade is put in. Even while explaining, Mr. Kurihara’s handling of blade is quick and accurate. There is a stopper at the tip of the blade so as not to cut your own hand.

A Kitchen Knife for Filleting Tuna (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

6:50: Even tools are beautiful at Toyosu

A beautiful tuna knife with the shop name “Koshitora”, inscribed on it has been around since the Nihonbashi period. Its thin blade is used for very fine cutting. On the other hand, cutting of a frozen tuna of minus 600C is done by an electric saw! Tuna is delivered in the shape that best suits the customers.

President Namba, the Intermediate Wholesale Cooperative Society (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

7:20: A day at “Namba” famous for specializing in tempura ingredients

The next place to visit is “Namba”, which specializes in tempura seafood, which is rare even at Toyosu. The Edo-mae specialty store boasts of a long tradition that continues from Nihonbashi to Tsukiji. President Namba is at work at 1:45 a.m. when the night in Tokyo has finally settled down. He begins with summing up the FAX orders and calculating what to buy at the auction. He goes to the wholesale market at 2:00 a.m. 30 minutes later, he is already on a tough job such as negotiating to purchase conger eels.

Toyosu Market, Conger Eels Just Arrived (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

7:20: Edo-mae representative, conger eels are also on standby

Edo-mae can be called the representative of conger eels that appear healthy in the live-box. They are indispensable for both tempura and sushi. Since freshness is important, it is kept alive and is wrung after receiving customer orders. “Since Tsukiji was an open facility, and water was cold, it made the hands freeze during work. But since Toyosu is a completely closed facility, temperature is stable. The first winter was really comfortable''

President Namba, the Intermediate Wholesale Cooperative Society (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

7:30: "Hospitality" with skilled handling of conger eels

Like eels, conger eels also have an unusual structure of triangular bones, and the way of opening them is also unique. After fixing the head on the cutting board with a perforator, a knife is inserted Kanto style from the back, internal organs are scraped, and the bone is removed. Not all customers ask for processing, but Mr. Namba says, “I do it as a service, so that customers are happy.”

8:00: What did not change even after moving to Toyosu

Mr. Namba is in the store until 11:00. “The business has not changed much even after moving to Toyosu. The neighboring shops are also neighbors from Tsukiji market who have all moved together to this section. Also, the joy of receiving a compliment of our clients’ restaurants has never changed.”

Toyosu Market, An Intermediate Wholesale in the Morning (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

11:00: Landscape of stone pavements, rubber boots and shopping cart

There are many changes after moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu, but the thoughts on delicious fish are the same. What remains unchanged are the stone pavements that shine when wet, and the rubber boots (boots) worn by the buyers. As are the shopping baskets woven from bamboo, and more than anything else, the people working vigorously. The scene of the fish market is inherited even in Toyosu.

Toyosu Market, Beautiful Turf on the Rooftop (2019)Original Source: 東京都中央卸市場

12:00: Farewell until new fish arrives tomorrow

Even if professionals finish their work at noon, visitors have a lot of fun things to do. Toyosu market has variety of facilities, such as restaurants where you can enjoy sushi, fish exhibit corners, and shops where you can get professional tools. You can also take a break on the rooftop with a beautiful lawn. How about going to Toyosu Market to explore the Japanese food culture?

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
Tokyo Central Wholesale Market Toyosu Market
Tokyo Fish Market Wholesalers’ Cooperative

Reference materials:
Special Exhibition Explanatory Note “I like Tuna.” (General Incorporated Foundation
Tokyo Fisheries Promotion Association 2018)
"Tsukiji Market Chronicle Complete Edition 1603-2018" (Kyoko Fukuchi Asahi Shimbun Publications 2018)

Photos: Misa Nakagaki
Text: Makiko Oji
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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