Visiting the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market is on everyone’s top to do list for Tokyo, in fact in Japan. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the workings of a real fish auction as the night’s catch are delivered early in the morning to the market, auctioned off to middlemen, then sold in the outer market to either fish shops or restaurants for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fresh fish sometimes only makes its way across the square to become the best breakfast in Tsukiji Fish Market. If it’s on your list, you will want to know all the ins and outs of how to visit Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, including seeing the tuna auction. But you better hurry, this Tokyo landmark will be closing in October 2018 and moving to a new location.
Pin to start planning your visit to the Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market
Why is Tsukiji the Most Famous Fish Market in the World?
It’s simple. Tsukiji Fish Market is not only the biggest and freshest market, it brings in the most revenue on a daily basis. Tunas ranging upwards of 400 pounds have sold for over $600,000. It’s mind boggling! Far from the only fish market where you can watch a live tuna auction, it’s definitely the one with the most serious, expensive fish.
How to Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market has been a must-see tourist attraction for many, many years, but you’ll have to go soon, or you might miss out. By 2018, this market that sells over 2,000 tons of fish per day will be moving to a new spot in Toyusu. Concerns about aging infrastructure started the call to move the fish market, but the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020 are really driving the decision now. The area is slated to become one of the venues and the work needs to get started soon.
Not too long ago, you could get up early and walk around the entire area, free to roam where you wanted, but times have changed. Due to safety concerns at the marketplace, the Tokyo fire department has imposed new regulations on the fish market, which has led to some major changes on the visiting procedures.
Go To the Osakana Fukyu Center
First, you make your way to the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center), where they welcome you, and you begin to wait in line. The address is: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. The main issue is that having to arrive so early at the market, there is no public transportation, so we highly recommend that you stay in the vicinity the night before. Below we’ve listed some great hotel options close to Osakana so you can walk over early, and go take a nap after your Tsukiji Market breakfast.
What you are waiting for is to enter the auction area, and there are only two viewings, one from 5:25-5:50 AM and the second from 5:40-6:15 AM. Only sixty visitors are allowed in each viewing (120 total per day), and since the opportunity to visit the auction may soon go away, this means getting in line very, very early and waiting.
We arrived at about 4:10 and our numbers were in the thirties. They were already half filled. We were given some papers with a map and rules on it as well as a fluorescent yellow vest. The second viewing visitors wore blue vests. Then we waited, and waited, and waited until it was time for the doors to open. Once they did open, we were hurriedly pushed through and marched to the auction area. This is a no fooling around, serious event. There are rules, and if you don’t follow the rules, you are out.
Rules for Visiting The World Famous Japan Tuna Auction at Tsukiji
- Get in line at Osakana Fukyu Center very early, at least by 3:00 AM. Vests are on a first-come, first-served basis.
- You cannot leave or hold a space for someone. (Going to the bathroom is permitted.)
- No food or drinks are allowed in the waiting area or the auction area of the market.
- No children.
- No flash photography.
- No touching the tuna or anything else.
- Stay with the group at all times.
- Be extremely careful as it is dark and there is a lot of moving machinery
The Tsukiji Tuna Auction
The tuna warehouse is cordoned off by rope. The sixty of us were sardined into a corridor about 4 feet wide by 30 feet deep. Here we pivoted, trying to watch the goings-on which were all around us. As you enter, the tuna are all lined up in a row on the warehouse floor–noses pointed all in one direction, and a small piece of flesh cut in the tail, where the buyers inspect the meat. They are, of course, interested in the color, the fat content, and who knows what else. It didn’t take them long to wield their ice pick, flicking up the flesh and taking a quick look at it to determine whether they wanted to bid on it or not.
After some time for the inspections to take place, the auctioneer pulls up his stool, takes his bell in hand, and begins ringing it fast and loud, commanding all to look his way and get the bidding rolling. A fast-paced auction, they had sold off at least five of the large tuna before I realized what was happening. The auctioneer starts the ball rolling and the buyers each bid using their own set of hand signals. My favorite was the man with his two fingers, waist-high, just making a continuing more, more motion. Apparently, he would pay almost any price for the fish he found worthy.
Once a price was settled upon, the tickets were collected, the name of the company was painted in red on the fish’s side, and before we knew it the whole room had been sold. Each lot took about five minutes. It was quick, furious, serious, and completely awe-inspiring. Watching the auction was one of those times in life that you are witnessing something you just don’t have the background to completely understand. This was a look into the fishmonger’s life, where everything is spoken in their own language, the language of fish and fat and yen. We watched two lots being sold, then were ushered quickly and determinably out the door. No stragglers. Hurry. They’ve got more work to do, let alone another full group of visitors to deal with.
As we were ushered out the door and through the alley, we had to watch out for the little trucks, called “turret” trucks, that were used by everyone. A cylindrical motor and driving console, it was basically a moving pallet; efficient and a bit scary when they are heading straight for you. We hurried by stall after stall of people packing the fish in Styrofoam boxes, by the pile of boxes, by the stalls that sell the fish meat as well as all things to do with eating fish, like pickles and spices, and who knows what else. We peeled off our vests, handing them unceremoniously to the collector and we were finished.
The Best Part – Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
Standing there back outside the market, we wondered, “Now what?”
A temple just outside of the fish market area beckoned to us. Poorly lit, but obviously well-cared for and containing some important tributes to the deities, people were there clapping and praying, most assuredly thanking the gods for their bounty, and hoping the next day offered the same. After we left the temple, we walked down the street and found an open sushi restaurant, called Yamazaki Sushi. This was the prize at the end–fresh sushi, the freshest.
We entered the brightly lit establishment with promises of a “breakfast special” for only 2790 yen that held many of the market’s treats. We ordered it, but we also had to add a few extras. I’d heard that the Uni (sea urchin roe) was best fresh when off the boat. I’d never had an urge to eat sea urchin eggs before, but this was definitely the time to do it. It was a sweet taste of salt water and the ocean and, along with the other sushi we had that morning, the perfect end to our trip to the famous fish market of Tokyo.
Some of the Best Sushi Restaurants in Tsukiji
There is no shortage of places to try the freshest sushi you’ll ever have. As I mentioned we were drawn in by the special advertised so early in the morning at Yamazaki, and it was an experience both watching the men prepare our morning feast, but also the different types of sushi that we hadn’t tried before. It was delicious!
〒104-0045 Tokyo, Chūō, Tsukiji, 5 Chome−2−1
The other sushi restaurants near Tsukiji fish market will not be much different. Fresh fish. Yum! But these are some other favorites:
〒104-0045 Tokyo, Chūō, 築地６丁目２６− 6
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Power Tip: When it comes to eating out in Japan, be adventurous! Check out our incredible food of Japan article for more tips and suggestions!
Is Tsukiji Fish Market Moving?
The short answer to the fish market changing addresses is yes, it is. Originally it was supposed to move November of 2016, but the new move date might be October of 2018. Not only will the entire market move, the tuna auction will change considerably as well. Where as now it is done the old way, by auctioneer and hand movements, the new market should have some pretty high-tech capabilities. It will not be the same experience at all. The new home of the market will be the Toyosu Waterfront. We’ll share more details as they become available.
Practical Information for Visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market and Tuna Auction
Check out the Tsukiji Fish Market website for more details: http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm.
Days to Visit Tsukiji
Open Mondays through Saturdays with the exception of Wednesdays and national holidays. Check the calendar before you make the commitment to getting up early.
Opening Hours for the Tsukiji Fish Market
If you want to be on the morning fish auction tour, it opens at 5:00 for handing out vests. However, the line starts long before then. The outer market is open from 5:00 AM- 2:00 PM each day, but since there are many individual vendors, not all will be open at the same time.
Address: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
What to Wear to the Tsukiji Fish Market
No matter what time of year you are going it can be very cold. First of all, the fish must remain iced, so the warehouse is always cold. So, take a jacket and layer up. If it is winter, and you will be standing and waiting for the Osakana Fukyu to pass out your vest, you will need hats, scarves, and gloves. It can get frigid.
Another consideration is your shoes. It’s a fish market and there is water, machinery, and plenty of standing around. Wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes. High heels are forbidden, and who would want to wear them anyway?
We recommend the following items:
Tokyo Hotels Near Tsukiji Fish Market
The trick to getting a good hotel in Tokyo is simple. Look for decent review ratings that mention comfort and then check location. You don’t to be too far from a metro station. Here are some Tokyo hotels in the Ginza district that fit the bill and are good value.
Hotel Ginza7 TOKYO
7 Chome-14-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061
Viainn Higashi Ginza
2 Chome-15-13 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045
Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premier
8 Chome-13-1 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061
More Reading: Take a look at our Top Tokyo Attractions article for more tips and advice on visiting this energizing city!
How would you like to eat sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo?