Not being a morning person, there are few things in life I am willing to get out of a warm bed for: piping hot homemade donuts, a flight, and maybe a take an extra 40% off sale at Saks. Everything else can wait until my motor skills come to life somewhere in the vicinity of 10am. However, after a recent trip to Tokyo, I can't believe I am saying this even as I write it, I found another item I can add to that list: Fish! Now bear with me here...
A visit to the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo requires a wake up call at 4am in order to be one of the lucky 140 people each morning that are allowed to view the tuna auctions that begin promptly at 5am. If you take a minute to imagine the amount of sushi that is consumed around the world, you'll start to understand why exquisite grade tuna is big business. In fact, and hold onto your computers, just yesterday one single 754 pound mammoth bluefin tuna was auctioned off at Tsukiji for a record breaking sum of $400,000, breaking a 2001 record. The fish was bought by a Tokyo sushi restaurant in the Ginza neighborhood and a Hong Kong sushi chain. At $526 a pound, that ranks it at one of the most expensive foods in the world!!!
The tuna is organized in rows at the auction and are grouped by size, with the largest fish in the back row getting auctioned off last. Each bidder inspects the fish, which are actually mostly frozen, and carries a sort of ice pic that he uses to chip off a tiny piece of tuna, which he then warms between his fingers and inspects for quality. When all fish for a given auction have been inspected, the auctioneer steps up onto a footstool and rings a handheld school bell. The bidders gather around him and prepare for a very fast paced bidding war. It really is quite a unique scene to behold: here at 5am while the city is still dark and sleeping, hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuna are being sold to some of the grandest sushi houses in the world.
Once the auction is over, it is certainly worth a walk around the enormous wholesale fish market. Be warned: men driving small but fast motorized carts will try and run you over in their haste, stay out of the way!! The variety of fish species you will see is absolutely astonishing. I'm not even a huge seafood eater and I could have spent 3 hours amongst the stalls looking at creatures I have never even seen before. Don't put your face too close to anything that looks suspicious, some creature in a box came to life and splashed out at me and I screamed and ducked behind my friend.
Look at how beautiful the colors and textures are:
By the time I finished walking around the market, I had already been up 4.5 hours and I was starving! It was time for a sushi breakfast. If you even remotely like sushi, you owe it to yourself to go to one of the tiny sushi houses inside the market. You'll have to walk a ways from the wholesale market but just keep asking people where the sushi dens are and don't leave the walls of the huge compound. You will find that there are already lines waiting for these minuscule sushi bars. Each one contains one tiny counter that seats eight people maximum. And don't worry about the language barrier, all you have to do to order is point to pictures of different sushi and sashimi. This was unequivocally the best sushi I have ever eaten in my life. Here is a picture of people already waiting in line at 7am for sushi:
After sushi, behind you is another market where you can buy knives, green tea, porcelain tea sets, a bit of everything, and it is a good spot to pick up gifts for people at home. And by 10am you'll be ready for a nap.
If a fish auction is not on YOUR list of things you'd wake up for, just watch this video I took and tell people you were there anyway.