Tsukiji: The Fishiest Market On Earth
Most people on earth believe there is a fundamental and quantifiable number that defines, either in kilograms or pounds, how much fish one should eat in a day. This number is, or at least should be, some sort of fraction. For example, according to this website that I don’t trust all that much (though it does have the term “library” in its url, which definitely scores it some bonus points), the average world citizen ate 1/10th of a pound of fish per day back in 2008.
Does that number sound accurate? Not really. That sounds like way too much fish. I definitely did not go through three pounds of fish a month in 2008 or in any other year, nor did anyone else I know. But we’re not worried about specific numbers here. We’re concerned with relative numbers. I don’t particularly care how much fish Americans eat in a given year, but I do wonder how much fish they eat relative to how much fish Japanese people eat.
And finally we arrive somewhere in the vicinity of the point of this post. Japanese people eat a tremendous amount of fish. That’s not quite the entire point, but we are getting there in a rather circuitous fashion.
MY INCORRECT PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS
When I started writing this article, I was 99% sure that Japan consumed more fish per capita than any other country on earth. That would’ve made a natural transition to what this article is really about, which is the Tsukiji fish market. But because the data I found didn’t support my hypothesis, I now have to take this article once again away from what it’s supposed to be about and onto one of my inconsequential tangents.
As it turns out, Japan does not consume more fish per capita than any other country in the world. That distinction, according to the suspect data referenced above, belongs to a country we will talk about shortly. Japanese people eat 53.7 kilograms per year of fish, which is a pound of fish every 3 days. Ten pounds of fish a month. One hundred twenty pounds of fish a year. That means that over the course of a lifetime (which, according to this slightly less suspect data, is 84.6 years, ranking Japan as the country with the longest life expectancy), a Japanese person will eat roughly 10,120 pounds of fish. That’s two baby blue whales. I apologize for the second-to-last sentence. Although the parenthetical was very interesting, it turned the sentence into a grammatical nightmare.
NOT QUITE NUMBER ONE
Amazingly, 120 pounds of fish per year is only good enough for fifth best! But don’t be too intimidated if you’re Japanese (and if you, for reasons that don’t quite make sense to me, worry about your ranking in global per capita fish consumption). Japan is within striking distance of Portugal, South Korea, and Malaysia. Second place isn’t too shabby!
So who the heck is in first place? Iceland! Icelanders eat more fish than any other people on earth. Apparently, they really love their pickled herring. And who wouldn’t? It’s delicious. That last question was, of course, rhetorical. A lot of people wouldn’t even consider trying pickled herring, which is a shame, because it’s delightful.
These numbers are of course a bit skewed, since the populations of the two countries are wildly different. Iceland has a respectable albeit not quite impressive 325,000 people, which is roughly equivalent to the number of people staying at our hotel in Tokyo. As a nation, Japan is home to 127,000,000 people, so even if the Japanese consume half as much fish per capita as Iceland, the country as a whole still does far more to control the world’s fish stocks than the descendants of the Vikings.
WE HAVE ARRIVED AT OUR DESTINATION!
Much of this fish comes through Tsukiji fish market, which is the largest fish market in the world. Finally!! We have arrived at the point of this post! Tsukiji fish market. You have to check it out when you’re in Tokyo.
GET OUT OF THE WAY
The first thing you have to know about Tsukiji is that it is absolultey NOT set up for tourists. There is a small place where you can see the tuna auction early in the morning, but it was so early that we decided against it. The market only lets in 120 people each day for the auction (in two waves of 60 people – one at 5:25 and the other at 5:50), and you have to line up at Kachidoki Gate at some unholy hour to stand a chance of getting in. I’m a big fan of tuna, but I don’t need to see it sold to eat it.
Instead, we went later in the morning, arriving around 11 AM. By this time, the market is already winding down, so we wandered through the wholesale area, catching a glimpse of the quiet after the storm. Some of the vendors looked absolutely exhausted from the whirlwind of activity that preceded our visit. They were sitting down or cleaning up or finishing up final sales. They had no interest in our pictures or our visit, since they knew we weren’t going to buy anything.
A small army of people worked to clean everything up and get it ready for the next day’s sales. That means they flew around on little carts or not-so-little forklifts, and they didn’t care if they hit us or not. They have a job to do, and we’re in the way. That has nothing to do with our cultural ignorance. That’s simply how the market works. It’s not built for tourists. It’s built for business. If tourists get in the way, they will be mowed down by a crate of conger eel.
THE OTHER THING TO KNOW ABOUT TSUKIJI
The second thing you have to know about Tsukiji is that the vendors sell a tremendous amount of fish. Think of a lot times a metric ton times a crapload. That’s the sort of scale I’m trying to get across. According to this website, 2,888 tons of fish pass through the market everyday. Every friggin’ day! But it’s not just quantity here. It’s variety as well. Vendors sell 450 different kinds of fish. If I wanted to go on another tangent, I would list every fish I could think of in the next paragraph. But I don’t want to do that, because I can only name a paltry 15 different kinds of fish, leaving me 435 short.
Tsukiji fish market won’t be around forever. It won’t even be around for that much longer. In November 2016, the market is scheduled to move to Toyosu, where it may be able to accommodate tourists betters. That being said, you want to see it as it is now in all of its glorious chaos.
GETTING TO TSUKIJI
There are a few ways to get to Tsukiji fish market, depending on where you are in Tokyo. Instead of listing all the different ways, I’ll just point you to this page. Scroll down for directions.