Tsukiji Market: The Ultimate Tokyo Tourist Morning


Shaving the skin off a tuna using a massive knife

Tsukiji Market is a little bit of everything I love about visiting Tokyo. Everyone is incredibly focused on doing what they need to do and the energy surrounding their activities is hard to beat. At the same time, however, to the merchants in the market itself the tourists are a bit of a nuisance and almost not worth the hassle of having them around. Almost. On this most recent trip we took the “easy” version of the tour, skipping the risky super early wake-up for a chance at seeing the tuna auction in favor of a more normal schedule of sushi for breakfast followed by a walk through the narrow aisles which make up the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market (the formal name) and eventually even visited the vegetable market, because it is there.

An omakase (chef's choice) platter at breakfast
An omakase (chef’s choice) platter at breakfast

Breakfast at Tsukiji can be a bit of a chore. There are famous options like Sushi Dai which require queuing and generally being grumpy while waiting to eat. That’s not my style. We saw the crowds and quickly moved on, eventually finding our way to Umai Sushikan a couple aisles over in the retail market area. Maybe we missed out by not waiting in the hour-long line but I doubt it. At least not enough to justify waiting an hour. Yes, Umai is a chain and there are other branches in town. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious.

Tuna for breakfast!
Tuna for breakfast!

This was not my first time doing sushi for breakfast but for the other three in our group it was. As had become the norm for our meal ordering in Japan the picture menus were key. Eventually we settled on a collection of platters, each of us ordering one with the intention of sharing. On the agenda was tuna, salmon, eel and an omakase (combo plate). All of that, plus a breakfast beer for me and my father-in-law, soon came out of the back and were were digging in to deliciousness.

At least four different types of salmon in this order
At least four different types of salmon in this order

The fish was delicious, as expected, though there were still a few things I wanted to have and I wanted to make sure everyone else got as well. And so, even though we probably should have been done at this point, I asked everyone at the table what their favorites were so far and then hatched a plan. The waitress came over and we talked a bit, mostly me gesturing numbers and saying the Japanese names of some of my favorite types of sushi, and we had what I suppose might be called dessert. Or round two. Or simply “delicious.”

And then there was second breakfast, including hotate and chu-toro for everyone.
And then there was second breakfast, including hotate and chu-toro for everyone.

Turns out there was more than one reason going for seconds was a good idea. On this particular morning the market was not open for tourists until 9am and we were still early for that. That was a new one to me but once we got past the appointed hour we were free to head in to Tsukiji where we would spend the next 45 minutes exploring the vendors, checking out the famously fresh-from-auction tuna and playing a real life version of Frogger as we dodged the delivery trucks which go whizzing by non-stop.

Shaving the skin off a tuna using a massive knife
Shaving the skin off a tuna using a massive knife
Out cruising for girls on their sporty ride. Or something like that.
Out cruising for girls on their sporty ride. Or something like that.

I like to think I could hang out at Tsukiji and watch the vendors work for hours at a time. The reality was more like about 45 minutes before we felt like we’d seen enough and were ready to move on to something a bit less loud and potentially injurious. After all, there are a lot of very large knives in use there and delivery drivers who don’t seem to care much for tourists getting in their way. I imagine they feel the same about me there as I do about tourists on the sidewalks in Manhattan. So, yeah, I get it.

Tools of the trade, Tsukiji-style
Tools of the trade, Tsukiji-style
Carts lined up outside the main Tsukiji Market area, awaiting another day of deliveries
Carts lined up outside the main Tsukiji Market area, awaiting another day of deliveries

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

2 Comments

  1. I love Tsukiji.. Last time I was there, I was just walking through with my GoPro at my eye level (easily 6 inches above everyone’s head), and captured a guy spilling soy sauce all over his tie & dress shirt. It’s one of my all time favorite videos.

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