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TOKYO — It’s the New York Stock Exchange with gills.

In the early morning twilight, thousands of people converge in an area smaller than a football field to bid on tuna, mackerel, yellowtail and salmon.

Puddles of water and small hillocks of ice form a regular hazard to frantic buyers trying to get their purchases to market before the sun rises.

This is Tsukiji (pronounced ts-KEE-jee), the mecca of fish markets in Japan.

On Tokyo Bay, it’s the “kitchen that feeds Tokyo.” Buyers seeking the freshest seafood, vegetables and fruit gather from all over the metropolitan area. More than 2,000 tons of seafood and 1,400 tons of fruit and vegetables are bought and sold daily.

The fish auction, which starts around 4 a.m., is the highlight of any Tsukiji trip, with dozens of coffee-drinking Japanese men informally inspecting rows and rows of huge fish.

Tuna inspection is a quick, robotic task. Buyers carve into the frozen tuna flesh, examining its color and thickness. Some rub bits between their fingers and shine a flashlight to get a closer look.

Then, a man wearing a blue shirt and large black rubber boots takes a small wooden stool, plops it in the center of the impromptu assembly and clangs a hand bell with abandon, drawing prospective purchasers from their inspections. Shouting at the top of his lungs, the auctioneer throws his hand in the air, proclaiming a lot sold.

Some auctioneers put on a show for the passel of tourists milling around the tight corridors of fishy commerce. Occasionally, their inflection sways; they’ll begin sounding more like a ringmaster than someone trying to unload a fresh catch.

After a tuna is purchased, workers use long-poled hooks to drag it to a pushcart. Some buyers haul off whole fish; others opt to have their purchases sliced, boxed and loaded on the small motorized trucks which dart through the crowd.

Some are sold at more than 1,000 shops in the market, where retailers and restaurant chefs browse to find the day’s catch.

The auctions are restricted to authorized wholesale buyers but the shops are open to anyone who wants a taste of the market.

Visitors from Camp Zama, on a recent Morale, Welfare and Recreation tour to Tsukiji, said they were impressed.

“This is great,” says Sgt. Maj. Wilbur Benson, who made the trip with his wife, Seongnam.

“That’s about 80 pounds of fish and shrimps,” he said, handing over a swollen plastic bag.

Benson said the market has some top-quality fish. Others on the tour brought coolers to keep what they bought.

And Mitzi Woolley had a consumer tip. Those planning to go elbow-to-elbow with the chefs and other professionals in the shops near the market need to be do their homework.

“You got to know the going price to negotiate,” she said.

Attractions near Tsukiji fish market

Hama-Rikyu Gardens

Address: 1-1 Hamarikyu teien, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0046

Telephone: (03) 3541-0200

Admission: 300 yen, free for elementary school students and younger children

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (admission until 4:30 p.m.)

Getting there: 15-minute walk from Tsukiji station on Hibiya line; Parking is free

St. Luke’s Tower

Address: 8-1 Akashi-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-6591

Telephone: (03) 3248-6820

Admission: Free

Hours: 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Getting there: 10-minute walk from Tsukiji station on Hibiya line

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple

Address: 3-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-8435

Telephone: (03) 3541-1131

Admission: Free

Getting there: Two-minute walk from Tsukiji station on Hibiya line

Web sites: and

World Magazine Gallery

Address: Magazine House Co., Ltd. 1F, 3-13-10 Ginza, Chuo-kun, Tokyo

Telephone: (03) 3545-7227

Admission: Free

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, closed on Japanese national holidays

Getting there: 10-minute walk from Tsukiji station on Hibiya line


Address: 4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061

Telephone: (03) 5565-6000 for reservations (same-day telephone bookings are not accepted)


All the above places have information and guides in English.

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