Tokyo (9)

Tuesday 07/11

We wake up before 2 am to go and try to attend the tuna auction at the Tsukiji Market, without the kids of course.

We take a taxi since public transport does not start running until 5am. We are surprised to see a lot of traffic at 2:30am (mainly taxis of course but so many)!

Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the world’s oldest, largest and busiest wholesale fish market. The main attraction, which we want to attend today, is the pre-dawn tuna market, where thousands of kilos of tuna are auctioned off every day. The star attraction is the maguro (bluefin tuna). Registration to see the tuna auction starts at 4:30am and only 120 tourists are permitted each morning (2 groups of 60). It’s on a first-come, first-served basis. To maximize our chance to be admitted, we arrive at 2:40am. There are already some 40 people waiting but we are in! We are very happy and excited to have this rare opportunity to experience the tuna live auction.

We have 3 hours to wait. A guide comes and gives us some interesting facts about tunas and the tuna auction.

  • Every day, there are 1,000 tunas to be auctioned, both fresh (15%) and frozen (85%). A tuna weighs on average 100kg (8-10 years old). Auctions are real bidding wars; they last one hour and there are 700 bidders (700 wholesalers’ shops). The buyers have some time to inspect the tunas. They start with an assessment of the shape, then they check the flesh from the tail (in order to assess the fat content), and eventually they do an assessment of the colour (with their flash light). It takes many years (10-15 years) to become an expert.
  • There are 3 main parts in a tuna, the upper part of the belly being the most expensive: 18,000 Yen (135 Euro) per kg.
  • Some big fishing boats have huge freezers that can contain up to 3,000 tunas (tunas can stay “fresh” for 2 years at temperature of -60C).
  • Japan consumes 1/4th of the tunas in the world.
  • The world record price for a whole tuna is 150 m Yen (1.1 m Euro) for a whole tuna, during the 1st auction of the year, on 1 January (the most important one).

At 5:40am we can finally go out and attend the auction.

We see the buyers performing a thorough inspection. When the bell rings, the auctions start. “Our” auction (the closest one to the place where we stand) is over in 2′.

After this quick spectacle, we go and eat breakfast at Daiwa sushi (a sushi set, selection of the chef). Sushi at 6am… quite unusual!. There are already queues in front of the small restaurants. The sushi are delicious, including the sea urchin. Even the one with omelette is not bad.

At 7am we attend the fruit and vegetables auctions. There are no tourists at all. Auctions are quite animated; it’s nice to see.

The wholesale fish market only starts at 10am (or rather: tourists are only allowed to go in from 10am). “Guards” at the entrance are pretty tough. What to do? We do a tour in the atmospheric Outer Market, where we can also find all types of fish. Then we rest on a terrace for one hour. At 9am, we try to enter the wholesale fish market. I indeed read that we could try by saying “kaimono” (‘shopping’ in Japanese) to the guards and carrying plastic bags (to put our purchases), but it didn’t work. We spend another hour wandering the outer market. At 10am sharp, they start a line for tourists. We can finally enter. It’s great but you can feel that the excitement and the peak of the animation is over. Some people even start closing their ‘shop’. We anyway still can witness a lot of activities (cutting all kinds of fish, especially tuna, with very long knives) and see all the different types of fish laying out in boxes and styrofoam crates.

We leave around 11am.

We walk to Giza, where we stroll along the other ‘Champs Elysées’ (the other ones being Omote-sando). Ginza is among the world’s most famous shopping districts (though it’s apparently not as exclusive as it used to be). There are beautiful buildings (including the Hermes flagship store, covered with glass blocks, designed by Renzo Piano).

We try to find the small (very local) Torizen restaurant, which was recommended by Isabelle, but it’s unfortunately closed today.

We go to Mitsukoshi Ginza Department store to find special Japanese whisky for Miguel (Adeline’s husband). I love these food (basement) floors. I buy yakatori (chicken skewers) for lunch as well as bread.

We take the metro back home, where we arrive at 1:30pm. The kids are still in their pj’s…

We eat a good lunch: the yakatori are excellent (as well as the olive bread).

We leave again around 3pm to Yanaka, by metro.

We pass by Ameyo market, an open-air market, with a nice, colourful and noisy atmosphere.

We walk in the Yanaka-reien, an atmospheric cemetery, before reaching Yanaka. Yanaka is a remarkable remnant of the old-time Tokyo. We mainly stay on the pedestrian Yanaka Ginza street, lined with butcher shops, vegetable vendors and the like. Yanaka Ginza is pure, vintage mid-20th-century Tokyo. We stop in a small shop to drink a beer (sitting on milk crates on the side of the road, with the locals).

We take the metro back home.

I go and take away pizzas from Pizzeria da Isa, which we eat at home. They are excellent.

We are tired after this long day. I anyway work till 11:30pm.



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