Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market Tour

We meet our tour group at Tsukiji Hongaji Temple for a day tour of the inner and outer Tsukiji Fish Market. Before returning to our Airbnb, we visit the local Golden Gai.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple 

Today, we are going on a Food Tour of Tsukiji Fish Market lead by Japan Wonder Travel. From Shinjuku-Okubu Station it takes about an hour to reach Tsukiji Station.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tokyo 
Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tsukiji, Tokyo

We meet our guides outside Tsukiji Honganji Temple and receive a bottle of water and a list of our samples included throughout the tour. There are only three members in our tour.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tokyo 
Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tsukiji, Tokyo

Entering the temple, our guide teaches us how to pray. After tossing a coin offering between the wooden slates, bow twice, clap twice, bow, and say a prayer.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tokyo 
Male lion (left) and a female lion (right) Tsukiji Honganji Temple, Tsukiji, Tokyo

Tsukiji Fish Market

Japanese Omelets, Tokyo, Japan
Japanese omelets at Yamacho, Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Tsukiji Fish Market consists of two parts: the outer market and the inner market. In the outer market visitors can purchase vegetables, seafood, and goods from an open air and air conditioned section. The inner market is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world.

Entering the outer market, there are stands sell beans, rice snacks, knives, lobster, crab, eel, uni, and fish.Our first sample is a Japanese omelet. An assembly line of chefs create slightly sweet, fluffy, layered bricks of eggs. The square pans of eggs are rolled along from chef to chef. When an omelet reaches the end of the line, the last chef removes it from the pan using chopsticks, places it on a cooling rack, and sets the pan on an above conveyor belt sending it back to the first chef.

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Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo

The second sample is a local snack that is great for the digestive system, kelp. The Japanese suck on kelp until it becomes soft, then chew, and swallow.

Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo

As we approach a stand selling dried beans, our guide encourages us to taste a variety of colors and sizes of beans. The sweet red and black beans are often a component of pastry and dessert fillings.

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Bonito at the Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo

Following the crowd in front of us, we arrive at the next sample on our postcard, dried bonito, the world’s hardest food in the Guiness Book of World Records. The bonito fish is dried and shaved into paper thin slices. Although thin, the bonito still requires a lot of chewing.

Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Mitch with a fish cake at the Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
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Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo

Becoming harder to stay together as the crowds continue to grow, we pass giant, chilled tuna heads, squirming eels, and flopping fish. We catch up with the rest of our group at a vendor selling oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, and other mollusks for our next sample, a giant oyster, the best in Tokyo according to our guide.

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Indoor section of the outer Tsujiki Fish Market, Tsujiki, Tokyo

On our way to the indoor section of the outer market, we sample sheets of seaweed. The enclosed section of the outer market is cool inside and not as crowded as the open air market. Here we taste raw tuna skewers, each skewer holds four cubes of meat varying in fat content.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Inner Tsujiki Fish Market, Tsujiki, Tokyo

Each morning inside the inner market, fishermen unload their daily catch and prepare for sale. Only licensed buyers and a small number of visitors, required to arrive as early as 2:00am, are permitted to attend the morning auctions. Being careful of the wet floor, we follow the grid of cement walkways passing freezers, metal work stations, band saws, buckets of sea life, and stacks of Styrofoam coolers.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Inner Tsujiki Fish Market, Tsujiki, Tokyo

Men in waders rush past us. We pause to watch as a band saw cuts a giant, frozen tuna into smaller pieces. Garbage cans and baskets overflow with fish carcasses and tuna heads. Stations are hosed down by crews with ocean water, eliminating the smell of fish from the market. Although photos are prohibited, we inconspicuously capture a few scenes.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Inner Tsujiki Fish Market, Tsujiki, Tokyo

We pass into the vegetable section of the inner market. Stacks of boxes containing vegetables and fruits ready for shipment fill the warehouse. Crates overflow with peaches, grapes, onions, bock choy, apples, and egg plants in pristine condition. We stop at a table with a snowman shaped watermelon and a mango selling for eight hundred Yen. Enjoying our reaction to his oddly shaped fruit, one of the men allows us to a sample a perfectly ripe pear.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
An oddly shaped watermelon and $71 mango at the inner Tsujiki Fish Market, Tsujiki, Tokyo

We return to the outer market, following our guide to a small shop selling sake. He chooses one for us to sample and hands us each a small, wooden box. He instructs us to hold the box with both hands and drink from the corner. Kanpai!

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Sake and sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Leaving Tsujiki Fish Market, we walk by lines of customers waiting to dine at the restaurants just outside. Entering a less crowded sushi eatery, we stand at the bar wrapping around the sushi chefs.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Choosing the vegetarian option, my favorite piece is Japanese omelet and rice wrapped in a thin band of seaweed. Our guide encourages us to have our cameras ready as one of the chefs prepares two pieces of torched salmon sushi for the conclusion of our tour.

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Traditional Tea in Tsukiji, Tokyo

On our way to the train station, we stop at a tea house and are amazed by the steps required to properly prepare tea. Each motion is executed with extreme detail and precision. When finished arranging the teapot, cup, cup of water, pastry, garnish, and chop stick, she hands us our trays.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Traditional tea in Tsukiji, Tokyo

Golden Gai

After a relaxing stop for tea, we finish our walk to Tsujiki Station. We board our train and hold onto the handles above us. As we come to a stop at the next station, I let go of the handle to adjust my bag. I am returning to the handle as wave of  business men flood the train. It happens so quickly my hand reaching is stuck midair, visible among the sea of heads. There is not a centimeter of space between me and the surrounding passengers. As the train jerks along the track, we remain an unwavering mass of sardines. A few stops later, we fight against the current to stay on-board, as the swarm of businessmen rush to exit the train.

We exit Shinjuku Station in search of the Golden Gai, an area of winding, narrow, bar filled alleys popular among locals. There is a possibility we will be turned away. Even if there are empty seats, tourists are not always welcome. We round a corner and see a park on our right with a small circle of white tents filled with food, face painting, and games. We walk past the festivities as the streets begin to narrow. In an opening, we see a metal archway announcing our entrance to the Golden Gai.

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Golden Gai, Tokyo

Walking under the arch way, we feel a nervous energy. It’s a maze of deserted narrow alleys connected by even smaller footpaths and staircases. Some of the passages are so narrow we can touch the buildings on each side as we pass through. The few windows are covered with shades and the doors are solid. Passing one of the bars, we find a window with a small opening between the heavy curtains. We peer inside the dark room through the hazy stream of sunlight. The space is small with a bar that could hold a maximum of six people.

We see movement as a door opens and a bucket water is thrown into the street, then the stillness returns. Being almost 7:00pm we expected bars to be crowded with rowdy businessmen celebrating the end of their workday, but reading  a small sign posted on one of the bars operating hours, 12:00am – 7:00am. Feeling slightly disappointed, we walk back to Shinjuku Station.


September 2017

 

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Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

My fiancé, Mitch, and I have been traveling together over four years. Living and working full time in Pittsburgh, PA, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. Each adventure is packed with activities, tours, and experiences to maximize our time. As craft beer lovers, we always try to fit in a visit to a local brewery. 
In Tokyo, we laughed every time we saw someone talking on their large, animated phone case. We had to buy one. Having an obsolete IPhone 5, the selection was limited. We purchased Gingy off a neglected rack in Shinjuku, Tokyo and The Traveling Gingerbread was born. You can purchase your own adorable gingerbread friend here! 
The Traveling Gingerbread is an entertaining account of our travels, fun facts, and tips we learned along the way.


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