Seeing the famed tuna auction has been on my bucket list for over a decade. It took long enough, I’ve read too many articles, and psyched myself out so much that I needed to go through with this. The actual catalyst was knowing that the current market will be moving from its home of 80 years to a new location to make way for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It would never be the same thing.
The first time I was in Tokyo which was the last and only other time I was in Tokyo, my dad had brought me along to catch a trade show for a couple of days. We stayed in Shiodome near the Tokyo Big Sight but also near Tsukiji. Fresh out of high school and so naive, I thought it would be easy to catch the auction if we got there at 5am. Thank goodness Papa dJ didn’t wake up on time because we would’ve probably been turned away and disappointed that we couldn’t see it.
A couple of weeks before our trip to Japan, I read Simon Crerar’s Buzzfeed article which led me to even more articles. I needed to be prepared for this because I had just 1 day to get it right. Since I figured that I had to be up and running by 2am, I would just stay awake and sort of pull an all nighter and instead of taking a nap and risking falling into a deep sleep. The former student in me approved the all nighter. Depending on the time of the year, you’ll have to vary what to bring. Simon went in January which meant that it was literally freezing while I went in April and I found it very warm.
1928H (T-1 Day) : I asked our hotel to help me get a cab very early in the morning because there were no trains or buses after midnight. I wasn’t sure how reliable Uber was in Tokyo either.
0144H (Day 0) : The front desk told me to be at the lobby by 150am to be on time for my 2am cab. I was too excited and got there 6 minutes early.
0153H : My cab was early! I was ready to take on the early hours of the morning! Also, cab rides are expensive. Yuck.
0213H : It took around 20 minutes from Shinjuku to Tsukiji without traffic! That’s farther than I thought it was. But at this point, I had gotten in line to register. I was basically waiting in line to go into the waiting room. More waiting. What. I wanna say that I was somewhere between the 20th-25th person in line.
0225H : Huzzaahhh! Made it to the waiting room! I got my yellow vest (yellow for the first group, green for the second group) and that was a guarantee that I was going to see the tuna auction. It was now time to wait and get as comfortable as we possibly could. I had 2 onigiris from Family Mart (my fave thing about Japan really), a bottle of water, and a can of coffee. I also had a can of Red Bull which I didn’t drink because I wanted to take a nap after.
MANY HOURS LATER
0518H : The exit doors of the waiting room (aka heaven’s gates) opened and we were ready to take our refreshing morning walk to the auction warehouse! Without getting run over by the trucks and trolleys running around Tsukiji of course. We had marshals guiding us along and making sure no one got hurt.
0528H : We made it to the auction warehouse! There is only a small area in the middle for visitors so it’s best to just be as polite as possible to everyone else who wants to take photos or videos. I thought there was some sense of camaraderie having gone through the grueling wait together. The giant tuna were bigger than their buyers! It was amazing and daunting at the same time to see so many pieces of flash frozen tuna that would all be sold within the hour.
0540H : The auction for smaller sized tunas starts! The bell rings and everyone turns their attention from the giant tuna to the auctioneer (he was really funny and entertaining) and all the buyers.
0546H : This auction was fast! He probably auctioned around 70-80 pieces of tuna in 6 minutes! Amazing! We were then ushered out of the warehouse so that the second group could catch another auction. I’m not sure if they get to catch the auction of the giant tuna but I’d like to think that they would keep that private for their buyers.
Sometime after (I am too dazed to keep track at this point) : I opted for a quick sushi breakfast at 岩佐寿し Iwasa Sushi because both 寿司大 Sushi Dai and 大和寿司 Daiwa Sushi had lines and I was already very tired of waiting. Ryu Sushi was also closed that morning for some reason. My Jyo-Nigiri was delicious and welcome after a long day (night?). The cashier lady also gave all the girls in the restaurant some kind of seaweed jam which I am excited to try! I think I picked Iwasa because 1) no one was lining up; 2) no one spoke a lick of English; and 3) I was the only non-Japanese person in there when I was eating.
Only 2 groups of 60 people are allowed to witness the auction everyday and there are no reservations for anything. It’s no holds barred for anyone willing to wake up early for this. While seeing all of this made me think of overfishing, sustainability, and the high demand that being placed on our natural resources, it’s amazing that something of this scale happens ~260 days a year. Also, back in 2013, a 222 kg bluefin tuna was sold at the auction for ¥155.4M or US$1.8M (2013 dollars). THAT’S AN INSANE AMOUNT OF MONEY. YOU CAN BUY A HOUSE (But not in SF boo).
Tsukiji Market closes for relocation on 2 November 2016 so if you want to and have the chance to check out the tuna auction, do so while there’s still time! The new market will be opening on 7 November 2016 in Toyosu, Koto Ward, Tokyo. Here’s a tip: Plan accordingly. Your schedule, what you’re bringing, what to do when you’re bored, etc. It’s especially not nice going there only to be turned away because you woke up too late or that the auction happened to be closed on that day. Also, do not get run over by trucks and trolleys! Make the most out of your visit!
Special shoutout to Jen G for actually staying up on Facebook chat with me until I got into the auction warehouse! Without her, I probably would’ve fallen asleep and missed the whole thing! Thank you so so so much for helping me with my bucket list! :]
Tsukiji Market Tuna Auction
東京都中央卸売市場 Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji
Tokyo-to, Japan 〒104-0045
+81 03 3542 1111
Monday to Tuesday; Thursday to Saturday
Wednesday & Sunday Closed
岩佐寿し Iwasa Sushi
6 Chome-27-3 Tsukiji
+81 03 3544 1755
Monday to Friday 0600H – 1430H
Saturday 0600H – 1500H
2nd/4th Wednesday Closed