And now, I bring you one of the most memorable and terrible experiences we had in Toyko: the Tsukiji tuna auction.
A Little Back Story:
We had heard from watching various Youtube travelers, and reading countless of travel blogs that going to the Tsukiji fish market, and more importantly, going to the tuna auction, was one of the top 10 must-do things when visiting Tokyo. Because we went to Tokyo in August, and the market had mentioned plans of moving locations in November, it became #1 on our list of things to see.
Because the tuna auction is so early in the morning, we slept few hours, and then woke up at around 1 a.m. to start our trek to the market. Our AirBnb was located in Shinjuku, and since the trains stop running at around 11 p.m., our only choice was to walk 8 km. (4.9 miles) to get a spot in line for the auction.
We figured that if we arrived before 3 a.m., we would get a spot in line for the tuna auction reservation (only 120 people are allowed in the auction each day). We took our time walking to the market, stopping at 7-11 along the way, and even playing a little Pokemon Go. The night was beautiful, and our spirits were soaring. We were going to fulfill our dream.
It took about two hours to get to the market, and we arrived just before 3 a.m. to find that they had finished letting people in at 2:30 a.m. We were crushed, and I cried a little bit. The trains still weren’t running, and so we had no choice but to walk all the way back to our apartment.
The Next Day:
The next day we made a decision to try again. Crazy, right? We were leaving Tokyo the next day, and wanted to see the original market before it moved to a new location.
We left on the very last train, and went straight to the reservation office to secure a spot. At this point, it was 11:30 p.m., and we went to a park across the street to drink a few coffees and wait until a line started to form.
At around midnight, 20 people had lined up in front of the office, and we decided it was time to do the same. We stood in line from 12:30 until about 2:15, and then at around 2:30, the security guards brought us (60 people at a time) into a large waiting room.
We were each given a bright green vest to prove that we were allowed into the auction area, and then we sat in this room until the auction opened at 5:30 a.m. Do you see those cones behind me? The other half of the room is where the other 60 people sat and waited. I felt like a prisoner, and because we hadn’t gone to sleep the night before, I was an exhausted prisoner.
I’d like to say that I loved sitting in this tiny room with 119 other people, and I loved sitting on the hard floor while wearing an old green vest, but I really didn’t. At the same time, we chose to go to the auction…so we have no reason to complain….but really, it was awful.
At around 5:25 a.m., they opened the doors and took the first tour group (which was also our group) to the auction. We walked through the fish market and the strong pungent smell of dead fish smacked us in the face. Men whizzed by on little scooter-trucks, and styrofoam boxes filled with fish remnants were thrown into a big pile on the ground.
It was all a blur as they rushed us to the main auction area, and I wasn’t prepared for how cold it would be. I had been sweating all week, and now I wanted a blanket.
In the auction area, the tuna are lined up in rows, and a chunk of each one is sliced open so that the shop owners, chefs, and other men perusing the auction can test the quality of the fish. Because these tuna can sell for up to $1.5 million, the buyers need to be sure that what they’re getting is worth what they end up paying for. It was interesting to see the intensity and care that they took to check each and every fish.
We were also able to see a tuna being auctioned. The tuna that we saw being auctioned was sold for $1500.
We were only in the auction room for 20 minutes before the security guards told us our time was up, and rushed us out of the room. After waiting almost six hours for what I had been told was one of the best tourist attractions in Japan, I wanted more. Much more.
Not Worth the Pain:
After our time was up at the tuna auction, we were tired, but also very hungry. There are tons of sushi options around the market, so we stopped at Ryu Sushi for a sushi breakfast before heading back to our apartment. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t open until 9 a.m., so we never actually stepped foot in the market itself.
Overall, I would say that it wasn’t worth it, but much like our Kabuki experience, now I have a story to tell my future children.
Your Visit to Tsukiji:
So you read my story, and you still want to go? YOLO, right?
After doing a little bit of research (unfortunately post-Tokyo-trip), I discovered that there really is no set date for the Tsukiji relocation. That being said, here are a few tips for your potential visit to the tuna auction:
Before the Auction:
- Find an AirBnb/Hotel/Hostel/some sort of bed close to Tsukiji. You do not want to walk as far as we did, and you want a place to crash after you leave.
- Get to the reservation office by 12:30 a.m., 1 a.m. at the latest. During busy tourist times, people line up quickly, and as soon as they reach 160 people the doors are shut.
- Drink coffee, but not too much coffee because once you enter the waiting area, you can’t leave.
- Bring a book or a tablet; basically anything to help pass the time as you wait.
- Grab a sweater or jacket to keep you warm inside the auction room.
During the Auction:
- Photography and video is allowed, but no flash!
- You’re only in the auction room for about 20 minutes, so take as many pictures as you possibly can.
- Sandals, flip flops, high heels, or open toed shoes are not allowed in the auction area or the public market.
After the Auction:
- Get sushi for breakfast at one of the many sushi restaurants surrounding the market.
- Go back to your AirBnb/Hotel/Hostel/bed and go to sleep! Go back to Tsukiji once the market opens at 9 a.m.
Hours: The auction begins at 5:30 a.m., and the public market opens at 9 a.m.
The market/tuna auction is also closed onSundays, national holidays and a few Wednesdays a month.
Check HERE for more information.
**If you visit Tokyo in the winter months, be sure to check whether or not the auction is open to the public**