Earlier this month, the Tsukiji Inner Market finally closed after years of delays, protest, and controversy. Opened in 1935, Tsukiji Market is one of Tokyo’s most famous and visited tourist spots. As one of the world’s largest fish and fresh food wholesale markets in the world, it hosted the Tuna Auction where tourists literally stand in the middle of the action. On October 6th, the final auction was held. To mark this occasion, FunFriendsFoodTravel.com was there to experience the last day of the market and pay a visit to the brand new Toyosu Fish Market complex.
Before we get into Tsukiji versus Toyosu, it is important to note that the Tsukiji Outer Market is STILL open for businesses. The Outer Market is the home to numerous restaurants and shops which supported the Inner Market.
Now on to Toyosu.
Frankly, the Toyosu Fish Market is antiseptic. It is comprised of three industrial warehouses located over a former semiconductor plant near Odaiba. Transportation to the market isn’t easy since it will require several transfers from most tourist hotels.
It is important to note, the observation area is ABOVE the market floor. There are no benches to sit and rest. Even when the traffic lulls a bit, there are not enough observations windows for people to see what’s going on below. When do you get to a window, you realize it is an extremely limited view. You only see the walkway below. The jam only gets worse when people try to take pictures and selfies only to find that the glass is reflecting their image.
Why separate the tourists from the sight, smell, and sounds of the market? It solves two significant challenges fish and produce vendors had to deal for years at Tsukiji: 1) constant corralling of tourists during market operations 2) ensuring that people did not touch the produce.
So expect to do a lot of walking and queuing at Toyosu. There are no benches to rest. The fact that the fish, fruit & vegetable and wholesale markets are in three separate buildings also means that you have to walk the length of several football fields to get to each building. It’s a good early morning workout, you just have to be patient with the crowds. Traveling with family? If you want to sit, you have to find a restaurant. If you want to sit at a restaurant expect to queue a minimum of 30-40 minutes. This isn’t great for older folks or families with kids.
What about the restaurants and marketplace for tourists? Its called the Uogashi Yokocho market. Toyosu’s version of Tsukiji Outer Market is also oddly placed. You have to walk down long (I mean really long) narrow corridors only to find a set of escalators that take you to a warehouse space.
The warehouse floor is organized into “shops.” It is windowless and it is slightly claustrophobic despite with the high ceilings. The single point of entry and exit to the Market is not well-labeled. There is a map but it is located at a wall at the far end of the hall.
As you can see, from the movie laps above every corridor also looks the same. To make it easier for shoppers, they have labeled the corridors with "street names.” Honestly, it doesn't really help. So expect to get lost and turned around especially during the early months of the opening.
Toyosu has an area for restaurants for each building and traffic management is just as bad. You walk long distances in a massive crowd only to find yourself in a long queue for a restaurant.
Tsukiji Outer Market, by comparison, may be compact but it is organic and vibrant. Everything you want to eat and see is spread across four alleys. Even after the closure of the Inner Market, Tsukiji Outer Market is still a great place to visit.
In fact, during the morning of the second shoot, I also hosted the CMO of IBM Japan for breakfast there. Solid food, dependable service, and it’s a stone’s throw away from the major office complexes. A good place to grab breakfast.
Ok so you are thinking, is it worth visiting? Toyosu is built to facilitate business to business commerce and as such an entirely different animal. In its current incarnation, it just isn’t great for tourist. But that’s all right. Sure, it is just different from the original Tsukiji Tuna Auction. You have to set your expectations that there will be lots of walking and queuing. The wait times for seafood will be ridiculous.
Fortunately, Tsukiji Outer Market still exists. Sure, standing in the middle of the Tsukiji Tuna Auction is no longer possible. That experience will never be repeated, probably even at Toyosu.
Tsukiji is much friendlier and accessible place to go eat, explore. There is a fantastic plethora of food. The shopkeepers are all friendly to both chefs and tourists making Japanese food culture accessible to everyone. You can get just about anything there. As a chef, you can get as many different kinds of Katsuobushi and seaweed for your restaurants back home. As a tourist, you can try incredible seafood, pickles, tea and meat (yes, they sell Kobe beef there as well).
Here are a few recommendations on places to visit at Tsukiji Outer Market:
Yonemoto Coffee (米本珈琲) - they roast their own beans, and their house blend is what we serve at home to our guests. You will find Mr. Yonemoto in the shop at their Harumi-dori Avenue shop, every morning. You can’t miss him in his signature spectacles.
Suwa Shōten 諏訪 - if you like Tsukudani, this is the place to go. Their sweet soy seasoned seafood is fantastic. The 90 years young grandma who runs the shop with her children is a brilliant chef and continues to develop new flavors. I know more than a few NY and SF chefs that source their seasoned clams and seaweed from them.
Mameya-sanei - if you like azuki beans, lentils or edamame, this dry good store has it all. Azuki beans are the base for Japan’s sweet red bean paste an. Red bean paste is used in dorayaki and of course mochi. They also have a supply of the extremely hard to find but incredibly delicious kurakake edamame.
Kent is a management consultant who has spent years traveling for work. His refuge is looking for the perfect meal so that he can reproduce it at home with his wife and friends.