Translated by Laura Jacob
How to See the Tuna Auctions at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
Written by Ai Yoneda
Everyday visitors from all over the world gather at the Tsukiji Fish Market before sunrise to vie for a chance to see the tuna auctions - learn how you can join one of these tours.
In recent years a certain spot in Tokyo has been gaining popularity among travelers from abroad: the Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場. Everyday visitors from both within and outside the country visit Tsukiji, the largest fish market in Japan. Many travelers come to see the tuna auctions マグロの競り (maguro no seri). What is it about these auctions that have captured the interest of so many people?
During these auctions vendors hold public sales in the wholesale area, and the highest bidder earns the right to purchase the item up for auction.
It was surprising to learn that many visitors come to Tsukiji before sunrise just to observe the tuna auctions. You too can observe the auction for free, without reservations. In this article we will show you how to see the tuna auction, as well as introduce the sights you will see while there.
Where Should I Go, and What Time Should I Get There?
The tuna auctions are only held early in the morning, so you should plan to arrive extra early. Registration to see the auctions typically begins at 5:00 AM, but in light of its recent popularity, registration may begin even earlier if it is a particularly busy day.
Registration is first-come first-serve, and there are days when registration will close for the day if the maximum capacity is reached, even if it is not yet 5:00 AM. If you are really sure you want to see the auction, you should arrive at Tsukiji Fish Market between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM. Also please note that the auctions can only accommodate a maximum of 120 visitors per day.
To tour the auctions, you must first head to the Osakana Fukyū Center おさかな普及センター (Fish Information Center, 6-20-5 Tsukiji, Chuō-ku, Tokyo-to). The center is located right next to the Tsukiji Fish Market's Kachidoki Gate 勝どき門 (Kachidoki Mon). If you head straight towards the Sumidagawa River from the Tsukiji 4 chōme intersection, which is the entrance to the Outside Market, you will soon find the Osakana Fukyū Center. As soon as registration for the tuna auctions begin, the doors will open, so head on in.
If you are lucky enough to get in before registration closes for the day, one of the center staff will hand you a vest to show that you are a tour participant, as well as a list of rules for the tour. While you wait in the center for the tour to begin, you can put on your vest and read the rules.
You can also refer to this guide by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market: "Guidance for visiting the auction observation area at Tsukiji Market."
The rules are written in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Russian. As the majority of visitors come from outside of Japan, tours are generally held in English. We'll introduce the rules below:
・Flash photography is not permitted
・Keep alert at all times within the auction area, as trucks and small vehicles often pass through
・Be careful of wet areas, as it is easy to slip
・Dangerous goods and pets are not allowed inside the facilities
・Visitors with infants or strollers, as well as guests wearing sandals or high heels, or carrying suitcases and other large luggage items may not be permitted inside
Tours are split into two first-come, first-serve sessions of 60 persons each. The first tour is from 5:25 AM to 5:50 AM, while the second tour is from 5:50 AM to 6:15 AM. Shortly before the tour begins, a staff member will escort you to the auction area.
It is important to note that photography is prohibited between the Osakana Fukyū Center and the auction area. Additionally, forklifts and trucks also will often pass right by the visitors. As Tsukiji Fish Market is still very much a place of business and not meant to be a tourist attraction, there are no special paths for pedestrians. Be aware of your surroundings to make sure that you do not get into an accident. Do not make any dangerous movements, such as to jumping onto a forklift.
Finally you will reach the auction area, where the tuna auctions are held. On this day, we arrived at the Osakana Fukyū Center at 4:00 AM and were got the chance to take part in the second tour. This means that we waited almost 2 hours before our tour time. Although congestion varies from day to day, it is best to come prepared to wait a fair amount of time before your tour begins.
Before the auction begins, buyers check the condition and quality of the tuna. They use a sickle-like tool to take meat from near the tail, and judge its quality by pinching it between their fingers. Professional buyers can tell how fatty the tuna is just by how the meat seems to melt from the heat of their fingers. Additionally, the tuna fish have slight incisions on the surface near their tails so that buyers can inspect how the meat looks.
The ring of the bell signals the beginning of the auctions. Buyers will begin to swarm around the wholeseller who possesses the bell.
Following cues by the seller, buyers use their fingers to show their price offers. In turn, the seller will mirror these movements, showing the current highest bid. The highest bidding buyer will win the right to buy the tuna being auctioned.
When the auction begins, the seller will shout out words, but because it is industry jargon spoken very fast, even native Japanese speakers are unable to understand what he is saying. Because a single auction might end in just a few seconds, observers may not even be able to follow the proceedings. Perhaps this is a sign of just how efficient these auctions are.
Auctions begin with the smallest fish and progressively move up to the largest fish. The tour will end at the designated time. Follow the instructions of the tour guide and head to the exit. Please remember that from the wholesale area to the exit, photography and touching the fish is not permitted.
This concludes our guide on touring the tuna auctions at Tsukiji Fish Market, an experience that is unique in itself. If you come to observe the auctions, please remember to follow the rules and guidelines for participating in the tours.
Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場
Address: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuō-ku, Tokyo-to
Hours of operation: -
Holidays: 2015 Calendar of Business Days and Holidays for Tokyo Wholesale Markets (Japanese only; holidays are marked in red)
Wi-fi available: -
Credit cards accepted: -
Languages spoken: English
Non-Japanese language materials: English, Chinese, Korean, Russian
Nearest stations: Tsukijishijō Station 築地市場駅 (Toei Oedo Line 都営大江戸線), Tsukiji Station 築地駅 (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line 日比谷線)
Access: As soon as you exit Tsukijishijō Station 築地市場駅 (Toei Oedo Line 都営大江戸線), or a 15-minute walk from Tsukiji Station 築地駅 (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line 日比谷線)
Special dietary options available: -
Phone: +81-03-3547-8013 (Tsukiji Tour Desk)
Website: Guidance for visiting the auction observation area at Tsukiji Market