We lined up in the wee hours of the morning for a chance to see the famous Tsukiji tuna auction.
Following a significant wait, we were escorted into a large hall where hundreds of men in rubber boots were inspecting row upon row of frozen tunas. Each fish had an identical series of cuts that allowed expert eyes to evaluate the flesh of the giant fish.
Their friendly joking would stop momentarily when a buyer saw a fish that caught his attention. Under the light of handheld torches, they judged the fat content with the seriousness of making a life or death decision. After a few moments of quiet contemplation, they would continue chatting and laughing as if the conversation had never been paused.
Several auctions start at the same time. The auctioneers call for bids with a precise rhythm that sounds like a frantic religious chant.
They quickly make their way down the aisles of fish.
Moments after the bidding closes on a fish, the details of the winning bidder are painted on the frozen skin. The entire process lasts about fifteen minutes. As the buyers walk away, the fish are quickly dragged out the large doors for distribution.
It seems that at least some of the fish end up at this stall in the market where a team expertly quarters the fish on a giant band saw and a man with an axe slices away the spine. Every fish had a half-centimetre slice cut at the half-way point in one of the quarters. The slice was soaked in water and presented to the fish’s owner for inspection. This might be their first chance to see if the fish is really worth the price they paid.
Despite our early start, the rest of the market is not open to tourists until 9:00. The only viable solution is to go enjoy some sushi. I don’t recall ever having sushi for breakfast before, but it was a delicious start to the rest of the morning. I’ve never tasted anything so fresh or so delicious.
Eventually, we could wander around the rest of the market where the drivers of hundreds of small carts expertly navigate the narrow passageways. The carts resemble a 55 gallon drum attached to a bumper car. The entire drum is rotated to turn the single wheel at the front of the cart. The result is a highly maneouverable car that can zoom through the market allowing the drivers to do their shopping and make deliveries.
I was prepared to see the results a massive harvest of every form of sea life. I didn’t expect to see a second environmental disaster of massive quantities of styrofoam. The market was full of discarded broken pieces of styrofoam that were dumped in piles of such quantities that large construction equipment was required to scoop the waste into garbage trucks.