Visitors to Tsukiji Fish Market…

11 May

築地市場 (Tsukiji Fish Market) in Tsukiji, Tokyo is the world’s busiest fish market.

Early in the morning, the workers in the market are quickly running around busy getting the fresh catch from the fishing vessels to the auction in the back of the market.

The seafood needs to get from the ocean to the restaurants and stores quickly while it’s fresh. So, the market is full of staff moving around quickly on foot and carts.

It’s a place of business, not a tourist attraction.
The people there are workers doing their job…not putting on a show.

But, the Tsukiji Fish Market has become a popular destination for foreign visitors to Tokyo.
Especially the early morning fish auction.

Even many of the famous celebrities who have visited Tokyo visited Tsukiji Market.

Paris Hilton at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market

Foreign tourists didn’t used to pose a problem…before the internet when many people didn’t know about this market. Back then there were relatively few people checking out the market and the auction…so the workers didn’t mind them coming to look, taking a photo or two and going for “sushi breakfast” after the auction at one of the nearby 24-hour sushi restaurants that serve extremely fresh sashimi.

I have visited the market and auction a couple times as a “tour guide” to visitors to Tokyo.

But now, the internet has made this market very well-known outside of Japan and many visitors to Tokyo make plans to see it.
The problem is, though, the embarrassing behavior of a growing number of tourists at the market.
Twice so far, the market has set temporary bans to foreign visitors due to rude behavior such as arriving in a dangerous condition (ie: intoxicated, wearing high heels, bringing babies).
As I mentioned above, Tsukiji Market isn’t a tourist attraction…it’s a busy work site. No place for drunk people, high heels or babies.

Also, a number of tourists smoke cigarettes near the seafood…and some have even taking liberties such handling the fish.

The market was most recently closed to visitors just last month. Many of the workers would like it to stay that way…but the Japanese government wants more tourists from overseas to visit Japan, so they can’t keep the market off-limits to visitors indefinitely since it’s so popular.

So the ban to visitors was lifted yesterday…but with a few new regulations.
Now, anyone who wants to see the fish auction must check in with the information desk and be given a special green vest.
Only two groups of 70 people each will be permitted to enter the auction area each day. And they must stay with a roped-off area.
Also, there are many signs up in different languages that says things such as “No Flash Photography“, “No Smoking” and “No Touching The Fish Or Seafood“.

Yesterday at Tsukiji Fish Market.

Yesterday was the first day that visitors were re-allowed into the market with the new rules…but already every rule was broken at least once!
Someone went into the auction without a green vest, some people walked past the ropes, many people took photos with flash, some people touched the fish and some people were caught smoking.

I know that most people behave appropriately when they visit another country…but the ones that don’t embarrass the rest of us!

26 Responses to “Visitors to Tsukiji Fish Market…”

  1. Nikolas September 30, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    I think that 築地市場 (Tsukiji fish market) is a nice place to purchase sea food.


    • tokyo5 October 2, 2010 at 1:30 am #

      It’s the biggest fish market in the world.


  2. tokyo5 September 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    I received an email today from a visitor to my blog who made a video that shows twelve hours of a typical day at Tsukiji Fish Market condensed down to nine minutes.

    His video is here:


  3. Alfie Goodrich September 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    I photograph in Tsukiji a lot, personally for a book that is coming out and for various clients including the Wall Street Journal. I recently wrote a piece about the behaviour…

    Totally agree with pretty much everything you say here.

    One little thing though: although I dont condone tourists smoking in the market, this comment of yours “Also, a number of tourists smoke cigarettes near the seafood…” .made me laugh.

    Every stall-owner who smokes, smokes near the fish; when they are cutting it, handling it, whenever. So, tourists should not smoke in the market as there are signs that say so. But if it was the health and food safety angle you were coming from with that statement, sorry to disappoint cos your fish may well have been smoked by the fishmongers themselves. 🙂


    • tokyo5 September 22, 2010 at 12:51 am #

      Your post about the Tsukiji Market is quite good. (Has some similarities to mine 😉 ).

      >this comment of yours…made me laugh

      I don’t see how anything I wrote in this post could make you laugh. I’d say everything I wrote is quite accurate.

      >the fishmongers themselves (smoke)

      I believe that the market staff know when and where in the market is acceptable to smoke. Regardless, it doesn’t give tourists an excuse to break posted rules.


  4. photohai May 14, 2010 at 12:35 am #

    As I (think I) mention above, I first lived in Japan in ’84. There’s no more “外人ショック” anymore, Kyoto Eki’s beautiful, there are o.k. Mexican restaurants, カラオケ no longer (for years and years) not “the new thing” and so on . . . But there’s this little, cheap, 中華 along Kiyamachi — nothing worth writing home about, mind you — that’s still there, where I had my first gyoza lo! those many years ago. I try to make it there whenever I’m in Heian Kyo, for old time’s sake…


    • tokyo5 May 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

      I don’t feel “culture shock” in Japan anymore either…in fact, Japan is “normal” to me now.
      Ironically, I don’t think I’d be used to America anymore if I went there now.


      • letsjapan May 14, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

        Re: Culture Shock.

        While not really a matter of “culture shock,” it’s a good and (I think) enlightening story of something that makes Japan so appealing to so many of us gaijin —

        I was back in Kyoto this past November. Mind you, I’ve lived in Japan twice and over the past decade+ have visited more than 20 times, so there’s little that “shocks” me there. In a way it’s like returning home… tadaima! So I find myself in the home of an expat originally from Colorado. Great guy. Some of you may know him, know of him or certainly know of some of his work. We’re having a cup of coffee. This is our first time together, though we have a mutual friend going back some 20-25 years.

        Anyway, I decide to ask him something that’s on my mind, that intrigues me about long-time (life-long) expats. I say to him, “Y’know, I’ve gotta ask you, you’ve live here for 30 years, your wife is Japanese, you live in a Japanese house and your children are being raised in Japan, so you’re about as integrated as a gaijin can be, so – ” He interrupted me. With a wry smile and chuckle he said, “There’s a surprise every day.”

        I laughed. He *knew* I was going to ask him if it ever got so normal that the “spice” (sometimes good, sometimes frustrating) of living in Japan ever wore off. He answered my question before I could ask it. He elaborated that that’s part of what keeps him loving his life in Japan (occasional maddening inexplicable frustrations notwithstanding); that while it’s certainly his *home*, it’s not a place that he’s grown so comfortable with and in that the experience has become blasé . It was the perfect answer.

        Of course, no matter where in the world we live, whether in the same town where we were born, or in an “exotic” city in an “exotic” country (keeping in mind that wherever one lives it’s “exotic” to most of the planet’s inhabitants), we should savor the surprises and revel in that place’s uniqueness.


      • tokyo5 May 14, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

        It’s an interesting point.
        Thank you.


  5. Earnest Mercer May 13, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    I remember the famous fishmarket from the 1950s. I even included it in my book: Skivvy Girl: the Making and Redemption of a Japanese Prostitute.

    Your site drags up onld memories. Thanks.


    • tokyo5 May 14, 2010 at 12:09 am #

      >I remember the famous fishmarket from the 1950s….Your site drags up onld memories.

      I know Japan has changed a lot in the twenty years I’ve been here…but then, some aspects of Japan never change.
      I’m sure it’s even more so compared how it was here in the ’50s.

      (By the way, my interview with Mr. Mercer is here.)


  6. letsjapan May 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm #


    I’ve seen some Aussies in Japan, and India, who’d give those “Stupid Americans” a lesson in the behavior you — and I — deplore. No country or culture holds a “95%” monopoly on obnoxious behavior in Japan.

    Your overall point is well-taken, though.



    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:47 am #

      >I’ve seen some Aussies

      I guess it’s unfair to generalize and single out any particular country as the “culprits”.

      >No country or culture holds a “95%” monopoly

      I agree.


  7. Bryn May 11, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    I’d be willing to bet that 95% of the offenders are Americans!!!! That’s just sad! And soooooo embarassing!

    Get a clue people! The world is not your personal playground! How about showing a little respect when you’re a GUEST in someone else’s country?

    Yikes, don’t even get me started on this one T5! Stupid Americans are my BIGGEST pet peeve!


    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:39 am #

      >I’d be willing to bet that 95% of the offenders are Americans!!!!

      No, I’m sure it’s not like that.
      In fact, the news program I watched on TV that showed this subject showed a number of the misbehaving visitors to the market…and they seemed to be from a variety of countries.


  8. hungryinhouston May 11, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    we visited tokyo last month, unfortunately the auction was closed at the time, but we were able to see some amazing fish business in action.
    people need to certainly respect the rules of these establishments – they are long standing and reputable businesses and cant have tourists getting in the way.


    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:31 am #

      >we visited tokyo last month

      Was it your first trip to Japan?
      How long did you stay? What else did you see besides the fish market?

      >cant have tourists getting in the way.

      Yes. And besides, it’s dangerous. There are many carts zooming around the Tsukiji Fish Market.
      The workers are busy and in a rush.


  9. letsjapan May 11, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    P.S. & Mea Culpa: I saw “Hungry in Houston’s” comment and took it for one by the owner/operator of this site.

    One further note, I have every confidence in these graduate students I’ll be guiding. This is not just a “tourist trip” and they “get” that this is a business and workplace they’ll be visiting. It’s just good to be reminded and all.



    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:28 am #

      >this is a business and workplace they’ll be visiting.

      That’s right.
      As I wrote above, most people know how to behave properly when they visit somewhere…but there are some people who shouldn’t visit another country if they’re not willing to follow the culture / rules / etc (most of which are common sense and courtesy anyways).


  10. letsjapan May 11, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Thanks so much. I appreciate and am humbled by your compliment.

    We (the students’ professor and I) had our big orientation session last night. We’ll be taking
    these students to several prominent companies, have professionals & such join us for dinner, etc.

    That said, I think I reserved my longest “speech” for Tsukiji Mkt — telling these budding MBAs that, indeed, it would be a great and memorable thing for them to see, BUT that they need to be mindful that these people (all those whose day-to-day work is in Tsukiji) will be in the middle of their jobs and the aisles are narrow and slippery and that we’ll need to be respectful of those who’ll be on-the-job while we’re walking through and “oooing” and “ahhhing” at all the sights.

    The official Tsukiji website has a sort of long list of “dos” and “don’ts” on it. I suspect that the need to post this reflects exactly what you’re talking about: the wave of new visitors and sightseers to Tsukiji. I have to say, though, that I first lived in Japan in 1984, then again in 90-91, and almost countless trips there over the past 11 years. So I knew about Tsukiji a long time ago . . . *although* I confess that, indeed, my first visit was not until this past November!

    All kind things to you. As mentioned, within the next several hours Tokyo 5 will be on my blogroll and promoted (such as my humble little site can).



    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:21 am #

      >taking these students to several prominent companies, have professionals & such join us for dinner, etc.

      Sounds like a nice trip. How long will it be for?

      So, you lived in Japan in 1984 and again in 1990?

      I guess you can speak / read Japanese well now.

      Each time you visit Japan, how long do you stay on average?
      Do you come to Tokyo each time?


  11. hungryinhouston May 11, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Nice insight – I am embarrassed FOR those people… I posted on my twitter account.


    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:18 am #

      >Nice insight

      Thank you.

      >I am embarrassed FOR those people

      Yes. But when visitors to Japan act bad, you can be embarrassing to other foreigners here…especially those who live here.

      … I posted on my twitter account.


  12. letsjapan May 11, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    Howdy, from! Great piece on Tsukiji. I’m due to take a group of American MBA students there in about 2 weeks. My photo essay (more photo than essay) from/about Tsukiji from around 6 mo. ago):

    Will add your excellent blog to my blogroll. Glad to have found you.



    • tokyo5 May 12, 2010 at 12:14 am #

      >Great piece on Tsukiji.

      Thank you.

      >I’m due to take a group of American MBA students there in about 2 weeks.

      Oh you’re coming to Tokyo soon.
      How long will you stay?

      How big is the group you’ll take to Tsukiji? I heard that the new rules only allow groups of five people or less.

      >My photo essay

      Nice photos!

      >Will add your excellent blog to my blogroll.

      Thank you.


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