Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction: Worth it to wake up at 3:45am?

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo Japan 2013

Yesterday I went to the infamous Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction. For those of you who have read basically any guide book about Tokyo, you know that the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction appears in the top five in literally every single book.

I’ve been in Tokyo for 12 months and hadn’t gone. 

Mostly because you have to arrive at 4am to get “tickets” (vests); only the first 60 people get one of the lucrative spots. This doesn’t sound so bad except for the fact public transportation (trains, busses) don’t run at 4am. If you want to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, you have to spend the night nearby, wake up at 3:30am, and walk to the market on foot.

Tsukiji Fish market sign

Actually, my fiance Ryosuke tried to take me to the auction back in September of last year. He booked a nice(ish) hotel about a 20 minute walk from the station, planned out our schedule, and surprised me the day before.

Unfortunately, when 3:30am came around and he tried to wake me up, I punched him. In the face. Then rolled over and went back to sleep. I like my sleep. Needless to say, we didn’t get to see the Tuna Action that day (sorry honey).

Yesterday, I got to see the Tuna Auction in the wee hours of the day. If you want to watch the auction, this is what you are going to need to do:

1. Find a place to do an over-night.

I chose to stay at the Com Com Manga Cafe (an establishment where you rent out a cubicle with a mattress, reclining chair, or semi-reclining chair and computer) for much less than a hotel would cost. If you’re going to stay at the Com Com Manga Cafe, check out this quick checklist of Things you Need to Bring to a Manga Cafe and Who Goes to Manga Cafe?

The cubicles are NOT sound-proof

Other options are (from least expensive to most expensive):

  • Jonathan’s, a 24 hour Family Restaurant with a drink bar (very cheap, only pay for “one drink” and get free refills. However, you won’t be able to sleep – since it’s a restaurant).
  • Manga Cafe (like me – costs between 900yen and 1,500yen)
  • Karaoke box (private room, costs between 1,500yen and 3,000yen for the night)
  • Capsule Hotel (costs between 3,000yen and 5,000yen for the night)
  • Legit hotel nearby (costs between 5,000yen and 9,000yen for the night)
  • Legit hotel far away (rooms cost between 3,000yen and 9,000yen + 2,000 – 4,000yen taxi ride)

2. Get to the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction waiting area at 3:50am

We got there just at 4am, and were some of the last people to get a ticket. And by ticket, I actually mean bright green vest. They only admit the first 60 people (for the first heat, green vests) and the next 60 people (for the second heat, blue vests). By 4:30am, both sets of vests were taken.

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo Japan 2013 waiting room

You are not allowed to reserve an extra vest for a friend or save a spot in line.

Look at the upper left corner of the map I posted earlier – that’s where you will wait. We had to wait about an hour and a half in the room, waiting for the tuna auction to start.

3. Wait until 5:25am (first heat) or 5:50am (second heat).

The first group of people are admitted into the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction between 5:25am and 5:45am.

The second group of people are admitted into the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction between 5:50am and 6:10am.

When it is your groups turn, they will open the doors to the waiting room and usher you outside. The market is bustling and crowded, so you need to stay in a (roughly) single-file line. The Japanese attendants are very strict, and will yell at you if you get out of line (basically the only time I’ve seen someone in public service in Japan be mean).

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo Japan 2013

You are allowed to take pictures and videos, but are not permitted to use flash photography inside the auction hall. Since restaurants and corporations are actually bidding on the daily catch, your flash can mess up the callers eyes during the bidding process – and they might over-look someone’s bid. Or at least that’s what they tell us.

Try to get up near the right side of the front, because that’s where the bidding happens. Because of the amount of foreigners, once the bidding starts, it will be impossible to wiggle your way to the front. Everyone is snapping and recording away.

Oh yeah, did I mention about 90% of the people who go to the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction are foreign? I had a few laughs with a nice elderly Japanese couple from Kyoto – one of four Japanese visitors (out of 60 people).

4. Watch buyers check the quality of each tuna fish at the Tsukiji Fish Market Live Tuna Auction.

The Tuna are frozen and hallowed out at this point. They have various cuts in the fish- prospective buyers will walk around the fish, peering into the cavities, checking the quality of the meat, and occasionally tasting pieces. Once they’ve gathered enough data, the bidding process will begin.

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo Japan 2013

5. Watch the Tuna get charcoal-ed and carried off.

When the fish is sold through the bidding process, one of the attendants will come buy, write the buyer number or design on the top of the tuna fish with charcoal. Then, another man will come by, jab the tuna with a pick, and drag it off to the companies’ lot.

And when I wrote man, I meant man. Aside from the visitors (us), there was not a single woman inside the fish market. Not a single one.

Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo Japan 2013

6. Leave.

Half-way through the third round of bidding, attendants came up behind us and started “pushing” us toward the exit yelling:

“No stop!”

“Time to go!”

“No picture, leave now!”

“No stop!”

They escorted us out of the restricted areas of the Tsukiji Fish Market and into the public, inner market. Then they left (I suppose – to go pick up the second round of guests).

7. Explore the Tsukiji Fish Market inner market and outer market.

Sushi in Japan

I ate sashimi sushi (of course) and sweetened egg omelette. It was delicious. The inner Tsukiji Market also had a nice selection of dried fish, raw fish, vegetables, wasabi plants, raw produce, and kitchen supplies.

The outer Tsukiji Market had mostly restaurants serving sushi, sashimi, ramen, and egg. If you get bored, check out this article of 8 Things to do in Tsukiji (after you’ve seen the market).

Outside of Tsukiji Market is the Namiyoke Inari Shrine, where fishermen will pray to certain statues for specific kinds of fish (Tuna, Salmon, Fish eggs) or by gender (they have male and female lion head gods).

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