The end of an era
My first trip to Japan was a great one. We rose (too) early and walked a path that I have repeated probably ten times since: Tsukiji to Hamiriyku Park passed the Metabolism architecture of the Nakagin Capsule Tower to Hakuhinkan Toy Park and down the main shopping drag of Ginza. It is my favorite walk.
The walk begins at breakfast at the epicenter for the global fish trade - Tsukiji. Tsukiji Fish market is a massive plot of land partitioned into a fascinating wholesale area and a few pedestrian streets where one can indulge in the freshest fish in the world. The place is old school and chaotic, especially early, with all sorts of wheeled contraptions zipping around in a hardly orchestrated ballet of madness. It feels as though all 160,000 Tokyo restaurants descend upon the 83 year old market daily.
The wholesale area of Tsukiji is a fascinating exercise. Rows and rows of fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and every manner of sea life teem from dingy stalls. There is no smell in the air. Everything is too fresh for that. All of the hacking and descaling and tables filled with fish refuse emit no smell. It is an astounding revelation to glance at the daily slaughter and register such a minimal scentsory (sic) response.
Eating in Tsukiji is an unmatched experience. It is the best place to eat sushi in the world, and is typically quite inexpensive. I once even tracked the source of some of the Tsukiji tuna auction catch to Micronesia, where I went up supply chain for an even fresher bite. Emboldened by hubris and the challenge of besting the market ended in eating raw fish along coastal Palau, where fish is flown out daily to Tokyo. Even still, the Tsukiji fish market wins out for its sheer gravity of pulling in nearly all types of seafood in one place. Sure, I can eat Toro with a fisherman that is as fresh as theoretically possible, but that is a insane and unnecessary point to make to no one in particular.
On my most recent trips to Japan, I have taken to visiting Tsukiji at night, after all but a few sushi restaurants have closed and the tourists have long since left for neighborhoods like Roppongi and Shinjuku. I would walk alone down the pedestrian streets, sampling the nocturnal restaurants, which feel more local without crowds. It always felt like the past, and I suppose now it is.
One of my favorite walks in the world has come to an end. The market, after years of a death rattle, has finally moved on. I will miss those quiet nights over excellent sushi at Kagura.
After years of posturing, Tsukiji finally moved to its new location in Toyosu, ending an era. Tsukiji will now be relegated to legend of the past status, along with places like Kowloon Walled City. Never to be visited again.
The exodus took place just a few days week at 5am. The Tokyo police closed down a few roads and all of the Tsukiji cars made the trip to their new home across Tokyo. Video above.