Tokyo (Day 3) – Blood and guts everywhere

Tsukiji Fish Market is the biggest seafood market in the world.  According to the guidebook, it moves something like 2,400 tons of seafood each day.  It’s only a fifteen minute walk from our hotel in the Ginza District, so on Saturday morning we walked through the rain to see what we could see (they only let tourists in after 9am, when most of the real business has finished for the day, lest we get in the way).

There’s not much of a narrative story here — the real interest is the incredible variety of creatures that pass through these pavilions.  It was certainly no place for the queasy or faint of heart:  With this many dead (or dying) animals, it was impossible to avoid the buckets of blood, the cut spines and twitching, fading nerves.  But it was also fascinating and beautiful in its own macabre way.

I took a million pictures, so I’ll just give some of the highlights here:

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Pavilions covering the “inner market”, the restricted area where the seafood is sold
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Inside the inner market.  In this miniature universe, this corridor was like a freeway.
Carts and forklifts and little vans zooming to and fro.
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Vendors chatting, cleaning up, speaking with some of the remaining buyers,
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Each vendor had a display area out front, and then a little cabin in the back.
These little cabins usually had some wizened grandfather/motherly face peering out.
(You can just see the guy in this photo.)
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Some vendors could use a little help on the merchandising front….

Bluefin tuna is the star of the fish market.  The auction for the day’s catch starts at 5:00am, and it’s one of the hottest tickets around.  Only 120 tourists are allowed to watch each day, so those who are super-keen to see it normally get in line around 3:00am.  Needless to say, we decided to sit that one out.  Still, it was neat to see the tuna section and just how much meat is in those enormous (and enormously valuable) fish.

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A guy carving tuna with what looked like a sword
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Look at the bottle in the bottom right for perspective on size.  These are big pieces of fish.

As I took the  I was taking the pictures above, I heard a woman exclaim, “Oh, wow! It’s SOO DELICIOUS!!”  I turned to see a beautiful blond couple standing next to a chopping block on which a giant tuna head sat.  A Japanese man was cutting pieces of flesh from the head and handing it to the couple.  This is what was causing Ms. Blonde’s raptures.  I sidled up to them and hovered awkwardly close until they noticed me and gave me a piece, too.

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It doesn’t get fresher than this!

Fish and octopods weren’t the only creatures we saw.  There was a whole section for shellfish and other exoskeletal friends.

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Sea urchins!  We ate these (well, their cousins) for lunch a couple hours later.
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These friends were still moving when I took the photo…
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I’m pretty sure this was an abalone

By the time we’d made our way through the shellfish quarter, we had seen pretty much everything there was to see in the seafood section; so much of it had already been packed up and shut down.  We decided to find the fruits and vegetables section, which Mari (our cooking class instructor) had said was her favorite section.  Naturally they were housed in a separate building, across another internal thoroughfare, through the pouring rain.

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Because of course I wear white pants to a fish market in the pouring rain.

Like the seafood pavilion, all the action in the fruits and vegetables section had pretty much wrapped up by the time we got there.  We saw stacks of boxes everywhere, and vendors taking inventory.

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Also a few sitting back reading the newspaper.

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But there was still enough produce out to get a sense of what a marvelous smorgasbord it must have been.

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Soybeans
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I think this is the plant from which wasabi paste is made.
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Ginger root
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If that’s baby spinach on the left, then those pineapples are downright embryonic.
(And so cute!)
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Mari said the Japanese are extremely fastidious when it comes to their produce.
Each piece must be flawless and comes wrapped in its own doily.

Moving on from the produce section, we went to the area known as the “outer market.”  This is the odd-and-ends section, where the vibe is much less “big-time commerce” and more “where can I find some really random stuff?”

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Amanda was lusting after the knives
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I couldn’t tell what most of this stuff was.

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