Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji: A huge, sprawling number of buildings and open lots in downtown Tokyo, near Shiodome, where everything edible from the sea is sold.  It’s been there a little over a century or so, and day after day, foreign guests arrive early in the day to snap photos and, if allowed in, to watch the blue fin tuna auction.

But what’s odd is: Why?

What’s the attraction?

Tsukiji is a slaughterhouse, and if this is an attraction, why not visit the abattoirs of Chicago to watch cows and pigs and lambs meet their end?

The living things at Tsukiji are penned in, boxed in, laid out flat in styrofoam containers holding ice.  Space is at a premium, and animal welfare is not a consideration.

Nor is sustainability.  The enormous blue fin tuna sold at auction are an endangered species.  So are many varieties of the animals sold at Tsukiji.

There isn’t a priority for the future, and that’s due, in part, to another feature of Tsukiji: It’s based on cartels.  Families and syndicates going back there of four generations who control the trade and set the prices.

The great anthropologist Ted Bestor described the Tsukiji families in his wonderful, long book, “Tsukiji.”

So if you’re a person who wants to get involved in Tsukiji as a vendor?  Not happening.  The system isn’t based on merit nor on providing consumers with value.  It’s about maintaining a closed system.

So with all that–a slaughterhouse atmosphere, inhumane conditions, little or no sustainability, and cartel control–what’s the appeal?  Why the glorification?

Why, it must be a cultural experience.

For foreign visitors who want an experience, however, that’s more pleasurable and satisfying, it would be better to visit the sprawling Ohta Market.  That’s where all the fruits and vegetables arrive in Tokyo.  It’s colorful and lively, and rather pleasant, all in all.


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