End of an era as Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market closes

Following years of delays and plenty of controversy, Tokyo's Tsukiji wholesale fish market, one of the city'...

Posted: Oct 8, 2018 4:10 PM
Updated: Oct 8, 2018 4:10 PM

Following years of delays and plenty of controversy, Tokyo's Tsukiji wholesale fish market, one of the city's most popular destinations for international visitors, has finally shut its doors.

The October 6 closing marks the end of an era for a structure that has been central to the metropolis since the mid-1930s and was considered the biggest fish and seafood market in the world.

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The market is moving to a new facility in eastern Tokyo -- the Toyosu Fish Market -- and is set to start operating October 16.

The opening stands as one of the biggest developments in Tokyo in 2018, closing one chapter for the city and beginning a new one.

Why Tsukiji means so much to Tokyo

The Tsukiji wholesale fish market opened in 1935, though similar venues have existed in the surrounding area since the early 1600s.

It quickly established itself as the biggest fish and seafood market in the world, and one of the largest wholesale markets, period.

According to various reports, vendors sell around five million pounds of seafood from all over the world at Tsukiji daily, which works out to about $28 million.

Besides being a vital business hub for all things aquatic, over the years Tsukiji also became a must-see Tokyo tourist destination.

Walking through the inner market -- the area where vendors sell seafood to restaurants and other companies -- was a sensory overload.

Most popular of all were the early morning tuna auctions, with visitors eagerly showing up daily to watch people bid on huge hunks of fish.

Just as intriguing was the outer market, an area around the main structure housing dozens of food stalls and restaurants. Visitors could enjoy some of the freshest seafood here -- assuming they showed up early enough.

The move itself

Plans to move the fish market to Toyosu have been in motion for decades, but didn't get serious until the early 2010s.

Why move? Reasons centered around the age of the structure itself -- these buildings were constructed in 1935, after all -- along with the fact the Tsukiji fish market sits on valuable real estate that could prove useful for and after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There were hiccups along the way though.

The Toyosu market was originally supposed to open up in November of 2016, but was delayed for various reasons, including worries over contaminated soil.

The spot where the market was being constructed used to house a gas production plant, and it appeared the ground beneath had absorbed chemicals from this factory.

After a campaign to clean it up, experts declared the area safe for use this past summer. Now the setup is complete, with the new market set to open October 16.

It remains a divisive topic, however.

Many citizens of Tokyo worried a move from Tsukiji would deprive the city of a historical sight at a time when many longstanding destinations are starting to vanish.

Even more vocal were the vendors and workers at Tsukiji, who have held protests against the move at the old market in the days running up to its closure.

Toyosu: What to expect

Like it or not, the Toyosu move is happening.

For visitors coming to Tokyo hoping to experience it, here's what to know.

The closest subway station to the new Toyosu fish market is Shijo-mae Station, located on the Yurikamome Line (the station actually connects directly to the market, so don't worry about getting lost).

It's only two stops from Toyosu Station, which also can be accessed via the Yurakucho Line. The market is the only real draw near this station, though Toyosu has a variety of restaurants and shopping centers worth exploring, while the Yurikamonme Line leads to Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.

For those hoping to get to the Toyosu market before sunrise, find a hotel in Toyosu or Odaiba.

Entry into the Toyosu market is free for all visitors, with those hoping to see the space at its liveliest advised to get there before 8 a.m.

The famous early morning tuna auctions will still be happening over at the new location, beginning at 4:30 a.m. daily.

Whereas at Tsukiji you had to get a reservation ticket, all you have to do now is show up and try to get a good spot on the special viewing platform.

All dining options are located in the structure as well now, with around 40 food stalls -- most carried over from Tsukiji -- set to operate.

Beyond that, visitors can also head up to the grass-carpeted roof to take in nice views of the city. Organizers also plan to move the famous Tsukiji shrine to the venue as well.

Remember -- this is still a fish market thus low temperatures are the norm. Bring something warm to wear.

As for future plans, plans are reportedly underway to open a hotel and hot spring catered towards tourists at the market in the next few years.

But what about Tsukiji?

All tourist-related activities at Tsukiji came to a close in late September, and the inner market shut down for good on October 6. But that doesn't mean the area around the market is suddenly deserted.

The outer market -- the one featuring all the food stalls and restaurants -- will still be in operation.

Just go to Tsukiji Shijo station on the Oedo line or Tsukiji station on the Hibiya line to get there and enjoy a taste of what is now a part of Tokyo history.

You can also still join one of the many organized tours running in and around the outer market, to learn about the history of Tsukiji and see how it shaped this part of the city.

While the future has arrived with the Toyosu fish market -- a venue that does away with the chaos of Tsukiji in favor of a visitor-friendly vibe -- it's still possible to enjoy a taste of the past, at least for a little while longer.

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