top of page
  • Writer's pictureAK

Winter Japan Day 8 - Tokyo Tsukiji & Ueno

Updated: May 2, 2019

The Return of Tsukiji Fish Market

If you have read my previous post on Tokyo, you would have known that I have failed my mission of getting into the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market in 2012. As promised, I have made my way back this time, determined to get myself in no matter what. (Above: A panoramic view of the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world.)

In my last trip, I had innocently arrived just half an hour before the first auction started at 5.25am. After some research, many travellers had advised that we should reach at 3am to guarantee yourself a place in the queue.

I managed to wake up at 2.45am after much struggle. Got onto a cab at 3.15am and reached Tsukiji at 3.40am. It should take around 20 minutes by cab from Shinjuku area, and should cost about 4,000¥. Do inform the taxi driver that you are going to the Kachidoki Gate entrance (beside Kachidoki Bridge) to avoid walking around the market perimeter in the cold morning, and potentially losing a few precious positions in the queue.

When I arrived at the Kachidoki gate at 3.40am, I was already three-quarter down the queue in the second group! So I guess 3am was indeed the time when many would have arrived and started queuing.

Everyone would be given an information sheet like this when entering the waiting area. You have two hours to read it and potentially, be able to memorize the market map if you have nothing better to do.

The maximum number of visitors allowed per day into the auction is 120, which will be divided into 2 groups of 60 persons each at 5.25am and 5.50am. The first group will be given yellow-coloured vests and the second in blue. Put on your vest at all times even if it doesn't match your look for the day. It is a vest that you should be proud of!

Everyone was ushered into the waiting room at around 3.45am and to spend the next two hours in meditation. There is no leather sofa or lounge chair, no cocktail bar or Nespresso machine. Most would sit or lie on the floor. Over two hours on the floor isn't going to be easy for most of us, some prior yoga training would be useful. Do consider bringing something to keep yourself occupied, like a book, PSP, MP3 player, etc. Some even brought a small foldable stool.

Finally, the doors opened for the blue team and we made our way to the auction house, ushered closely by several uniformed security staff, with trucks and forklifts crossing our path and whizzing past our shoulders. They have the right of way and do follow the security's instruction. And he said no photography is allowed along the way for safety reasons. Oops.

Presenting the famous tuna auction! There was a speechless moment when I first saw these hundreds of monstrous blast-frozen tunas lying on the floor in this huge warehouse. It was a moment of awe and disbelief due to the scale of both the fishes and the quantity. Incredible and what a sight to behold.

Buyers would walk around with a special pick and hook tool on one hand, and a torch light on the other, and go around checking out the goods. They would poke, dig, pluck, smell and taste in the inspection process. Experience counts and different experts would have their own trade secrets in selecting the best.

Not anyone can call and bid during the auction. Only licensed participants can do so and they have their name tags quite clearly displayed.

Some tunas were truly massive, some up to 300 kg. And the highest auction record so far was US$1.76 million for a 222 kg bluefin in 2013. That's close to US$8,000 per kilogram. According to some sources, it only cost US$24 for a tiny slice on a sushi from that fish.

Catch the auction in action below:

And precisely after 30 minutes, we were ushered out of the auction area to the Kaikobashi Gate, which is not where you had entered. There is a site map at the guardhouse if you are lost.

It would likely be only 6.30am by now. And the fish market will only be opened to the public at 9am (see above yellow-paper market map). Hence, the challenge for most people now would be thinking of what to do in the next 2.5 hours. Many would start queuing up at the most famous sushi shop, Sushi Dai, to grab the freshest sushi and sashimi for breakfast. But be prepared to stand in the queue for the next 2 hours.

The queue was so long that it had to be broken into two parts - one in front of the shop (under the canopy on the left) and continue by the road, which would snake around several layers when the crowd starts to build-up. No, I didn't join the queue as I would prefer to walk around and see more things than the back of someone's head for 2 hours.

A truly bustling market with hundreds of turret trucks and bicycles brushing past each other and whizzing through ignorant tourists. As highlighted in their info sheet: "Your personal safety is entirely your own responsibility!" Don't be an oblivious moron standing in the middle of the road, or an arrogant shutterbug who thinks he owns the street.

The queue for Sushi Dai continued to build-up at 7.15am.

The usual heavy traffic.

More of Sushi Dai queue at 7.30am.

Found a nice, small, quiet coffee shop that serves what I needed - simply a cup of coffee and a simple breakfast. Most importantly, there was no need to queue.

Locals congregate to have breakfast and chit chat, and I was the only tourist along the bar counter seating.

Very satisfying breakfast. This was all I need.

Sharpening knifes manually by hand. Those beautiful knifes were for sale and many tourists were seen getting a blade or two.

Where there is fish, there is gull.

The Tsukiji Fish Market also has a huge section that deals with vegetables and fruits. Although not as vibrant and visually exciting as the fish section, it is still worth a walk through these narrow aisle to look at those bright greens and beautiful leaves.

It can get a little boring having to wait 2.5 hours for the fish market to be opened to the public. Was just shooting anything that came along and looking for new things, new angles to kill time.

Finally, it was 9am and everyone started to storm into the fish market. Well, it was quite obvious that some had started to stroll in before that.

Hand carts all neatly arranged and stored. Despite the crazy, high-energy activity, the Japanese would still have their way of ensuring composure and order.

Daylight filtering through the 80 year old market.

Cutting up frozen tuna with an industrial band saw.

Fresh tuna.

Fish head curry. No Photoshop, no illusion. That's how big it was.

Approximately 900 stalls of such fill the entire complex, separated by wet and narrow aisles. Be prepared to get your feet wet (it's common to see people throwing pails of water out from their stalls), or get brushed by impatient merchants zipping through the crowd.

A wide variety of crabs. Have never seen so many different types all displayed together.

Taking good care of your goods.

Till death do us apart.

There were simply too many huge tunas lying around from stall to stall. It's not difficult to see where the 2,000 tons of seafood come from each day.

Before you leave, do drop by the Tsukiji Outer Market along Harumi Street. There is a variety of wholesale and retail shops selling Japanese kitchen tools, groceries, seafood, dried food, as well as several restaurants.

Took the subway from Tsukijishijo station to Shiodome station, and transferred to the Yurikamome Line. The journey from Shiodome towards Odaiba would travel over the Rainbow Bridge across the picturesque Tokyo Bay.

The Yurikamome Line is fully automated with driverless trains. Arriving at Telecom Center station and heading for a hot bath to ease the hardship since 3am.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Tokyo's largest artificial hot spring complex is located just 5 minutes walk from Telecom Center station.

Do note that it only opens at 11am daily. Admission fees as shown above. It's significantly cheaper after 6pm.

The main lobby of Oedo Onsen Monogatari. When I arrived at 10.45am, a long queue had formed in the lobby. People were seating on the tatami waiting patiently and orderly.

In that last 15 minutes before the counters were opened, there was a steady flow of visitors arriving, all in extremely high spirits and with much enthusiasm. It seems like a really enjoyable and happy occasion for the Japanese to visit public bath together with their family and friends. And remember to remove your shoes before stepping onto the platform.

A traditional selfie.

Platform staff in the subway station, always ready to assist.

Back to Shinjuku for late lunch at a small ramen restaurant opposite our hotel.

Small restaurant with big portion. Incredibly mouth-watering ramen with crunchy beansprouts.

Ueno Park

The Ueno Park (Ueno Kōen, 上野公園) is a huge public park in central Tokyo. It is the place to go if you are interested in museums. The Ueno Zoo is also located in the park. Just take the subway to Ueno station, quite clearly.

Opened in 1961, The Bunka Kaikan is one of the oldest concert hall in Japan. It was designed by Kunio Maekawa, an apprentice of Le Corbusier, who later worked with Antonin Raymond (student of Frank Lloyd Wright).

Had planned to visit the National Museum of Western Art designed by Corbusier. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation.

The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest of Japan's top-tier national museums. Definitely worth a visit.

An exhibit in the Tokyo National Museum - the Standing Juni Shinsho (Twelve Heavenly Generals). Beautiful wood carving believed to be produced during the Kenkyu era (1190 - 99).

Traditional Japanese swords on display. The Museum features one of the largest and best collections of art and archaeological artefacts in Japan, comprising over 110,000 individual items including nearly a hundred highly valuable National Treasures.

The museum gift shop has an impressive collection of books and gifts. Not to be missed for anyone visiting the museum.

We made a trip to visit the St. Mary's Cathedral located in the Bunkyo area. The nearest subway station is Edogawabashi and requires a short 15-minute walk from Exit 1A. It's an extraordinary building designed by Kenzo Tange and completed in 1964. Despite being half a century old, it's more beautiful than many new buildings built today.

The majestic and awe-inspiring interior. Eight huge curved walls (hyperbolic parabolas) rise to form the building and meet at the roof to form a large cross - a cross of light that filters daylight into the massive concrete interior space. In contrast to the polished exterior, the interior feels raw and unfinished. It's common in Japanese architecture to embrace the philosophy of wabi sabi - aesthetics in the imperfect.

The largest pipe organ in use in a Japanese church with 3,122 pipes and a 3-tiered keyboard. Made in Italy by Mascioni Organs, it took a year and a half just to install on-site. Due to the design of the building and the placement of the organ, the sound was magnificent and astonishing. Someone was playing when we visited and it echoed through the entire sanctuary like angels playing trumpets from heaven, better than Dolby surround 7.1.

The baptismal font. The light falling from the ceiling directly above the sculptural font symbolises the light of God leading the faith of the catechumen, and shows the abundant grace he will receive. And a gentle reminder: photography is not allowed inside the cathedral. Oops.

The main entrance.

The bell tower was designed to appear thin and flat, elegantly stretching into the sky in a single sleek line.

The stainless steel exterior cladding reflects light in magnificent ways. The brightness from the reflection symbolises the light of Christ that shines upon the world. We went in the evening around 4.30pm (winter) and it was perhaps the best time to see and experience this amazing masterpiece.

Took a public bus back to Shinjuku from St. Mary's Cathedral. And there was free WIFI on the bus! Impressive.

Dinner for lazy people. Onigiri from Omusubi Gonbei located at B2 of our hotel, once again.


  • Reach by 3am if you want to be 100% sure to get a place into the tuna auction. Make sure you're at the Kachidoki Gate entrance (beside Kachidoki Bridge).

  • Reaching at 3.30am would likely get you into the second group of the 120 people.

  • From my experience in this trip, reaching at 3.45am would likely end you up in a painful disappointment.

  • All times above are solely based on my experience in this trip. Make your own judgement.

  • Bring something to keep yourself occupied in the waiting room, especially if you're bringing children along.

  • There is a vending machine outside the waiting room. You may wish to prepare some light snacks and beverage, as long as they wouldn't make a mess.

  • A small foldable stool would also be useful.

  • No photography allowed when walking between the waiting room and the auction hall. Follow instructions or you'll be scolded. They are very serious as it concerns safety.

  • Photography and videography are allowed in the tuna auction. But NO flash. Be prepared to get shouted at if that strobe goes off from your camera.

  • Tsukiji Fish Market will be relocated to a new complex in Toyosu by end 2016, after postponing several times. Visit soon if you wish to see the market and the tuna auction in its original setting and flavour that has been around for 80 years. You'll never know when the authorities would start the relocation if it's going to be in phases.

41 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page