Report from Culinary Tour to Japan 2013 with Hiroko Shimbo – No. 1

Posted on Apr 16, 2013 in Hiroko's Blog

Let me write several blogs which are related to the past Culinary Tour to Japan 2013 with Hiroko Shimbo. The first one is the fascinating and memorable tour of Tsukiji Fish Market.

I carefully arranged this fish market tour, which begins at 4:45 in the morning, on the second day of attendees’ arrival to Tokyo, Japan. I know that most of the people suffer from jet rug during this time. My friend working inside the market arranged us official orange vest and black rubber boot to wear (you find the photo of it), so that we won’t be kicked out of the market at super early morning time. We watched exciting tuna auction. Excitement became sad experience when we learned that on that day there was only one wild tuna (bluefin) arrived at the market. The remaining 200 or so tuna were all cultured variety and were in different species – bluefin, yellowfin and big eye. The number of wild bluefin tuna is really dwindling.

His company purchased the wild tuna, which weighed over 350 pounds. After the auction we followed the tuna on the wooden cart, which was pulled to his company’s shop stand (you find the photo of it). There we could watch his colleagues butchering the tuna using long sword like tuna knives. All of my tour members gazed on every step almost without breathing. From time to time illegal foreign visitors to the market quickly found and joined us. They took photos until security guards, who frequently patrol inside the market, shooed them away. Our visible, official orange vest and black rubber boot saved us to stay in the market with peace. After filleting the tuna my friend offered us the meat which were left on the bone. What a delicious, once in a life time experience it was (you find the photo of it).

After touring the inside market for half an hour we were ready for sushi breakfast. It was already 7:00am. We removed the magic orange vest and black rubber boot to the shop stand and followed my friend who led us to the sushi restaurant inside the market. We happily occupied all the counter bar seats at the restaurant and enjoyed the seasonal sushi. No sushi tastes better than here. Up to here it is our very lucky visit.

Today the market is highly and tightly regulated to visitors to maintain the safety, hygiene standard and efficiency of the operation. Among seven auction houses only one house – fresh tuna auction – is open to the public with limited capacity. People who wish to watch the auction needs to get up early and arrive at Kachidokibashi localtion of the market no later than 4:30am. The first 120 people are admitted (not so bad, if you are on time) to enter the market and watch the auction. The entire group does not go into the market at one time. The group is broken up into small groups. After the auction, you have to leave.

In the past visitors can freely walk around the inside market where about 900 middlemen operates their shops from early morning to about 11am to sell seafood and seafood products to chefs, restaurants and small fish mongers. Today, public is not allowed to the inside market until 9am. The increased number of visitors to the market, both domestic and abroad, had much disturbed the operation of the market. So, putting this tight regulation is not a bad idea.

I am not sure when I can go back to the market early in the morning donned with official orange vest and black rubber boot. I cannot ask my friend additional favor too soon, because our existence really inconvenienced both workers at his company as well as at surrounding shops. So, Lucia, Lucy, Colin, Norm, Ann, Diane, Rick, Amanda, Ken, Victoria, Wendy, Ritshell and Luis, you were really very lucky!