Tsukiji is a large wholesale fish market in Japan that is one of the top things to do in Tokyo. It’s soon to be partially replaced by Toyosu Market, where wholesale activity and the world famous tuna auctions will occur. In this post, we’ll offer info about the changes, and whether you should plan a visit to Tsukiji, Toyosu, or both.
Tsukiji Market has been serving Tokyo since 1935, and has earned the nickname “Japan’s Kitchen” in the process. Over the years, it’s become a revered place for locals and tourists alike–a great place to eat and buy food, among other things. It’s being replaced by a state-of-the-art facility in nearby Toyosu, which will be nearly double the size of Tsukiji Market.
We are huge fans of Tsukiji Fish Market. During our first visit to Japan, we were blown away by how such a popular “attraction” retained so much authenticity. Forklifts zoomed through corridors alongside tourists, and it was easy to witness restauranteurs and others make purchases from fish auctions, and then wander around areas with other commercial goods before enjoying street food from the outer market and buying fresh sushi, or eating at a restaurant, for a meal. Toyosu appears to be a very different experience from this.
Note that the photos in this post are entirely from the outer market of Tsukiji, since that’s the only thing that’s pertinent and currently open. Also keep in mind that while these showcase the ‘aura of authenticity’ you can find at Tsukiji–in other words, it’s an operating wholesale district, not simply a tourist attraction–they don’t do it justice. Many of the coolest spots at Tsukiji request that you don’t take photos.
The inner market at Tsukiji Fish Market is not pictured in this post because it’s closing this month. The world famous early morning tuna auctions have already permanently ended. This inner market is where commercial activity occurs, and is only one half of Tsukiji, with the other half (the outer market) staying put for now.
The commercial area while be relocated to Toyosu Fish Market, which is scheduled to open for wholesale business on October 11, 2018. At least some of the tourist viewing areas will debut at Toyosu Market from that date, including the tuna auction observation windows. It’s not clear if all viewing areas will be open in October 2018. The wholesale areas themselves are off-limits to tourists–only observation decks with views into these areas will be offered.
While Toyosu Fish Market will have shopping, dining, and a rooftop garden, not all of this will open in October 2018. Many of the plans for shopping and dining, as well as a public bath and hotel are scheduled to be added to the complex in phases through Spring 2023. Right now, it’s sort of unclear what will exist for tourists on day 1 beyond the tuna auction viewing window and some other observation areas.
The new Toyosu Fish Market will be near Shijomae Station, on the Yurikamome Line. The inter-connected buildings of Toyosu Market will be accessible directly from the station, with an overhead passage offering shelter from rain and sun (something we could’ve used this summer!). In addition to being near Tsukiji, it’ll also be near Odaiba, a popular shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo.
As with Tsukiji, admission to Toyosu Fish Market is free, as is viewing of the seafood auctions. These will still occur early in the morning, but viewing won’t be as limited, so there should no longer be the need to line up at 4 a.m. Additionally, there will be restaurants in Toyosu’s complex, some of which will be relocating from Tsukiji.
For the foreseeable future, Tsukiji Fish Market will continue to operate its outer market, and if you’re a visitor wanting to taste street foods, dine at some excellent sushi restaurants, and shop for some of the freshest sushi in Japan, and just experience this top-notch Tokyo attraction, you will want to plan a visit to Tsukiji Market even if your trip occurs in late 2018 or early 2019.
We’ve dined at a couple of these restaurants, but our preferred experience at Tsukiji is purchasing sushi and sashimi from vendors, and then taking our purchases to the rooftop open-air seating area and eating them there.
We love the outer market, and our hope is that it continues to have so many great restaurants, shopping, and marketplace options for the next few years. We also hope that the debut of Toyosu Fish Market will draw some tourists away from Tsukiji, which has had problems with congestion and hordes of tour groups the last few years.
The inner market of Tsukiji was an awesome experience, but we feel you get enough of a ‘flavor’ for things with just the outer market. We will gladly sacrifice future visits to the inner market if crowd levels drop at the outer market. For us, the food of the outer market is far more valuable than the gawking of the inner market, but your mileage may vary on that.
The proffered rationale for the move is that Tokyo has outgrown Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s certainly true that there’s insufficient space for both tourists and commerce to coexist in Tsukiji’s inner market, and we’ve witnessed a number of ‘close calls’ between tourists and commercial machinery, as well as heavy crowds.
When we first started visiting Tokyo, things weren’t nearly this bad. Even then, Tsukiji Fish Market was incredibly popular, but visitors didn’t seem to get in the way of day-to-day business the way we witnessed on our most recent trip. When we visited Japan this summer, portions of Tsukiji Fish Market were heavily congested even early in the morning.
While delaying the opening time of the inner market for visitors has helped with this, it’s doubtful it would provide a long-term solution. Tourism to Japan is on the rise, and is only projected to continue growing through the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. As such, a change was necessary.
However, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have driven this change in another way: the land Tsukiji’s inner market occupied is necessary for parking and to serve as a transportation hub. In watching NHK, it seems there’s some bitterness about the move among Japanese chefs and businesses operating in the outer market, and not everyone is in agreement that this move was strict necessity.
There’s also doubt about the new site, Toyosu Market. There are complaints that the new venue lacks the history and charm of Tsukiji, and that the public areas of Toyosu Market feels more like a tourist attraction and modern commercial mall than a gritty wholesale market.
Part of this could be the natural human tendency to value nostalgia and resist change. It’s also hard to visualize how the new market will look in daily operation from the glossy photos that have been released. With that said, from those photos, it does appear there is some basis for skepticism.
Toyosu Market does appear totally different from Tsukiji Fish Market in style and presentation, and not necessarily for the better. For one, all of the wholesale areas that could previously be freely wandered are now off-limits to visitors, and can only be observed through glass. Moreover, the new venue looks similar to other high-rent areas of Tokyo, and lacks the humble working-class appearance and chaotic energy that give Tsukiji much of its personality.
We think only time will tell as for how Toyosu Fish Market measures up to Tsukiji, and even after the new market debuts, it’ll likely take a couple of years to find its footing and even longer to build its own sense of character and flair. We are cautiously optimistic about Toyosu Fish Market, and plan on checking it out on our next trip to Japan (we’ll update this post with thoughts on the new location then). With the two markets less than 30 minutes apart by train, first-time visitors to Tokyo wanting the full experience should probably consider visiting both markets for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, which of the two markets you should visit will largely depend upon whether you want to eat and shop (Tsukiji’s outer market will still reign supreme) or want to observe (Toyosu should arguably be superior in that regard).
For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.
Have you visited the Tsukiji Fish Market? Where/what did you eat while there? Are you looking forward to the move to Toyosu, or apprehensive that it’ll lack the same authenticity as Tsukiji? Would you recommend these fish markets to first-timers in Japan? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? If you haven’t been to Japan, do either of these markets interest you? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!