Every day in Tokyo had so far been hot, humid and sunny. Every day except today. Feeling restless I had risen early – at around 4am – and taken my camera out for a walk and some night shots. It was already raining by then so my opportunities were somewhat limited. Whilst my camera is weather-proof, fat drops of rain on the lens glass does not result in a good picture. Rain in Japan is nothing like rain in Melbourne. I know that sounds silly but it is true. My experience of rain in Japan is that it is really, really heavy for the whole time it rains and it rains for a really long time.
Naturally I returned to my hotel for my 7am buffet breakfast and grabbed a coffee from Starbucks on the way. I prepared for a wet day and jumped on the subway to Ginza. Apparently Ginza is world renowned for being a fancy shopping district. But I wasn’t there to shop…this time. Posh or not it was pouring and I wanted to get to my destination before I grew tired of being wet. From the station I walked to Tsukiji in the pouring rain. Stopping only momentarily here and there to view a historical site or take a shot of some architectural delight.
Before long I arrived at the Tsukiji Central Fish Market. It is considered the worlds biggest and busiest fish market. It trades in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of seafood every year. When the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident hit Tokyo, the fish market and the Japanese fishing industry were severely impacted. Fishing fleets were lost to the angry sea, or washed high inland and destroyed. Fear of radiation poisoning the fish stocks was a very real concern. Wow talking about needing to be resilient. The Japanese have always bounced back though. From some of the worst events in modern history. Countless earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, war, atomic bombs, tsunamis and the worlds biggest nuclear accident that is still unfolding five years later.
The market site is immense. There is a large main building that is cavernous but quite old and decrepit looking. Within this a daily auction is held from 5am to sell the bigger hauls and fish such as the giant tuna. I regret missing the auction but perhaps on another trip. This main building sits in the middle of the site that also includes factories, car and truck parks, warehouses and an outer market space that is home to hundreds of stalls.
A bonus of this market is the opportunity to eat the freshest of fresh seafood dishes. The outer market has numerous small kitchens and restaurants – some with only enough room for four customers to sit at a bench out the front. Often there will be long queues of people waiting for a chance to taste fresh seafood almost directly of the fishing ship. Some travel companies organise tours to Tsukiji that include a meal at a well respected restaurant. It is well worth the wait if sushi or the like is your thing. Although it will never ever taste as good again. Trust me.
I walked through the many winding paths in and out of the outer market. Stall owners had a lot of pride in their wares and most specialised in something rather than all of them selling the same thing over an over. It was a maze of tarps and styrofoam boxes and plastic covers to keep the rain out. The rain made the ground of the outer market soapy and gooey and the smell of fish was intrusive in most parts.
From here I braved the main roadway to the market and the place where all the trucks and vans stop to load up on purchased seafood. It was hectic especially when you add in the dozens of motorised carts zipping around at crazy speeds. These yellow carts are like some weird futuristic vehicle that at the same time looks derelict and highly unsafe. Bicycles, scooters, vans, trucks of all sizes, hand carts and grim looking people in big boots were everywhere. I really had to watch where I was going and be aware of what was coming up behind me. Happily by this point I was able to find shelter under eaves and canvas awnings and get some great shots of the market in full swing.
I eventually made my way into the main market building where all the fish mongers had stalls selling their specialities. The smell of seafood became oppressive in here. I wondered if I would ever get the smell out of my nostrils. I was a bit cheeky and had snuck in before the tourists were allowed to enter. A security guard found me and escorted me out – I played the role of the dumb western tourist very well but was equally humble in my capture.
Once back inside I toured the dimly lit market with row after row and stall after stall of seafood being expertly filleted and displayed in styrofoam foxes. Giant slabs of tuna were on display on equally giant chopping blocks and the remaining carcasses slung across a hand trolley in the back ground. Customers were buying varying quantities from a small handful of items to loaded trolleys packed high and wobbly. Those electric carts were inside too. How they negotiated their way through the thin cluttered lanes of the inner market I will never understand.
And now that I was inside and free from dripping rain I took a lot of photos. Markets make great settings for street photography. So much going on and so many interesting characters to capture. Capturing a fish monger using a meter long knife to carve up the head of a giant tuna is not something you see every day. Nor are chunks of red fresh tuna bigger than my head. Blood, guts, the works.
The photos usually tell a better story than words when it comes to a place like this. The clutter, mess, smell and chaos would put anyone with OCD in a coma. But there was order to it all to. The Japanese have been doing this for a very long time. With land being scarce in their tiny and highly populated country, they have relied on the sea to provide for them. Even when the sea turns angry and devastates their coastlines, they rebuild and return. I really admire them for that tenacity. That resilience. We often complain and get so serious about such little things in our worlds.