9 Things you should know before visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction

The Tsukiji Fish Market appears in literally every guide book about Tokyo and on most people’s tour itinerary plus entrance is free! It is the largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo, and one of the largest fish markets in the world. It also has a kick-ass Tuna Auction before the sun rises most mornings. The Tsukiji Fish Market is destined to relocate to a larger and slightly more inconvenient location (in Toyosu) – a move that will be complete in late 2016. However, until then, there is a giant fish market and live tuna auction just begging to be seen.

Also, did I mention the live tuna auction is free?

Tsukiji Fish Market Live Tuna Auction Tokyo Japan

1. To watch the famous Tuna Auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, you must get there at around 4:00am.

The opening hours are 3:30am – 6:00am and there are two sets of 60 people who are allowed to watch the action; the first tour is allowed to watch the auction between 5:25am and 5:45am, the second tour is allowed to watch the auction between 5:50am and 6:10am.

Make sure you check the calendar below. Sunday is always closed and Wednesday is regularly, but not always closed.

2014 Tsukiji Market Calendar (red indicates closed)

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To be in one of those two sets of 60 people (120 people total), you need to arrive more than an hour ahead of time – yes the best time to visit is 4:00am. They have two different color vests to differentiate between the groups. If there are still spots available, they will give you one of the vests. As soon as they run out of vests, you are out of luck – it really is first come first serve.

However, this also means…

Tsukiji Fish Market Live Tuna Auction Tokyo Japan

2. You must spend the night somewhere near the Tsukiji Fish Market.

One of the things you may or may not have noticed about Tokyo is the fact that there is no 24 hour train (or bus) service in the city. Simply put, no trains are running at 4:00am, when you need to arrive at the fish market. As a result, you must spend the night somewhere near the market if you want to visit the live tuna auction.

The Tokyo Cheapo recommendation is, of course, the Com Com Manga café, a five minute walk away from the market. Other options include Jonathans, the 24 hour family restaurant with a drink bar, and any of the nearby Karaoke rooms.

If your cheapo comfort levels don’t quite drop to “Sleeping in a chair at an Jonathans” then we’d suggest: Just by the nearest station (also called Tsukiji) two business hotels exist literally across the street – 1) Business Hotel Ban, usually around $73/night 2) Ginza Capital Main Hotel, around $74/night. Or you can cheapo it up and stay at a capsule hotel about 20mins walk away First Inn Kyobashi, about $27/night. You can also take a taxi from your hotel to the fish market, but depending on where it is, that can end costing more than an entire night at the Manga café or even the one of the business hotels nearby!

3. It is cold.

During the winter, the waiting lounge is not heated very well. And by “not heated very well” I mean “not heated at all.” Bring a jacket. The auction area is similarly frigid – especially since the tuna are frozen (and must remain frozen).

Tsukiji Fish Market Live Tuna Auction Tokyo Japan

4. You can’t wear flip flops, high heels, or anything that counts as “inappropriate footwear.” (Whatever that’s supposed to mean)

5. It is ok to sit on the floor.

Depending on when you get to the auction, you will have to wait one to two hours. They won’t tell you, but it is alright to sit on the floor. Most people try to hold out for about thirty minutes, before eventually giving up and sitting down.

Let go of your pride. Sit on the floor. Your legs will thank you alter.

6. Food and drinks are not permitted inside the waiting area or auction floor (but if you are sneaky about it, you should be fine).

This is pretty self-explanatory.

7. No flash photography.

You can record videos and take as many pictures as you want as long as flash is not involved. Apparently they had problems in the past when tourist’s flash photography blinded some of the people doing the auction, so bids were skipped over. Now they have a zero-tolerance policy on flash photography.

Tsukiji Fish Market Live Tuna Auction Tokyo Japan

8. They will kick you out in a heartbeat.

The Tuna Auction in Tsukiji Fish Market is a legitimate business that has been operating for 20 generations (or at least that is what they claim). If you interrupt the auction or disturb their business, they will kick you out. You are not paying to be there; they are getting nothing from you. As a result, they owe you nothing.

If you are polite, respectful, and follow the rules, the Tsukiji Tuna Auction is a fantastic and unforgettable (not to mention free) attraction. If not, well, I don’t actually know what would happen.

9. Get breakfast in the Tsukiji Fish Market after the auction.


Learn more about Tsukiji

If you are in the first group, you will get kicked out of the auction room in Tsukiji Fish Market before 6:00am. Don’t worry. The fish market is up and running long before 6:00am; you should try to grab breakfast at one of the local shops after you watch the tuna auction. It will make you appreciate the fish so much more. There’s a variety of eateries offering a tasty raw fish menu from donburi to sashimi and plenty catering to the cheapo budget

All in all, the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction is fun. It is one of the best free things to do in Tokyo, if you have time (or like punishing yourself by waking up early), you should check it out!

tsukiji-tuna-auction

Fun Bonus Fact: The first tuna auctioned each year at Tsukiji market is also the most expensive tuna of the year and often reaches an astronomical price. Quite understandable given the flurry of press attention as a result of paying truly ridiculous amounts for a dead fish.

Correction: The post originally stated that the reason for the market moving to Toyosu was the number of tourists who attend the auction. However, the actual reason is to free up high value seaside real estate for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Location Map:

Name: Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
Pricing info: Free
Address: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Access: Tsukiji Station
Web: http://www.tsukiji.or.jp/english/
Phone: +81 3-3547-7074
Business hours: 3:30am - 6:00am (Usually closed on Wednesdays)

Grace is a Texan girl, married to a Japanese salaryman, living in Tokyo. She is a master of everything cheap and spends her time cooking, biking all across Tokyo to save on train tickets, and going to midnight grocery sales to buy newly-expired food for a fraction of the cost. As a freelance writer, comic book artist, and occasional tv personality on Japanese tv, she has plenty of time to explore Tokyo.

  • http://yeesamson.com/ Samson Yee

    I like your buzzfeed inspired title, certainly got me clicking on the link. Turned out to be an interesting read! Thanks!

  • Kensei

    “This tuna auction has become such a tourist attraction that it has pushed the Tsukiji Fish Market to relocate to a larger area (in Toyosu) – a move that will be complete in late 2016.”

    OK… I’ve lived for over 6 years about a 5 minute walk from Tsukiji. This statement is not even remotely true. The reason for Tsukiji moving has absolutely nothing to do with tourists visiting the tuna auction. The market is really beat up and has asbestos issues. It either needed to be rebuilt or moved. Many Tsukiji folks wanted to stay but the Tokyo city government wanted it to be moved. There was a big struggle but now it’s being moved.

    I went to the tuna auction several times before all of the current rules were put in place. I’d say the auction is OK… but I’m not sure it’s worth having to get there at 4 AM. I personally like seeing all the other stuff at Tsukiji more such as walking around the wholesale area near the tuna auction; plus you can arrive at a much more civilized 6 – 7 AM.

    Finally, most Wednesday’s the market is closed. I see lots of disappointed tourists on Wednesdays.

    • CheapoGreg

      You’re quite correct that the market isn’t moving because of the tourists – I’ll edit the post accordingly. I have heard they have some serious industrial pollution issues with the site but I don’t think that’s the reason they’re moving either.

      • Kensei

        The current site has some asbestos issues that I assume could have been corrected through remodeling. You’re correct that this was not the root reason for moving to Toyosu.

        The Toyosu site has even bigger issues due to pollution of the top-soil by Tokyo Gas, the previous occupant. Supposedly, the polluted soil has been removed.

  • Scuttle

    So…I’m mostly interested in walking around and seeing the market and to get a taste of sushi at Sushi Dai, when is a good time to show up for that?

    • Grace

      I think you can show up any time after around 8am for that. I’ve gone in the early afternoon and had some delicious sushi. Most restaurants stay open until AT LEAST lunchtime.

      • Sam

        Average cost for a sashimi breakfast?

    • Kensei

      You can get sushi 24/7 in Tsukiji (e.g., Sushizanmai). I don’t recommend going to Sushi Dai in the inner market; the sushi is good but the wait is horrendous (well over an hour). Sushi Dai has several shops in Tsukiji and they serve exactly the same sushi course you can get at the inner market shop. In fact, my guess is that the other branches are better since only tourists go to the inner market branch. Main difference is the other shops don’t open early in the AM. The cost for a sushi meal is roughly in the 1,500 – 3,000 yen range.

  • vero

    Hi,
    i am looking for an address in the tsukiji. I find a seller of japonese dishes and his mother, the only in the market but i lost his address. Is someone know, i would like to thanks them.
    is someone can help me i would be very grateful

  • Yvonne

    Hi Grace,

    From the Tsukiji Mkt calendar, 19Jul is shown as open. But just to double confirm, is the Tuna Auction on as well or just the market itself operational since is a Saturday?

    • CheapoGreg

      People still need their sushi, so yes, it is.