The Tsukiji Fish Market has appeared in literally every guidebook about Tokyo and is high on most visitors’ Tokyo bucket list. It wasn’t just the largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo and Japan; Tsukiji for many years held the title for the entire planet. It also had a super-famous tuna auction that was held before the sun rose most mornings. While the tuna auction and wholesale market at Tsukiji has now moved to the shiny new Toyosu Market, is the bustling outer market area is still a highlight to explore.
Find out what you can see and do at Tsukiji, below.
Is Tsukiji still worth visiting?
If you have an interest in sushi, seafood or cooking, the Tsukiji Outer Market should be on your Tokyo itinerary. The approximately 150 meter by 250 meter (500 ft by 820 ft) area is made up of narrow alleys and 100s of ramshackle shops. While the sheer chaos of the Inner Market is a thing of the past, every single corner of the Outer Market at Tsukiji still has more character than the sterile, ultra-modern Toyosu Fish Market where the tuna auction has now moved. Over 300 shops and restaurants have stayed put in Tsukiji’s Outer Market and continue to serve customers.
What is the Tsukiji Outer Market?
Much of the old Tsukiji market was for wholesalers only, with many areas restricted or off limits to the public. But as the market was so popular with visitors for its lively atmosphere and fresh produce, the so-called Outer Market developed. After products had changed hands from producers and sellers to wholesale buyers in the Inner Market, they were then sold on to restaurants and shops at the Outer Market, where the general public has access to them.
The Outer Market offers a colorful variety of freshly-sliced sashimi, dried seaweed, fruit, vegetables, fish, sushi knives, kitchen utensils and tons of other stuff somehow related to culinary pleasure. The Outer Market shops have long-established relationships with the Tsukiji Inner Market sellers who have moved to the new Toyosu Market, and now simply buy the same fresh products there every morning. Toyosu is a bit over 2 km away, a straight line from Tsukiji’s Outer Market. The sellers display their goods, as fresh as ever, in the same old location of the Outer Market, simply bringing them over from the new market.
Pro tip: You can visit the new Toyosu Fish Market and the historic Tsukiji Market on the same day. We recommend seeing the tuna auction at Toyosu in the early morning and then moving to the Outer Market for a fresh seafood breakfast and some shopping. See how in our Toyosu Market guide (simply scroll to the end).
Eating at Tsukiji Market
You can grab breakfast at one of the local shops in the Outer Market. There are a variety of eateries offering a tasty raw fish menu that ranges from kaisendon (a seafood and rice bowl) to sashimi, with plenty catering to the cheapo budget. Lunch, of course, is also an option.
Where to eat sushi at Tsukiji
The short answer is: ANYWHERE! After all, it’s Tsukiji, so it doesn’t really matter which eatery you choose—everything is going to be super fresh and tasty. There are plenty of choices in the Outer Market. You might see tourists lining up for 2-3 hours to get “the best” sushi in Tokyo (or so their guidebook claims), but unless you’re a sushi gourmand on a mission to eat at a specific spot, you’ll probably have an equally enjoyable meal wherever you choose to dine.
A great cheapo way of enjoying the market is to grab some of the fresh sashimi sold by many of the fishmongers, along with any other food that you fancy—fresh fruit, onigiri, perhaps a bento box. You can sit down and eat your grub on the third floor of the market buildings at the west side of the Outer Market.
Pro tip: After your meal, you could stop by Namiyoke Inari Shrine, meaning “protection from waves”. It is the guardian shrine of Tsukiji, and traders come here to pray for good business.
Finding a good tour guide for Tsukiji Market
While the outer market area of Tsukiji Fish Market is a free attraction and it’s perfectly enjoyable to explore on your own, you might be interested in making things a little more fun or informative by going on a tour with an independent local guide. There’s quite a lot of variety on offer—for example, you can join a sushi-making workshop as part of the experience.
Brief history of Tsukiji Fish Market
Replacing an earlier market in the Nihonbashi area that was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Tsukiji Fish Market opened for business on the site of the former foreigners’ settlement in 1935.
Although Tsukiji Market was filled with hundreds of small wholesale operators selling everything from sea urchin to whale, the most famous part was the daily tuna auction in which giant bluefin tuna were sold for thousands of dollars each. A tradition—which is likely to go on at the Toyosu Market tuna auction—was the special New Year’s Day auction in which restaurateurs competed with each other to pay the most for the first tuna on January 1st. The first tuna at Tsukiji’s last January 1st auction was snapped up for a cool ¥36.45m by Sushizanmai owner Kiyoshi Kimura.
Getting up at 2am in order to queue to join a select group of visitors permitted to watch the tuna auction became a hugely popular activity with international visitors to Tokyo. Each day when the auction ended, people joined even longer queues outside Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi in the Tsukiji Inner Market (both of which have since opened stores at Toyosu Market) to enjoy a sushi breakfast amidst the din of the market activity. You can still experience the tuna auction at Toyosu, but it’s not quite the same. You now got to sign up a month before online for a time slot–we tell you here how you can attend the new tuna auction. It still involves very early mornings though!
Bonus: Check out this YouTube video on the old Tsukiji, featuring our very own Cheapo Greg.
The information in this post, though we do our best to make sure it’s correct, is subject to change. Post originally published on July 30, 2013. Last update: May 24, 2020. Thanks to Mareike Dornhege for her assistance with the update.