November 21, 2009
Its 5 am and the morning light has not quite yet broken the horizon. As a night owl, I cant’ believe I’m up at this God forsaken hour but alas, I was jetlagged, and I didn’t know what time I should be up if my life depended on it.
Like two ants traveling through an underground maze, we head out in the dark to conquer the Tokyo subway. It is eerily quiet–the morning rush hour had not yet begun. As soon as we arrive at our destination, the smell of freshly caught fish overwhelms my senses and I let my nose lead me. “If all else fails just follow all the foreigners,” my friend says. We pass by row after row of small sushi restaurants and stores selling trinkets and t-shirts. Yes, I am at the famous Tsukiji (pronounced SKEE GEE) Fish Market in Tokyo. The vast expanse of the market is roughly the size of 43 football fields and each year it handles 600,000 tons of seafood– 1 of every 5 fish caught on the planet! The city plans to move the market in the next couple of years, to a more modern building. But for now, the market still functions as much as it did in the 16th century and I am excited to catch a glimpse of the tradition!
Buyers from every culinary corner of the globe descend upon this place in the wee hours of the morning to fight and bid for the freshest and choicest catches straight from the fishing boats. Days from now, the finest restaurants around the globe will serve hungry sushi patrons the fish we see in front of us. Big fish, little fish and all sorts of other crustaceans are neatly packed on ice in Styrofoam boxes ready to be sold by the kilo.
Its still dark outside, and the incandescent glow of lights shines down on row after row of delectable raw seafood. Preoccupied with dodging speedy motorized three-wheeled carts that whiz by, the hustle and bustle of people helps me ignore the cold morning wind.
I put my amateur photography skills to the test while soaking in my first impressions of Tokyo. That’s when I spotted it. I could only imagine the eyes of eagerly awaiting sushi chefs, if they could catch a glimpse of this blue fin tuna! It its HUGE, massive! I have never seen a fish as big as this, it was twice the size of me!
As calculated and careful as an artist with his brush, the fish cutters dance around their giant prize as if to a choreographed routine, slicing and dicing at all the right places. As quickly as this giant fish was divvied up, it was packaged and rushed to make its international flight. At Tsujiki Fish Market, time is money, and there is a lot of money exchanging hands. One blue fin recently sold for $177,000 USD!
I sat there watching in amazement for about 20 minutes feeling conflicted. There is nothing better than a cut of top grade fresh sashimi, melting in your mouth. I love sushi (especially maguro and hamachi), but I couldn’t help but feel sad. I will probably never encounter a fish of this size scuba diving because there simply aren’t many left in the ocean. I read countless articles about mass over depletion of fish globally, and how over-fishing has devastated healthy populations of marine life… and I just can’t play the ignorant card.
Yet an hour later, I find myself waiting in huge line outside a small sushi restaurant for the freshest tuna over rice that I’ll ever find. Blind eye, party of one.