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Never Stand Still

fish markets at 4am

JAPAN | Friday, 18 April 2014 | Views [663] | Comments [1]

Unceremoniously dragged out of the hostel at 3:50am, I clutched on to my bottle of hot-beverage-vaguely-resembling-coffee that we purchased prior to departure at the nearby convenience store, trying not to shiver in the cold while the boys tried to find a taxi to flag down. This seemed like a good idea when David asked me to come with him at 9pm the day before, but definitely seemed less and less of a good idea seven hours later standing outside in the snow, the streets of Tokyo trying its very best to look as forlorn and abandoned as possible. I sighed and tried to stay awake.

The Tsukiji fish market is the biggest wholesale fresh food market in Tokyo, and among other things is definitely most famous for their seafood. We were there for the tuna auctions, where gigantic and magnificent specimens of tuna were laid out along a well lit warehouse, and buyers wore their names on their heads with black caps while the auctioneer shouted and waved his hands at astonishing speeds. The auction ends strictly at 6am, and only around 150 visitors were allowed each day. 

By some miracle, the next thing I knew I was being hustled through the doors of the taxi and my companions were trying to explain to the driver in mangled Japanese about where we wanted to go. I wasn't too concerned. There are not many other places a bunch of foreigners would want to go in Tokyo at 4am other than the only large fishmarket within the five mile radius.

Ten minutes later, we were out of the taxi watching the markets light itself up, coming alive in pieces and fragments like a delayed chemistry reaction. Our breaths wafted in front of us in pale white puffs, and I was suddenly wide awake, hands scrabbling to get the cap off my camera lens.

 It was incredible, and absolute chaos. 

My face was stinging in the freezing wind, stray flakes of snow falling silent and slow, as I smiled to myself, keeping an eye on the boys so I didn't get accidentally left behind.

'Onwards!' David declared, striding off purposefully into the maze before us.

We made it into the auction viewing centre eventually, and proceeded to be given bright blue vests (presumably for identification) and ushered into a little cordoned-off area in the middle of rows and rows of the largest fish I have ever seen. 

I remember laughing when Mike, sleep deprived and eyes bright with mischief, tried to convince everyone that he was going to buy tuna number thirteen and even told the Japanese people around him so - they nodded at him vaguely in amused bewilderment and helpfully gave him estimates on the auction price range.

Everywhere the ground was glistening wet and black, men were shouting at each other while driving little forklifts piled with trays of seafood, the markets a maze of hanging lightbulbs and styrofoam boxes full of ice and wet fish and warehouses with rows and rows of frozen tuna bigger than a human torso.

Later as we sat, defrosting in the nearest restaurant, holding a steaming cup of ocha between two hands and waiting for what was going to be the best sashimi I have ever consumed in my life, I could taste the ocean in the back of my throat and hear the waves and remember the movement of the organised chaos and of human beings, each and every one of them living off the sea that brings them home every night but takes them away in the morning.

Tags: food, japan, markets, sashimi, tokyo, tsukiji



Beautifully written and makes me want to experience it!

  Lauren Patton Sep 22, 2014 5:34 AM

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