After taking the last train into Tsukiji, we went straight to the reservation office to see if there was a line for the tuna auction.
At this point, it was only 11:30 on Friday night, and surprisingly there was no line…until about midnight.
Caleb and I had walked across the street to rest and wait until a line started forming, and after 20 people lined up, we figured it was time for us to do the same.
From about 12:30 that night to 2:15 the next morning, we waited….and waited…and waited….
Finally, at around 2:30 a.m. we were brought into the second waiting area. Only 120 people are allowed into the auction every day, so once the line starts getting long outside, police officers let 120 people in one by one to an inner sanctum of sorts.
This is what the inner sanctum looks like:
Once you walk into the room, you are given a map, a pamphlet with information about the market, and a brightly colored vest, which shows that you’re legally allowed in the auction area. They split everyone into two groups, and each group was given a different colored vest.
The photo credit for the picture above goes to my new friend, Michele Parker. I met Michele while waiting in line, and we soon started chatting after laughing at a man taking a picture right in the middle of the street & almost getting hit in the process. She was traveling through Japan from Englnd, and was such a genuinely sweet person. Michele, if you’re reading this – I’m so glad we met. You made the wait much more enjoyable. 🙂
If you look behind us, there is an empty space where they put the second group of visitors. Even though each group was given a different colored vest, the room was still split off by cones and plastic bars, and there was very little room to stretch out or lay down. I somehow managed to drift off to sleep for about 20 minutes, but Caleb stayed awake the entire time.
Once we were placed in the inner sanctum, we had to wait until the doors to the auction opened….at 5:30 a.m.
I’d like to say that I loved sitting in this tiny room with 119 other people, and I loved sitting on the hard floor while wearing an old green vest, but I really didn’t. It was a bit like torture, in fact, sitting there for another three hours of waiting. At the same time, we chose to go to the auction…so I really have no reason to complain….but really, it was awful.
At around 5:25 a.m., they opened the doors of the inner sanctum and took the first tour group (which was also our group) to the auction. We walked through the fish market and the strong pungent smell of dead fish smacked us in the face. Men whizzed by on little scooter-trucks, and styrofoam boxes filled with fish remnants were thrown into a big pile on the ground.
It was all a blur as they rushed us to the main auction area, and I wasn’t prepared for how cold it would be in the auction room. I had been sweating all week, and now I wanted a blanket.
In the auction area, the tuna are lined up in rows, and a chunk of each fish is sliced open so that the shop owners, chefs, and other men perusing the auction can test the quality of the tuna. Because these tuna can sell for up to $1.5 million, the buyers need to be sure that what they’re getting is worth what they end up paying for. It was interesting to see the intensity and care that they took to check each and every fish.
We were also able to see a tuna being auctioned. The tuna that we saw being auctioned was sold for $1500.
We were only in the auction room for 20 minutes before the security guards told us our time was up, and rushed us out of the room. I was frustrated and a bit angry at this point – TWENTY MINUTES?! After waiting almost six hours for what I had been told was one of the best tourist attractions in Japan, I wanted more. Much more.
I can proudly say that I have been to a tuna auction at Tsukiji, but I can’t say that I would recommend this experience to any other traveler. My experience may have been tainted by my extremely high expectations, and the determination to get in after a disappointing morning, but looking back, I would have skipped the trouble and all of that waiting.
It wasn’t really worth it. And that makes me sad.
For those of you that still want to try your hand at the auction even after reading about my woes, I’d recommend getting to the reservation office no later than 12:30 a.m. the morning of. I feel like there is an increased popularity and buzz surrounding the market because it’s moving locations in November, and because of this, there are more people arriving at the office earlier and earlier. I would also recommend booking accommodations right by the market, so that you can go back to sleep afterwards.
We had originally planned to stay in Tsukiji until the public market opened (it opens at 10 a.m.), but we were exhausted, so we stopped for a sushi breakfast at Ryu Sushi, and then headed back to our AirBnb. A small part of me regrets not staying to see the rest of the market, but at that moment, all we wanted to do was sleep.
After the past couple of days, we were officially ready to go home. Tokyo had treated us well (with a few bumps along the way), but it was our time to leave.
As we boarded our bus to head back to Koriyama, we bid Tokyo goodbye, and I fell fast asleep as the bus chugged its way to Funehiki.
From Koriyama, we took the train to Tamura, and were greeted by amazingly cool weather and unexpected fireworks. It was almost as if Tamura was welcoming us back home, and letting us know that this was where we belonged.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the daily blogs on our trip to Tokyo! I have loved being able to share this adventure with you, and hope to continue writing on a weekly basis.
We love you.