At some point in the future Tsukiji Fish Market will move to new facilities located a few kilometers east in Toyosu. This move has been delayed by revelations of contamination and poor project management at the new facilities. At the time of writing, tourists are still able to enter the famous tuna auction, but you should check the official website to get the latest information.
Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest fish market in the world with a workforce of 60,000 driving the sale of over 2 million kilograms of fish every day. The tuna auction after New Year is the focus of considerable media attention, and the first fish to be auctioned exchanges hands for ludicrous sums as wealthy individuals try to outbid each other for the kudos. Kimura Kiyoshi, owner of the Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain, has been the one to carve the prize tuna for the last several years. He set the record for the most ever paid in 2013 when he purchased a 222kg bluefin tuna for ¥155.4 million ($1.5 million).
Tsukiji, like much of the surrounding area, is built on land reclaimed from the Sumida River delta. It is synonymous with Tsukiji Fish Market, the presence of which is a result of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. This claimed the fish market in Nihombashi and a decision was made to rebuild in Tsukiji. The market that stands today was completed in 1935.
There are two main attractions: the daily tuna auction (wholesale market) that takes place early in the morning, and the outer market stalls which are open throughout the day.
The tuna auction
The popularity of the tuna auction among tourists has led on several occasions to bans on entry to the auction and wholesale areas. The market is a genuine place of business and camera-laden tourists wandering around the stands can be a source of interference.
At present public access to the wholesale market is banned until 9am (the majority of business is done between 5:00–8:00am) and access to the auction is restricted to 120 people per day. Registration is free and starts at 5am on a first-come-first-serve basis. The 120 successful applicants are divided into two groups of 60, which are admitted to the viewing area of the auction for 25-minutes each (5:25–5:50 and 5:50–6:15). In reality, people will start arriving from 3am onwards and if you want to be guaranteed a spot on the list then you should be aiming to get there by 3:45am at the latest.
During the busiest part of the year (beginning of December until mid-January) the tuna auction is closed to tourists. See the official website for the latest details.
The outer market
The outer market is a collection of over 300 stalls and eateries. It’s not all just sushi and dried fish: there are ramen stalls, shops selling Japanese tea, senbei rice crackers, and so on. Even if you are not an early bird and don’t make the tuna auction, the outer market is a great place for breakfast or lunch.
Come out of Exit A1 of Tsukijishijo Station and walk up the road with the shops to on the right-hand side. The outer market is on the right after about 100m. If you are arriving for the tuna auction note that the reception for registration is here near Kachidoki Bridge.