Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
In a little over a year from today, a big change is going to happen in the urban landscape of one of the most popular areas of Tokyo; at the same time, because such events rarely work unidimensionally, the change will extend to the contemporary culture of the Japanese metropolis and both its inhabitants and its visitors will need to make peace with the fact that one of the most important factors of economic activity and touristic attraction will cease to exist. From November 7, 2016 (a taian/大安 or “auspicious day” according to the rokuyo/六曜 system of evaluation of a year’s days –in other words, according to superstition) the biggest market of fish, seafood and produce will move after 80 years from Tsukiji (築地) between Ginza and the Sumida River 1,5 miles to the south and on the others bank of the river, in Koto Ward’s Toyosu (豊洲).
In the last 15 years, Japanese media have mentioned the matter so many times and they have hosted so many opinions that I doubt there is any position within the spectrum ranging from total denial to total acceptance that has been left unvoiced. Despite the position they express though, very few dispute that the move was instigated by real estate prices in the area, by the construction companies that will build whatever will be built in the old market site and the complex housing the new one and that pressure for it have become much stronger after Japan won the bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. And even fewer dispute that the new market in Toyosu will be much more modern and therefore much more suitable for the 21st century needs of a Tokyo that is almost ten times bigger since 1935 when “Japan’s kitchen” moved to Tsukiji from Nihonbashi where it had been for almost 300 years.
Although most people have identified Tsukiji with the tuna auctions that take place in the early morning hours in the inner market (jonai-shijo/場内市場), I personally believe that its most interesting part is in the outer market (jogai-shijo/場外市場) which, in contrast to the inner, also offers retail, is open during more rational hours (morning, afternoon) and includes an impressive number of food stores and eateries, among which are the best sushi places in the world –to the extent that sushi is mostly judged on the basis of freshness, jogai-shijo’s sushi-ya have access to the world’s freshest fish and seafood. (Still, Tsukiji’s trademark dish isn’t sushi but magurodon /マグロ丼 i.e. a bowl of rice topped with slices or raw tuna.) The labyrinth of small shops brimming with colors, sounds, smells and tastes and the atmosphere of shitamachi, inseparable part of all old commercial districts of Tokyo is one of the best, more vivid and more special parts of the metropolis and, thankfully, is not going to follow the inner market to Toyosu; whether it will be able to survive without it remains to be seen.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes on the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.