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Catch Up Part 2: Tsukiji Market and Sushi-Dai

Posted by Shaun

On Tuesday, October 25, I hauled myself out of my futon at 4:15am, pulled on some clothes in a daze, and made my way out into the deserted streets of suburban Saitama.
My destination: the first train into Tokyo, at 4:57am.
The reason?
Sushi, to be specific. I was headed to Tsukiji Market, the home of the Japanese fishing industry, where tuna are auctioned to wholesalers every morning at 5:30am to be rushed to the upscale restaurants of the world, and where it's possible to eat fish that's basically fresh from the sea.
I knew I was going to miss the tuna auctions, because my commute didn't allow me to get to Tsukiji-shijo station before 6am, but due to a comedy of errors, none of our party actually made it to the auctions.

The sun is barely rising over Tsukji market. Note the trucks and the buildings that look the same.
There are actually two markets at Tsukiji: the inner market, for wholesalers, and the outer market, for regular people. Tsukiji subway station is nearest the outer market, and Tsukiji-shijo is nearest the inner market. Of those of us who made it to the area early enough, one went to Tsukiji and the other went to Tsukiji-shijo. My friend who was at Tsukiji-shijo then proceeded to try to direct my friend at Tsukiji station to his location by telling him, "I'm by two buildings that look the same, there's a lot of trucks, there's a lot of fish."
You can imagine how well that went, with such detailed instructions. In the scuzzy industrial area that's Tsukiji market, most of the buildings look the same, and both markets have a lot of trucks and a lot of fish. The rest of us got to hear them bicker about this for the entire three hours we waited in line for our sushi breakfast.

We had decided on Sushi-dai as our restaurant of choice. It came highly reviewed on the internet, so we figured we'd try it. Once we were all together, the first challenge was finding it, while half-asleep, on empty stomachs.
The main street we faced for the first half of the wait.
Once we located it, at 6:15 or 6:30, there was already a line that went from the doors of the restaurant to the edge of the side street on which it was located, then, to make room for the trucks and people-movers (fish-movers?) that are always zipping about the market, the line broke off into another line some around the corner that faced the main road. We got in line, and we waited.

Somehow the time passed rather quickly. I think I zoned out for most of the wait.
Finally, an employee asked us how many were in our party, and we waited until she directed us to move to the second half of the line.

We took a celebratory photo because we could actually see the sign.

It was a grueling wait.
We eventually got to the front of the line, right up against the door.
A peak behind the curtain
 We were flooded with relief when we finally made it into the restaurant. We could sit down for the first time in about three hours, and we were immediately served a hot piece of omelet that we were told to eat right away. My chopsticks were shaking in my hands as I lifted it to my mouth. Delicious!


They also served us unlimited tea. And soup.
There were seven pieces of sushi in the set we ordered, and I only regret that I ate them too fast. You're supposed to eat sushi in one bite because apparently the flavor changes if you eat it bit by bit, but these pieces were enormous, and with my tiny mouth I couldn't really figure out how to taste it all slowly and eat the whole thing in one bite.

Naturally I forgot what almost everything was, but it all tasted amazing and was beautiful to look at.

After our seven courses were up, I decided to try the famed "fattiest of the fatty tuna," oo-toro. I'd heard it was delicious, but it's too expensive for me to really eat usually. Even though it was something like 700 yen a piece here, I figured there was no better place to eat oo-toro than when it was fresh from the sea.

Man, but that was a good piece of fish. It melted in my mouth. I'm glad I tried it. I'm even glad I took terrifically unflattering pictures with it.

When we left Sushi-dai, I was giddy. I'd had about 3 cups of tea, my stomach was pleasantly full of delicious fish, and much to my surprise, the sun had risen over Tsukiji market. It was about 10am. Even though I had class from 2:45pm to 6pm that day, I've never been in such a good mood.

Afterwards, we explored the inner and outer markets, which are absolute, disgusting, fascinating chaos. There's boxes of fish everywhere, and sometimes there's even fish blood all over the place. It's that fresh?

Salmon roe

Tuna steaks in a freezer

Tuna carving knives?

Bales of dried squid from the outer market

3 Responses so far.

  1. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Sushi-Dai looks awesome and I'm quite jealous. Yummm, sushi.

  2. Laurie says:

    perhaps you and Shannon should go there over Christmas break?!

  3. Molly says:

    This is my favorite post that I've read so far

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