For Tokyo's Famed Fish Market, A Dreaded Death And A Hopeful Rebirth : The Salt As the 2020 Summer Olympics loom in Japan, the 80-year-old Tsukiji is moving to more modern facilities across the Bay. But sellers are worried about the accessibility and safety of the new location.
NPR logo

For Tokyo's Famed Fish Market, A Dreaded Death And A Hopeful Rebirth

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/471233422/471233423" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
For Tokyo's Famed Fish Market, A Dreaded Death And A Hopeful Rebirth

For Tokyo's Famed Fish Market, A Dreaded Death And A Hopeful Rebirth

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/471233422/471233423" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene this morning at Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif. And, you know, if you come to the Bay Area, it takes, like, seven seconds before someone's saying meet me tonight for sushi. Sushi's big here. And the best of it often comes from across the ocean from a place called Tjusiki Market. It's the world's largest fish market. It's a cultural landmark in Tokyo. And it's getting ready for a big move, as Naomi Gingold reports.

NAOMI GINGOLD, BYLINE: It's 4 a.m. It's snowing like crazy, and I am surrounded by fish - frozen fish, live fish. I'm at Tjusiki Market. This is where most of Tokyo and even high-end sushi joints in Hong Kong or San Francisco get their sushi.

TAKASHI SHIBAYAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: Takashi Shibayama is a fish seller here. He says that bell means the start of one of the final auctions of the morning.

GINGOLD: Tjusiki Market is now one of the most popular tourist spots in Tokyo. Every morning, tourists line up starting at 3 a.m. for a chance to watch the famous frozen tuna auction. Ninety-four years ago, Shibayama's grandfather opened the family fish store Shibasen. But Shibayama never thought he'd work here. In college, his parents died, and senior year his grandfather said.

SHIBAYAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: "Well, it was by force. He said, tomorrow, you'd better show up at the store. And if I hadn't, I'd have been kicked out of the house."

Shibayama has been working at Tjusiki for 40 years, and he says he now loves his job. Last year, he wrote a book about his experiences called "Arigato Tsukiji" or "Thank You, Tsukiji." He says he did it now because as he says...

SHIBAYAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: Tsukiji's countdown has finally started. This year, Tokyo City will move Tsukiji's main market farther away to Tokyo Bay. Tokyo City would not agree to an interview. Instead, they direct me and everyone to their website, which explains that Tsukiji is showing its age. It is 80 years old. The market wasn't built for trucks, temperatures can't be controlled and there are sanitation issues. Osamu Shimazu is the spokesman for the Tokyo Fish Market Wholesale Cooperative Association. He works closely with the city and says...

OSAMU SHIMAZU: (Through interpreter) From the perspective of tourism, Tsukiji's great. You don't find places as amazing as this. But as a market facility, we've completely reached our limits.

GINGOLD: But Tokyo City and Shimazu don't say is that Tsukiji Market now sits on some of the most valuable real estate in central Tokyo. The 2020 Olympics are coming, and the city wants to build. The market will move to a new location on reclaimed land in the bay. And there are problems. The biggest one - it used to be the site of a gas plant. The city's now spent a lot of money cleaning up chemical contamination, and there are lingering concerns. Financially, it's also hard. Fish sellers have to cover the costs of constructing new stores. Rent is more expensive. And the city's not offering much assistance. About a hundred of the current 600 or so fish sellers have decided to shut shop rather than move. At Tsukiji, one of the only women I meet working hands on - and I mean hands on gutting up fish - sums up a lot of the anxieties.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: "If we go there, we don't know if our fish will sell at all, if customers will come. Transportation isn't convenient."

She only agreed to speak candidly on tape if I don't use her name because she feared retribution.

SHIBAYAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: That's Shibayama, the fish seller from earlier. Shibayama was also originally opposed to the move. But he also says Tsukiji has aged.

SHIBAYAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: "Tsukiji was great, but I want people to say the same thing about the new market, too. After all, what matters will still be there - the fresh fish and the people who know how to buy and sell it. For NPR News, I'm Naomi Gingold in Tokyo.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.