Tsukiji market, a public wholesale market in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, is one of the 11 central wholesale markets run by the Tokyo metropolitan government.
It started operations in 1935 after the previous fish market in the capital’s Nihonbashi district and the vegetable market in the Kyobashi district were relocated there. It covers about 23 hectares, or five times the area of Tokyo Dome. In 2013, the market handled 1,779 tons of seafood, worth 1.55 billion yen, a day, and 1,142 tons of vegetables, fruits, pickled vegetables and chicken eggs, worth 319 million yen, a day. Its transaction volume was the largest among the 67 central wholesale markets that were authorized and supervised by the farm and fisheries ministry as of April 2014.
The market is one of the world’s largest markets in terms of transaction volume of seafood. It is said that the prices set at the Tsukiji market serve as references for other fish markets across Japan. Among fresh fish, Japanese amberjack varieties were tops in terms of transaction volume, followed by horse mackerel and squid in 2013, while tuna varieties led the way among frozen fish, followed by salmon and trout varieties and shrimp.
In recent years, supermarket chains and other mass retailers have procured an increasing amount of fish not through wholesale markets but directly from producers and trading houses. As a result, the transaction volume at Tsukiji market plunged by about 40 percent from the record 2,800 tons in 1987, while the sales value also fell by a similar rate from the record 2.6 billion yen in 1990.
With more than 80 years of history since its opening, the market facilities have undergone numerous improvements and expansions, increasing the total floor area more than fourfold. When Tokyo’s population exceeded 10 million in the 1960s, the transaction volume at Tsukiji also expanded, propelled by the growing demand for fresh food and advances in fishing and freezing technologies. Multistory wholesale sections and parking garages were built to handle the greater volume, while a tributary to Tsukijigawa river was reclaimed to create more space.
However, the Tokyo metropolitan government decided in 2001 to relocate the market to a 40-hectare former Tokyo Gas Co. plant site in the Toyosu district of Koto Ward. While the market facilities aged, it was difficult to rebuild the market at the current site due to the projected high cost and the difficulties in responding to the changing environment of the distribution industry. Controversy arose in 2008 after benzene levels 43,000 times higher than environmental safety standards and cyanogen compound levels 860 times higher were detected in soil at the relocation site. The metropolitan government spent 76.2 billion yen to clean up the soil contamination and announced in late 2014 that it will open the new Toyosu market in early November 2016.
As of April 2014, seven primary wholesalers, which purchase seafood from producers and sell them to “naka-oroshi” intermediate wholesalers and other buyers, were registered with Tsukiji market’s marine products section, as well as 664 intermediate wholesalers, who sell to retailers, and an additional 292 businesses allowed to take part in auctions. About 42,000 wholesalers and retailers work in or visit the market each day. Tsukiji market is also bustling with workers at stores at the “Jogai” Outer Market, as well as shoppers and Japanese and foreign tourists.