A lack of charm could hurt Toyosu Market

By Tim Nelson
October 12, 2018
Photo by Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP via Getty Images


To food-lovers visiting Japan, the Tsukiji fish market was hallowed ground. Every day for over eight decades, it was the landing place for a few thousand tons of the best, freshest seafood that could be found anywhere in the world. Tokyo’s top chefs showed up as early as 4:00 a.m. to bid on cuts of tuna that sometimes auctioned for hundreds of dollars a pound, and its closure this year leaves a gaping hole in the culinary world.

While the Toyosu market has finally opened up to take its place after 16 years of planning, its debut isn’t without a bit of controversy and criticism. Nearly twice the size of Tsukiji, Toyosu missed its scheduled 2016 opening amid setbacks that included worries about potentially contaminated soil. It’s finally open for auctions, but it seems like its first days have been fraught with difficulty.

In addition to heat and fire, a potential gripe among both tuna sellers and tourists will likely be its location. There are fewer roads in and out of the new site, creating traffic jams at peak hours. It’s also a longer trip on public transit from major metropolitan hubs like Tokyo and Shibuya stations.

That’s already a concern for bluefin tuna sellers like Kimio Amano, who fear the further trip could impact his bottom line. “There are some customers who said they are not coming any longer because it is too far,” he told Reuters. “Let’s see what happens.”

Though slated to open for tourists on October 13, complaints about the visitor experience have already popped up. The infamous rats are gone, but the more sterile Toyosu looks like it lacks the ineffable charm of its predecessor. And that’s before you consider that the new layout shunts tourists upstairs and behind glass, sealed off from the army of vendors they could mingle and transact with at Tsukiji.

With even Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike admitting that “it might take some time to get used to” the massive—and massively different—space, it could all just be a natural case of growing pains. Though something’s naturally lost in translation every time a legendary site is replaced, it’s entirely possible that visitors and fishmongers alike will adjust to the ins and outs of Toyosu soon enough. After all, Japan’s gotta get its seafood from somewhere.