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The Tuna Auction Experience at Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo

For years, the must-do experience in Tokyo was the tuna auction at the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market.  For years, travellers would wake up ridiculously early for a chance to see this daily event where massive pieces of frozen tuna were slid in and wheeled out to the highest bidder.

However, when the announcement was made that there were plans to close the Tsukiji inner market, the primary area of business and wholesale, travellers were left wondering what would happen to the tuna auction experience.

Luckily, the architects and planners had put some thought into making the experience more equitable and better for both sides - the travellers and the fishermen.

Enter, Toyosu Fish Market.

Tuna Auction Tradition

If you think about it, it’s incredible that what was once something you would put in a can is now one of the most prized delicacies in the world.

Today, the tuna auction at Toyosu Fish Market is one of the primary barometers of the market price of tuna.  In fact, every New Year, there’s a tradition of announcing the prices of the first tuna auction of the year.  In 2019, the “Tuna King” and owner of Sushizanmai, bought a 278 kg bluefin tuna for more than 3 million USD.

The rest of the year, the tuna auction runs like clockwork.  Thankfully, they’ve allowed the public in to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process that started at Tsukiji and is now at Toyosu.


Lightning Fast Auctions

The tuna auction experience is like no other.  With flashlights inspecting sample cuts of tuna, secret hand signals raised in the air, the ringing of the bell, and seemingly random yelling at lightning speed.  Blink, and you might miss it.  Before you know it, another piece of tuna has been sold to an intermediate wholesaler.

In fact, on average 200 fresh tunas and 1,000 frozen tunas are placed on the auction block each day.


Toyosu Fish Market


Applying for the Tuna Auction Lottery

For anyone that’s been to Tsukiji, you’ll need to scrap everything you learned from before because the process of getting to the auction is very different.

Gone are the days of the first-come-first-serve nature of the auction where you literally had to wake up at 2AM because of how competitive it became.  Instead, they’ve turned to an online lottery system where you apply in advance for free.  Make sure to read the step-by-step process for how to apply to the Toyosu Fish Market Tuna Auction. 

This makes the process a bit more predictable but at the same time requires visitors to be on-the-ball in getting your application in on time.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a slot, you’ll receive an e-mail confirmation.


Difference Between Lottery vs. Public Access

A distinction has to be made though that what you’re applying for the lottery, what you gain access to is the Observation Deck.  

You’ll have 10 minutes to see one full auction while you’re here in a small group of 40 or less. While you’re still behind glass, this deck is much closer to the action and since the barrier doesn’t go all the way to the top, you’ll also be able to hear the sounds of the floor.

The big difference with Toyosu is that even if you don’t win the lottery, you can still walk right up to the Observation Windows.  

This is a long hallway with large rectangular windows behind railings where you have a perched view of the auction below.  There’s plenty of space for visitors to spread apart.  While you won’t be able to hear anything, you can watch the live tuna auction from this vantage point.  I’d argue that the photos from here turn out nicer because you can see the rows of tuna from an aerial view.

Observation Deck Tour

The tuna auction takes place at the new Fish Wholesale Market Building at Toyosu.  What hasn’t changed however is the early start as the time to gather is 5:30AM but at least there isn’t any guesswork on whether you’ll get in or not.

When the guards open the door at 5AM, there’ll be a rush of people going in with the sole aim of trying to get to the Observation Windows.  

You’ll feel compelled to follow but you’ll want to line up at the what’s called the "Toyosu Market Block7 Fish Wholesale Market Building 3F PR Center".  At 5:30AM, their doors will open and after checking your passport, you’ll be given a colourred vest to signify which group you’re in.

Once it’s your group’s turn to head down, the security guards will escort you across the bridge, through a series of doors and stairs to eventually get you to the Observation Deck.

To set up the right expectations, similar to how it was at Tsukiji, there won’t be an interpreter or guide to explain to you what’s happening.  Instead, you’ll be given free reign to walk around the space and watch the auction unfolding through your own perspective.

I encourage you to let your eyes wander, focusing on different areas of the green floor.  On one side, auctioneers will be setting up for their next round while there may be another one in progress.  Pay close attention to how the wholesalers inspect the quality of the tuna, the different hand signals used, and how quickly the auctioneer moves from one piece of tuna to the next.

Fun fact:  The reason why the floor is green is because the red meat of tuna stands out the most against this colour.

You’ll have 10 minutes here so do your best to take it all in.


Taking Your Time At the Observation Windows 
For anyone that doesn’t get access to the Observation Deck, the good news is that you’ll be able to walk to the Observation Windows freely as early as 5AM.

The good thing is that there’s plenty of space up here so it shouldn’t feel too crowded.

A visit here is a must because not only do you have a wide-angle view of the auction floor below, they also have useful plaques (in Japanese and English) to explain what you’re looking at and also the history of the auction.

You’re free to watch as long as you wish.  Tuna auctions typically start at 5:45AM and end at 7AM.


Is Toyosu Fish Market Worth Visiting?

Without a doubt, this is truly a unique experience that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. The age-old traditions are on full display here and it’s quite the sight to behold with the rows of giant bluefin tuna lined up next to each other.

For those that have been to the tuna auction at the historic Tsukiji Fish Market, you’ll immediately notice how this new experience at Toyosu is less intimate and close-up than before.  While it’s certainly not as good as before, you can appreciate the decision to create an environment that’s better for the workers and visitors alike.

The new market’s Observation Deck tour is much more equitable than the frenzied line-ups outside of Tsukiji that only led to heartbreak for those that didn’t make it.  By turning this into an online lottery, everyone has equal chances to see the tuna auction.  In addition, I love that they’ve added the Observation Windows which anyone can drop by and see.

Even if you don’t end up seeing the auction in the morning, you should still drop by to have some of the best sushi you’ll ever have at my favourites, Daiwa Sushi, Sushi Dai, and Nakaya.

For your next trip to Tokyo, I say Toyosu Fish Market is totally worth your time and should be part of your itinerary.


Written by William Tang, Content Creator and Video Producer at Going Awesome Places 

The opinions expressed in the above article do not reflect the views of JNTO. All content and images are property of the writer unless otherwise specified.


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