At precisely 3:30 in the morning, my alarm in my mobile phone beeps to wake me up. I groan and then I remember why I’m up this early. The concierge at the Four Seasons told me I had to be at Tsukiji, waiting in line for the blue fin tuna auction by 4:30am at the very latest. They’ve booked me a taxi which picked me up precisely at 4:00am so I jump in with all my cameras in tow, clutching the photocopied map and written instructions which the concierge has given me so I don’t get lost.
The taxi dropped me off right in front.
As to which front this was, I don’t know. I can’t read maps, despite living abroad since I was 16. I proceeded to pester every Japanese man working at the market, pointing to my map, as I followed their pointing to the right direction. For 15 minutes, it seemed as I was walking in circles, disheartened that I was going to lose my chance of watching the auction and waking up at 4am in vain. Then I found a breakthrough. I found a Caucasian couple, talking to a Japanese man speaking in English giving precise directions. Guess what? I followed them and found the line. The guard there shooed me in line and gave me a little stub: Number 39.
I waited in line till 5:30am which is when they let us in the perimeters of the market. As we walked towards the holding room, the hustle and bustle of the market was in action. Everywhere, trucks were loading and unloading produce and seafood. Buyers were already up at this hour, haggling with the merchants.
We entered a holding room where they made us wear those neon vests. They also had a video shown of the whole Auction experience, which included history, background, customs and what actually goes on during the auction (with translations).
Finally at about 6, they led us in the real auction room. We were only allowed a small portion of the room and couldn’t venture around. Being small, I had to be creative with my photo-capturing. Thankfully I can squeeze under people’s armpits and between legs which is what I did.
Here are the buyers inspecting the merchandise. Experienced buyers take meat of the tail end and rub the meat between their fingers. If they change color too fast, that means the meat is watery and doesn’t have enough flavor.
This is the guy doing the actual auction.
I’ve included a video and it’s like he’s chanting.
Once they’ve bought the fish, they paint on it and tow it away.
The auction goes by quickly. About 10 minutes for 20-25 giant tuna.
By 6:45am, my stomach’s grumbling from all the excitement. All the fish I’ve seen have made me salivate. I proceed to find a restaurant where I can have my breakfast.
I walk around in circles again, hoping to find the area my dad tells me about with the ramen noodles, but again, I can’t find it. I was hoping to have a breakfast of sushi and ramen. I ask a Japanese guy and he points and tells me to enter any restaurant in the direction he was pointing at. So I find one with 4 Japanese office people, finishing off their breakfast before going to work.
I sit by the bar, count my cash, and then decide on the set meal, about 2,500yen. I ask if they accept credit card, and to my surprise they do, but my father gave me enough cash for this adventure, fully aware of my appetite.
This is what I got. I finished all of it, to the surprise of other diners (Caucasians) who also followed me in the restaurant.
I finish it of course, contemplating if I should order more, but decide against it. My eyelids have started to become heavy. I rush out, and on my way to the train station, I find the area my father told me about. Too late as I was currently in food coma and on my way to la-la land.
I make it back to the hotel by around 8:30am and crawl back into bed, just as my father walks back in the room from breakfast.
I close my eyes and head into sushi and sashimi dreamland, satisfied with my adventure in the holy grail of bluefin tuna.