First-Class Fins: A Tour of the World-Famous Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo

Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan (Source: iStock / winhorse)

In the early morning hours of a Tuesday, seafood aficionados congregate in Koto Ward, Tokyo, just outside of the Toyosu Fish Market. Some gather to see the blur of fishermen hawking eight-foot bluefins, while others are enamored of the scene in its entirety: glass and ice-lined exposition floors; rows of fresh-gilled fish lined up, like infantry, in battalions; swarms of multicultural onlookers, straining with cameras to snap a moment in the midst of the market chaos.

Toyosu is not the first iteration of this market. It replaced the outgrown Tsujiki Market in October 2018 which similarly replaced a market constructed in 1935. For decades, revelers have come to gawk at the fish auctions that inaugurate each morning in the frigid market interior. Fishermen, fresh off their boats with sprawling catches — some more than a dozen feet in length — sing-song their call for bids. Restaurateurs, at the ready for the early morning sales, stand prepared to hand over significant yen for prime catches.

The auction and fish inspection floor at Toyosu Fish Market (Source: iStock)

This tradition continues. In fact, Japan’s long-hailed “King of Tuna” and owner of the Sushizanmai restaurant chain, paid a whopping $3.1 million for a bluefin tuna in early 2019. It wasn’t just any bluefin; the fish clocked in at an astonishing 613 pounds.

Despite the practical appeal for big-time restaurateurs, Toyosu is also a fun stop for tourists who want a look inside the massive seafood business that shores up Japanese — and international — dining. Visitors can easily walk through the open market and explore hundreds of different varieties of seafood, some for sale to consumers. There’s also a wealth of shops, eateries, and venues for soaking in goings-on of Tokyo.

To prepare you for your journey to Toyosu, we’ve assembled the following insider tips.

When to go

Toyosu Fish Market officially opens at 5am. This is undoubtedly early, but arriving at dawn gives you a chance to witness the fabled fish auction. Expect a crowd, though; many other tourists will likely have the same idea.

If you come later in the day, you won’t get the auction experience, but you will get ample opportunity to walk through the market’s several sections. Just be sure to get there well in advance of closing time (5pm) lest you find nothing to see or buy.

How to get there and where to go

If you’re staying in Tokyo, getting to the market is easy — thanks in large part to efficient public transportation. Head to your nearest subway station and take the right line to Toyosu Station. You may have to switch trains; check the available maps and train guides to figure out when and how to make a transfer.

Once you’re at the market, you can either head straight to the Fish Market (just follow the signs, conveniently posted in both English and Japanese) or to the Fruit and Vegetable Market building. If you want to avoid the crowds in the morning, start with the Fruit and Vegetable Market. You’ll be able to see wholesalers lining the walls with sprawling glass windows revealing their fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. You can also get an aerial view by heading upstairs and looking at the entire building layout.

When you’re ready for seafood, follow the clearly posted signs to the Fish Market. You can either take a gander at the auction floor from behind glass or move straight to the wholesale area where hushed-voice transactions take place between six-foot-high stacks of Styrofoam containers, plied with myriad seafood catches.

Lastly, take the escalator to the fourth floor to explore the Uogashi Yokocho Market — an outlet for small, handcrafted wares, spices, and other odds and ends. This is a great place to buy a souvenir tea set or spices to use in recipes at home.

Slices of expensive fish at Toyosu Market (Source: iStock)

Where to eat

After a lingering tour of the massive Toyosu complex, you’ll likely be both tired and hungry. Fortunately, the largest building of the market complex — the Intermediate Wholesale Market —houses 22 different food concepts and shops to sate your appetite.

In general, the rule of thumb for non-natives is to follow the fishermen; they know where the best eats are. However, there are a few standout concepts worth mentioning. For coffee and breakfast fare, Senriken, a relic of Tsukiji Market, is still a local’s favorite; expect rich coffee, egg sandwiches, puddings, and other vaguely Western dishes. Daiwa Sushi is another fan favorite, but if you’ve been staring at raw fish all day, you might not be in the mood for nigiri or sushi rolls. For five-star tempura, there’s no question that Tenfusa is a go-to; be sure to get a medley of seafood and veggies to get the full experience.

Insider’s tip

Before heading home, savor the views and fresh air afforded by the Roof Garden (signs will point you up an escalator). A well-groomed garden onsite makes for a great picnic setting if you’re so inclined, but if not, the rooftop respite gives you a break from the crowds and a chance to process everything you’ve experienced.

For more information about the Toyosu Fish Market, visit Japan Guide’s comprehensive look at how to get there, what it offers, and costs. Or, for a citywide look at markets and more, check out our full visitor’s guide to Tokyo.