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I’ve always been fascinated by the fish markets in Japan. So much has been covered in its storied history of supplying the highest quality fish to restaurants and vendors around the world. So when I had a layover in Japan, and with the knowledge that it wouldn’t exist in the very near future, I made it a stop I had to see.

Being severely jet-lagged and having gotten about 3 hours of sleep I got up at 3:30am and started my ride over to the fish markets on a rental bike from my hostel. Only 50 people were allowed into the inner markets where the tuna auctions were held each morning at, so I was told to head there as early as humanly possible to ensure that I was one of them.

I arrived as the sun started peering through the clouds and walked into a very brightly lit room with an older Japanese gentlemen handing me a fluorescent vest which entitled me to my spot in the first group. Everyone else brave enough to wake up at this ungodly hour was sprawled across the floor silently making eye-contact with everyone else thinking the same thought we all had - It’s wayy too early!

Shortly after, one of the tuna buyers came in to give us a run down as to how the auction runs, the process of selecting the best fish, the history of the Tsukiji markets and the potential consequences of moving the market. It soon came time to head into the markets and we formed a single line to be ushered through the markets by police men and security guards. The pace at which business ran was absolutely absurd, and we soon found ourselves avoiding oncoming traffic of people trying to get to where they needed to be and I understood why we needed an escort.

We arrived in the auction room and the buyers began to filter in. Each having his own process of selecting - feeling the fat of the fish between their finger tips, shining a torch on the flesh to determine the colour, inspecting the fish as a whole and discussing amongst themselves.

*DING DING DING* the bells of auctioneers throughout the room began taking their place and singing their tunes and taking bids for the fish in front of them. Guided only by specific finger movements from the buyers in front of them the auctioneers were able to swiftly sell each fish whilst keeping their distinct calling rhythm. The tradition and history was palpable and just thinking about this happening everyday for the last 83 years gave me the chills. They went through each row of fish along the ground and just as soon as it had started the auction was over.

Jonathan Tan