Tsukiji !

After a rushed visit to a konbini to grab breakfast, we began our day at Waseda University where we met Aridome-sensei’s former elementary school classmate, Ozaki-san. I chatted briefly with Ozaki-san as we walked towards Tsukiji Fish Market and immediately felt grateful to have such a warm and caring guide for the day. Tsukiji was massive and overwhelming. We shuffled in and out of rows of intermediate wholesalers selling everything from huge pieces of tuna to thousands of squirming sardines. As I thought back to Theodore Bestor’s piece entitled “Wholesale Sushi: Culture and Commodity in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market” that we had read in preparation for our visit, I tried to look for consistencies and inconsistencies at the marketplace itself. For example, Bestor discusses the perception of fish as fundamentally Japanese cuisine, such that the market not only serves as a place of transactions but also as “the stage upon which consumption is rehearsed and displayed.” The sheer fact that so many tourists—foreign and Japanese—gathered with cameras around the market was sufficient to demonstrate the extent to which this market and its fish provide a deep cultural experience, and are thus perceived as fundamentally Japanese. In contrast, however, I did not feel that the arrangement of the market or the attitude of its wholesalers were geared towards observers and consumers whatsoever. Very few English signs or labels were present relative to many other parts of Tokyo, and wholesalers barely acknowledged the existence of those walking through (besides yelling or honking their horns for them to move). I wonder if Bestor’s idea that Tsukiji rehearses and displays consumption will shift to not just include the marketplace as one node in a chain that determines the prices, demand, and availability of fish, but also to include visual displays at the marketplace itself. As Tsukiji prepares for relocation in the near future, it will be fascinating to see how these perceptions of fish as fundamentally Japanese and the boom in tourism intersect to create a new kind of marketplace.