Ultimate Guide: how to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction, Tokyo

by | Jun 18, 2016 | Japan, Latest Posts

A visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction features in almost every Tokyo guidebook and is a must do in the city. With only 120 visitors granted access to the famous tuna auction on any given day securing a spot requires a little planning, a very early wake-up call and, like many places in Tokyo, some queuing! News that the Tsukiji Fish market and auction are scheduled to move to new premises outside Tokyo means that there is an extra scramble to see the auction ahead of the move.

Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo-49

I managed to grab a spot at the tuna auction on my second attempt and wanted to share a step by step guide with some awesome tips below. If you are hoping to witness the tuna auction this list will give you the best chance of gaining entry and also help make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Have fun!
Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground


Before the Auction

1 | Is it worth getting out of bed in the middle of the night for an auction?

This is the first question you should ask yourself and the answer really depends on whether seeing a live tuna auction in a huge working fish market appeals to you! The tuna auction is not the only way to see the fish market: visitors are allowed to enter after 9am (visitors before 9am will be asked to leave) so it’s still possible to visit the fish market outside of the tuna auction. If you fancy being shown around instead food tours through the market are a great way to get a local perspective on the experience.

For me the answer was yes and for Elaine it was a definite no! I was fascinated by the excitement of the auction itself, the sums of money changing hands and the huge volumes of fish passing through. Elaine visited the market at 9am after a sushi breakfast in Sushi Dai and, while she enjoyed seeing the market in action, still didn’t see the appeal of a middle of the night jaunt to the tuna auction!!

If you do intend to go, it is important to manage your expectations. You’re basically going to be sitting on the floor of an empty room with 119 other random tourists in the middle of the night to see some fish being sold. On the flip side: yes it’s simply a fish market auction, however it’s also a fascinating insight into how the Japanese buy and sell one of their most prized commodities – the endangered blue-fin tuna.

2 | Stay as close to the Tsukiji Fish Market as possible!

We highly recommend staying in a hotel close to the Tsukiji Fish Market if you plan to visit the Tuna Auction. The Tokyo Metro does not run at night and to guarantee a place in the queue before 3am you’ll need to stay close to the market. The best options are to stay either beside the market itself or in the nearby popular Ginza area. Demand is crazy for hotels in Tokyo and the best usually sell out months in advance to make sure to book in time. The best hotels that are a short walk from the Tsukiji Fish Market are

  • Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Ginza An extremely central location and really comfortable and spacious rooms make this Marriott a perfect option for exploring the city and the Tsukiji market. Sushi Dai is less than a 10 minute walk from this hotel and the nearby Ginza metro station gives access to all the main parts of Tokyo. Check prices here!
  • Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel: A great alternative to the Marriott and a solid modern hotel. It’s also a 10 minute walk from the fish market but also really central for seeing the rest of the city. Check prices here!
  • Tokyu Stay Tsukiji: The closest hotel to the Tsukiji fish market and is a great option for visiting Tuna Auction and Sushi Dai. You are literally across the street! Check prices here!
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If you are squeamish consider giving the auction a miss:
Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

3 | Check the calendar when planning your visit

Check if the market is actually open the day you plan to visit! It’s usually closed on Wednesdays and Sundays but make sure to check the fish market calendar!

4 | Visiting is free!

It will cost you a night’s sleep but entrance to the auction is free.

5 | What to wear to the tuna auction

Dress appropriately! Flip flops or open shoes are not permitted for safety. Layers of clothes are a good idea as it is cold in the market itself but can get pretty warm in the waiting room.

Arriving at the Tuna Auction

1 | What time do I need to arrive at the queue for the tuna auction?

Arrive early! Officially security market personnel distribute the visitor vests at 5am to the first 120 people in line. However, vests will be distributed earlier than this if there is a queue. There always is a queue! Some websites state 3am as the best arrival time, however to guarantee a place you now need to be there at 2am especially with the rush of visitors in advance of the market move. One of the security told us that, on average, the auction is full by 2.30am. So set that alarm clock crazy early or hit up an all night café or bar locally!

Already a queue at 2am!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

2 | How to get to the auction

The Tokyo metro doesn’t run until 5am so find a hotel within reasonable walking distance of the fish market or you will have to travel by taxi. We stayed near Tokyo Station, which was a 25 minute walk to the market, and we felt safe walking through Tokyo at that time. There are 24 hours diners, internet cafes and capsule hotels near to Tsukiji if you need somewhere to stay for the night of the auction. Ideally, accommodation in Ginza or closer will leave you with less than a 10 minute walk to the market: here are some great hotels close to the market

  • Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Ginza An extremely central location and really comfortable and spacious rooms make this Marriott a perfect option for exploring the city and the Tsukiji market. Sushi Dai is less than a 10 minute walk from this hotel and the nearby Ginza metro station gives access to all the main parts of Tokyo. Check prices here!
  • Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel: A great alternative to the Marriott and a solid modern hotel. It’s also a 10 minute walk from the fish market but also really central for seeing the rest of the city. Check prices here!
  • Tokyu Stay Tsukiji: The closest hotel to the Tsukiji fish market and is a great option for visiting Tuna Auction and Sushi Dai. You are literally across the street! Check prices here!

3 | Where to queue for the auction

Registration for the visitors vests is on the 1st floor of the Fish Information Center in the Osakana Fukyu Center. It pays to know in advance where the actual queue is to save time wandering around the market at 2 in the morning and risk missing a spot! The orange line shows the route to the auction, the green is the return trip!
Tsukiji Tuna Auction Map

4 | The market is first come, first served!

Market security distribute one visitor vest per person so everyone in the group needs to be present. It isn’t possible to hold an extra vest for a friend if they’re not in the line when the vests are distributed. Once the 120 vests are gone it’s a case of bad luck, come back next time! We missed the cut off on our first attempt to see the tuna auction when we arrived at 3:15am on Saturday morning. 

Vest success!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

5 | Visitors attend the auction in two groups

Visitors are split into 2 groups of 60 and given yellow or green vests depending on whether they will attend the first or second auction. The first group are given yellow vests and are granted access to the first auction at 6am, leaving the waiting area at around 5.25am. The second group are given green vests and enter the second tuna auction of the morning which takes place at 6.30am.

Yellow vest, green vest…everyone’s a winner!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The Tuna Auction waiting room

You have a tuna auction vest: success!! Now it’s time for the pre auction waiting room!

1 | Sit down!

Make sure you sit down during your time in the waiting room as your legs will thank you later in the day! After spending 5 hours in the queue for Sushi Dai a few days previous I was straight to the floor once we got into the waiting room! One of the rules is that visitors shouldn’t lean against any of the walls although it’s easier to get away with some back support at the rear of the room!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

2 | Bring a cushion!

As you’ll be sitting on a hard wooden floor for a few hours it’s worth considering bringing a small cushion.

3 | Bring some food and drinks for the wait but be discreet!

If you need extra supplies during the wait there is a vending machine right outside the door that sells all the usual cold drinks. I have to confess: copious amounts of delicious iced coffee were consumed during my wait!

Coffee: thank you for keeping me alive in the waiting room!
Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

4 | Backpacks / small bags are allowed

This was a question I had and I couldn’t find any information prior to the visit. I opted to go without a bag as I didn’t want to be refused entry, however lots of people had backpacks and bags. Larger luggage is not permitted so leave cases and rucksacks at the hotel or in storage.

5 | Toilets

It’s fine to leave the line to use the toilet just outside the waiting building but make sure to let the security guys know you’re popping out.

Photography

1 | Cameras

If you’re planning to take photos during the auction I recommend bringing a camera with good low light capability. It’s relatively poor light in the auction area itself and, as below, flash photography is not allowed.

Capturing the moment!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

2 | No flash photography is allowed in the auction

There are no exceptions to this! Make sure your flash is switched of or tape your flash closed. Flash photography can interfere with the auction and cause the auctioneers to miss the split second movements made in the bidding for the fish. The market authorities are generous to allow photography so it’s important to follow the rules.

As stated in the notes for the tuna auction!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Tuna Auction time!

1 | Follow the rules and listen to the security personnel

The staff, who are dressed like the dapper gentleman below, are there for the protection of visitors and to guide you to and from the auction safely. The market is an active commercial market so be very aware of where you walk. Warning: don’t expect the workers to swerve out of the way for you as you step out of the line to take a photo…they likely won’t as they are hard at work!

Staff at the auction:Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

2 | Be alert walking to and from the auction

The fish market and the surrounding area is incredibly busy and it’s important not to step out of the auction line without checking your surroundings.There are hundreds of yellow trucks zipping about the auction at high speed and a collision would not be pleasant!

Making our way back from the auction:Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

3 | Top of the queue!

It can get a little cramped after entering the viewing area in the tuna auction and viewing space it at a premium. Try to get close to the top of the queue so you can get a good spot in the auction and see as much of the action as possible!

A front row seat!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

4 | Don’t disturb the auction… or the build up.

Adhere to the rules provided by the security staff on entry to the auction. The security staff are extremely alert and will remove visitors if they act out of line.

Bidding wars:
Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

After the auction

1 | Grab a sushi breakfast 

The first tuna auction is finished by 6.30am but don’t rush back to your hotel. Grab some of the deliciously fresh sushi in the food market before you leave. Some of the more popular restaurants will have massive queues by this time but there are loads of excellent sushi options if you want to grab a quick bite.

Sushi time!Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

2 | Explore the fish market.

The fish market is absolutely massive and there’s lots more to see than just raw fish: there’s an abundance of alleys, restaurants and shops in and around the market so take some time after the auction to explore!

Fish market action:Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Enjoy!

So there you have it: a round up of our top tips for an enjoyable trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction. If you have visited the auction and have any other tips let us know in the comments!

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Visit Tsukiji fish market tuna auction Tokyo ©thewholeworldisaplayground

3 Comments

  1. OMG! I love love love love love your write up, it’s very detailed and helpful! I hope the market will still be there in December… 😐

    Reply
    • I think it should still be Inex, they’ve been saying it will be next year in recent news reports! Have a great trip!

      Reply
      • Eeek, now I really need to plan how to get there in the wee hrs of winter hahaha! Thanks Elaine! 😀

        Reply

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