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UpdateMarch 4, 2018
ReleaseFebruary 28, 2018

Tsukiji is a vigorous market town. Tsukishima is famous for its monjayaki and the Japan of lore can still be found in Tsukudajima, an area now surrounded by skyscrapers.Visit one or all three for a glimpse at what Tokyo used to be like – when the world called it Edo.

Tsukiji is an area of yesterday in Tokyo and is made all the more nostalgic as it is located close to the ultra modern Ginza, the most famous and up market shopping district in the whole of Japan. Being so close, many are surprised to find this is the site of Japan’s largest fish market.

The Tokugawa Shogunate had this flat bog area reclaimed from the sea and daimyo’s mansions, temples, shrines and the residences of tradesmen moved here to reduce the overcrowding in Edo Castle following a disaster that claimed the lives of around 100,000 – the Meireki-no-taika fire of 1657. A foreign settlement was established here during the Meiji Restoration and Tsukiji became a gateway for the Western Culture flooding Japan making it the delivery room for the birth of Japan’s modernization. The foreign settlement at the time was located around Akashicho, where St. Luke’s Garden now stands as Tsukiji was a convenient port for ships from Yokohama Bay and therefore acted in a similar manner to Dejima in Nagasaki, with it being surrounded by sea and moats. The legations and consulates of more than 20 nations were located around the settlement and missionaries soon arrived to build churches, mission schools and medical facilities after the lifting of a ban on Christianity in 1873. Unfortunately, almost all of these buildings were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
A new fish market was constructed at Tsukiji late in 1923 after the fish market in Nihombashi was completely destroyed in the devastating earthquake.

Tsukiji Market
Scores of trucks arrive at Tsukiji from all over the country early each morning and are met by the site of a great many large carts (“daihachiguruma” or “turret truck”) scurrying here and there at all times of the day and night. With its 50,000 strong workforce, employed both directly and indirectly by Tuskiji Market, the daily bidding war starts at around 5am when tuna, delivered to the market one after another from the evening of the day before to the early morning hours of the same day are sold to the hand raised most often. Huge tuna are laid on the floor and with the ringing of a bell to announce the opening of play, traders gather to get down to business. Middle traders prepare for their round of selling at around 6.30 am. Oftentimes, live fish are ‘nicked’ in two places to preserve their level of freshness and staff, when necessary, are not averse to increasing the size of their knives to chop up tuna the size of a grown man. Meanwhile, retailers and restaurant buyers as well as sushi shops come to Tsukiji to purchase the seafood they need for the day’s business at their end of the seafood chain. Although the market bustles with activity, non-trades folk, barred in the early morn can nowadays purchase at leisure in some of the shops but almost all the shops close-up by about 1 pm when the market becomes quiet again. Beside the market can be found another shopping area called “Jogai” – open to all and selling fresh food just purchased at the main market, dried foodstuffs, sweetened omelets, kitchen knives, cooking tools and a range of other goods related to food and cooking.

The Tsukiji Gourmet
Uogashi Yokocho in the main market hosts a number of sushi and fish restaurants selling only the freshest of produce as well as several restaurants for market workers. Known to attract many gourmets from around Japan it is particularly crowded Saturdays as visitors make long lines as soon as popular shops open for business in what many forget is a business facility and not a sightseeing place.
Not to be outdone, Jogai restaurants and shops are themselves similarly popular and crowded.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple
Tsukiji Honganji was originally located at Yokoyamacho near Asakusa but was reduced to ashes in 1657 in the city wide Meireki-no-taika. Fishermen loyal to the temple and living in Tsukudajima reconstructed the temple at an alternative site in Tsukiji. The temple belongs to the Honganji school of the Jodo Shin sect of Buddhism and the style used in construction is modern yet is based on the ancient Indian style.

Observatory of St Luke’s Garden
The twin towers of St Luke’s Garden rise from the bank of the Sumidagawa River and from the observatory on the top of the tower a wide view encompasses both the Tokyo Bay Area and Ginza. For the peckish, there is also chic restaurant near the observatory.

Have you ever heard of “monjayaki” – a local specialty of the “shitamachi” neighborhoods of Tokyo? There are many monjayaki restaurants in Tsukishima and a so-called “Monja Street” is now a popular sightseeing spot in this area of Tokyo. Tsukishima is built on land reclaimed from the sea in 1892 and developed as an industrial and residential zone in the century since. Until 1988 when the Yurakucho Subway Line opened, it was a most inconvenient place to reach and was almost like an island in its lack of easy access. The area escaped the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raids of March 1945, and has not undergone large-scale redevelopment to date, thus it retains quaint old back streets and the atmosphere of yesteryear.

Monjayaki was originally a snack children ate at old-fashioned dagashiya (penny candy stores), in the older districts of Tokyo after the war. Today however, monjayaki is now a kind of meal that is heavier; containing many more ingredients than the original versions would have and is served in approximately 75 places found on and around Nishinaka Dori, a street commonly called Monja Street by Tokyoites.

Tsukudajima is on the opposite side of Nishinaka Dori from the Tsukishima Subway Station. Fishermen in Tsukuda Village, Settsu (the current name is Nishiyodogawa-ku, Osaka City) moved to Tsukudajima under orders from Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1644, and developed the area they had been moved to. As nothing remains the same for long in Tokyo, it has been developed rapidly over recent years but older houses that escaped both the 1923 quake and the infamous air raid remain standing, sandwiched in between enormous skyscrapers.

Sumiyoshi Shrine
Shumiyoshi Shrine is related to the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka. When fishermen from Tsukuda Village in Osaka moved here, they divided the enshrined spirit and established this branch with the part transported to the Kanto region. Local residents, fishermen and those who work on water often visit the shrine to pray for their safety when at sea.

Tsukuda always reminds us of tsukudani, a food consisting of small fish and kombu which were fresh caught, boiled down in sweetened soy sauce and eaten. Tsukudani was first concocted by the fishermen of Tsukuda and if not eaten immediately is a useful preserved food for times of shortage. Three tsukudani shops remain in the Tsukudajima of today and are well worth a visit.

Craftsman of Edo Lacquer
There is a lacquer shop near Tsukudakobashi Bridge that also doubles as the workshop of Mr. Nakajima, a craftsman producing Edo lacquer ware. The shop itself has some 300 years of history behind it and at one time, the Edo lacquer ware it produced was much favored and used by shoguns, daimyo and eventually the common folk of Edo. Teacup holders, plates, hand mirrors, combs and other lacquer ware are sold today whilst Edo hakkaku bashi (chop sticks) made from valuable types of wood such as rosewood and ebony, are particularly famed.

Skyscrapers, an ever present in modern cities now line the river banks near Tsukiji giving businessmen a chance to take a stroll along the built up walking trails during their lunchtime.