Taking part in Tsukiji's famed tuna auction is no easy feat. It takes dedication and a really early bedtime (or lack thereof) to be part of the lucky 120 that gets the pleasure of lining up at 3:30am in the morning for a 15 minute show. But what a show it is.
Once the lucky few actually make it to the floor (after another hour and a half or so of waiting in a cold, chairless, windowless room), what they witness is a blur of shouting, seemingly random hand gestures and an all-out frenzy to snatch up the prized and ever dwindling “chicken of the sea.” Too soon, the show is over, but the best part is yet to come because a sushi breakfast awaits as a reward for being awake before the sun rises.
You can either wait another few hours in line at one of the more popular standing sushi bars in the market such as Sushi Dai or head to the outer Tsukiji markets for fish just as fresh without having to spend a total of 5 or so hours waiting in line (counting the wait for the tuna auction). For some, the outer markets are actually preferable to the hectic, smelly and slightly dangerous main market. The outer markets offer more variety of food stalls, produce and seafood at a more leisurely pace. And luckily fish doesn't suffer from having to travel the extra few yards from the main event to the various sushi restaurants that line the nooks of the outer market.
Whether you intend to experience it all starting with the early morning tuna auction or just want to stroll around the outer market, be sure to do it soon because before Tokyo's 2020 Olympics comes into town, the entire market is picking up and moving to another part of the bay.