In the southern part of Tokyo, an industrial area, there is a
dormitory for single people of Touto Marine Products, where
l used to spend my rookie days. The concrete-made dormitory
had rooms just as small and simple as ship's cabins with beds
fixed, to share with a roommate.
Rookies got up between 2:45 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., when it
was still dark. Five or six buses were scheduled at that time,
so that we could get a ride to the Tokyo Central Wholesale
When I was a rookie, at first, I studied the Tokyo
Metropolitan Wholesale Market Law. I practised the Japanese
original wooden calculator for two weeks. After that, all the
rookies were separated into divisions. I was assigned to the
Salted Fish Division.
The Salted Fish Division dealt with fish from the northern
seas in general. Particularly, salmon; all kinds of fish roe;
trout; herring; pickled octopus; and so on, were the items that
they were in charge of.
In the dark morning at 4 o'clock, I got on a bus, and took a
ride to enter the main gate of the Tokyo Central Wholesale
Market. Big trucks were already hustling their way towards
the main gate to get out of the market, so that they could leave
the metropolitan area before the rush hour. At the same time,
a bunch of people entered. They were shoppers like restaurant
cooks; susi chefs and fish retailers; middlemen; auctioneer
company employees; and so on. They came in on trucks, taxis
Among this hustle and bustle, flew around in-market
transportation workers pulling carts called cat wheels or riding
on engine driven pallets.
l saw on my right side, a couple of regular service buses
that connected the wholesale market and the nearest J.N.R.
station. The buses were waiting for passengers.
When our bus reached a place that was about the center of
the market, it took a turn to the right, which brought us to a
rather darker place.
The hustle and bustle lessened a little, and way ahead in
the dark, was a railroad crossing that wasn't being used
anymore. It was for the J.N.R. siding that freight trains used
to come in. Just before the crossing, the bus made a stop.
There was a three-storied ferroconcrete building. The sleepy
men, including me, got up from a twenty minute nap from the
dormitory, got off the bus and started to go up the stairs of the
building. We all walked along a long, long dark hallway that
seemed to be curved just like an outfield fence of a baseball
park. At the other end of the hallway, we finally reached the
Touto Marines Products office, where we had to change into a
lousy gray uniform and put on a green coloured cap.
In that outfit, I got out of the office, walked downstairs,
finding myself where people were walking around among
styro-foam and wooden boxes. The boxes full of fish were
piled upon a floor wet with salt water.
The floor was washed by pumped sea water. I walked
across the space in my new black rubber boots for a while till
I reached the Salted Fish Division area.
The space was full of long wooden tables all with a height
just about to a man's knee. Samples of fish were displayed
upon them. They were in cardboard and wooden boxes and
were ready to be opened.
This space was between an area which held the more than
2,000 stores of the middlemen and the platform of the J.N.R.
siding. Instead of using it for the J.N.R., the platform was
used as the place to handle and keep the fish that were brought
in by trucks.
There are both practical and abstract meanings in the word
"market." The practical one means the place where the buyers
and sellers actually meet and marketing takes place. The
abstract one shows the world where the whole business exists.
Talking about the Tukiji Market, the formal name is the
Tukiji Market of the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market. It deals
in vegetables and fruit besides fish.
The constructions and sites are all property of the Tokyo
Metropolitan Government. In there operate wholesalers,
middlemen and the market service traders and restaurants,
all paying security money and rent for the offices and shops to
the Tokyo Government. There are 7 fish dealing companies,
including Touto Marine Products, in the Tukiji Market. The
main ones are the 4 companies: Touto Marine Products; Daito
Gyorui; Tyuo Gyorui; Tukiji Fish Market Co..
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is the operator to
set up the Tukiji Market. It is so written in the Law book.
The Law book contains a Wholesale Market Law and as in
the chapter of "The Central Wholesale Market Law," the Tukiji
Market is authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry
and Fisheries, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government
provides guidance and supervision for the operation. There is
another chapter called "The Local Wholesale Market Law."
The Local Wholesale Markets shown here are authorized and
set up by the prefectural governors.
Besides the Tukiji Market, Tokyo Central Wholesale
Market used to include both Omori and Kanda regional markets
but now, they are closed. The branches included now are,
Ota, Adachi, Itabashi, Toshima, Setagaya and Yodobashi
Regional Market. These more than 10 regional markets consist
the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market.
To take Tochigi Prefecture as another example: the one
and only central wholesale market is the Utunomiya Central
Wholesale Market; and local wholesale markets are Yaita
Public Local Wholesale Market; Kanuma Public Local
Wholesale Market; Ashikaga Public Local Wholesale Market;
and some others in Kuroiso. Nasu, Sano and Nikko. These
markets all bear the title "Central Wholesale Market" or "Local
Wholesale Market" on their names. Other markets that don't
have the title, but still call themselves "markets" are likely to
be privately owned.
In terms of function, central wholesale markets and local
wholesale markets are the same. The main difference is only
In addition, the privately owned markets like the Nijyo
Market of Sapporo, the Morning Market outside of Hakodate
Station and the Black Gate Market in Osaka, are the same as
Candy Street, and they basically regard dairy shoppers as
customers. Their origin is also mostly from the blackmarkets
which took place after World War II. The goods are a combi-
nation of good and bad. However, from a severe inspecting
eye of a professional, second grade goods exist quite a lot.
These markets have the function of a tourist souvenir shop,
besides being the station of maintaining the citizen's dietary
life. If you enter the place having no basic knowledge of fish
at all, the prices that you will be charged are quite likely to be
more expensive than they are really worth.
So again, the question is, what is the best way to be a wise
To buy fish at an area close to the fishing ground is a good
way to do reasonable shopping. Studying the species of fish
caught around would be useful. However, the way is not
perfect. For example, many people would think about crab in
association with Hokkaido, the most northern island in Japan,
but that is wrong.
Even if the advertisements written in the shops say, "Crab
straight from the Sea of Okhotsk!!," the king crabs and snow
crabs sold in the stores are mostly from the Aleutian Islands
and Alaska. They are mostly repacked and regraded from
larger cases imported from Russia or the U.S.A., so it is quite
unsuitable to say that the crabs are from near fishing grounds.
Expectantly the crabs' quality is poor, for example, not having
much meat or being very salty because of the method of boiling
by sea water.
You can study hard about fish, but unreasonable things
happen: like shrimp, bought at places where they are never
caught, tasted good; or sauries bought at towns near main
catching grounds are not fresh.
Consequently, it's quite difficult to buy cheap and good
You could become friends with a wholesale market middle-
man and buy from him the fish he is dealing in.
This way is almost perfect if it were about two or three
decades before. The best quality fishes used to gather at the
wholesale market but that's not the way now. Depending on
the species of fish and dealer of marketing, there are fish that
detours the wholesale market and take a route of distribution
like going directly to supermarkets, that is so-called the outer-
In a state of depression, small fish dealers, who are the
main shippers to the wholesale market, go out of work and the
few major fish dealers start to trade mainly with supermarkets.
Needless to say, this makes the fish distribution of the whole-
sale market lessen a lot.
So, today, the best way to buy good cheap fish seems to be
by buying at a supermarket when they are having bargain sales.
The wholesalers like Touto Marine Products, gather goods
consigned by producers or purchased on their own account
from producers and sell them at an auction, through bidding,
or by bargaining, to middlemen and participants in wholesale
deals. The participants in wholesale deals consist of retailers,
food processers, large consumers and wholesalers of local
private markets who are authorized by the governor to buy,
like the middlemen, goods directly from the wholesalers.
If the wholesaler sells to parties besides the middlemen or
participants in wholesale deals, that is to be called a sales to a
third party, of which a written report to the operator is required
for approval. Ritually, it is reported later.
The so-called small pickers, labourers and light ones were
workers who had each their functions. They worked in a quite
efficient way. In the early hours of the morning, they made
the auction place ready to start.
The senpais (senior employees) of the Touto Marine
Products were also working quietly. I was just watching all of
this uneasily, because I couldn't find out what to do.