The tuna auction at Tsukiji fishmarket

It means an early start but the tuna auction at Tsukiji is well worth getting out of bed for. Report  and photos by Alfie Goodrich.

Tsukiji is one of those ‘must-visit’ places in Tokyo. The fishmarket is full of character, buzzing with action and if you can make it out of bed early enough, get to the tuna auction for main event of the day.

The main tuna auction begins around 5.30am. Trains to Tsukiji-shijo station do run that early. If you live close to the centre of town, great. But getting into town from the outskirts is going to be a little tricky at that time of day so you may have to grab a hotel local to the area. Shiodome has plenty of hotel options, for starters.

I cycled from my home in Omori, near Shinagawa, to the hotel near Shiodome where I picked up Rick – who was in town from Hong Kong – for his photo-walk around Tsukiji. We started at the auction and made our way through the main-body of the market, then spent some time in the surrounding streets and finished the whole walk off with a sushi breakfast. Excellent fun, a great start to the day and we got some great shots.

If you are interested in having me show you around Tsukiji, or are interested in one of our other photo-walks, then visit this page for more details or drop us a line to request some information. Thanks.

Photos from the Tuna Auction at Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, Japan - includes a few shots of the tuna being cut and processed by the different traders after the auction.

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So, how to enjoy Tsukiji and behave oneself at the same time? – here are some suggestions: [more information in our separate article “Photography at Tsukiji” at  this link]

  1. Don’t touch the fish; sounds obvious but you would be surprised at what some people do, including posing for a picture with their face right up next to $10,000 worth of tuna.
  2. Keep out of people’s way; this after all is a place of work and the pace is frenetic as all the business of the day occurs in just a few hours
  3. Don’t expect everyone to pose for your camera; see rule 2
  4. Watch your back; apart from the human traffic of the market, the many motorized drays whistle around the market’s narrow alleyways at frightening speed. Looking over one’s shoulder for bicycles when walking Tokyo’s streets is useful. Looking over one’s shoulder in Tsukiji is mandatory if you don’t want to sustain serious injury
  5. Be polite but don’t get upset if traders are not polite back or simply ignore you. They are not all like this but, as we said in Rule 2, this is a place of work and the traders of Tsukiji see millions of tourists a year. The reaction of some of them is to ignore you point-blank. Some are more colourful in their reposte. If it helps you to understand this, imagine yourself at your place of work with a thousand tourists an hour gawping at you doing your job

And some photographic guidelines for photographing at Tsukiji?

  1. Unless you really have to, avoid shooting with flash; balancing ambient light with flash properly is tricky for one thing, with the flash often drowing out the special ambience of low-light and colourful locations like the inside of the market at Tsukiji. But it can also be annoying for the traders if everone is perpetually popping-off flashguns at them.
  2. Use a wide-aperture lens if you have one; the inside of the market is lit by lots of little lamps, somewhat similar in power and proximity to the table to the lights over the tables in a pool or snooker hall. This can create some beautiful pools of light, under which you will find wonderfully colourful fish. But, the place isn’t exactly flooded with light so getting as much into the camera as possible, without having to push the ISO through the roof, is a real benefit. Plus, the potential abounds for beautiful shots with shallow depth-of-field [DOF] and creamy bokeh. The streets outside are very cluttered and shallow DOF can really help to isolate your subjects from their background.
  3. Don’t take a tripod; again, it sounds obvious in a place that is as crowded and busy as the inside of Tsukiji’s market-hall. But you would be surprised at what we have seen from some visitors.
  4. Ideal focal length lenses? – it sort of depends what you are going for; is it the details or the big picture. Something wide is useful to open up the spaces a little and provide that overall picture of the place [17-55mm, 24-70mm or a super-wide like the Tokina 11-16mm for instance].  For the details, a macro lens is a great choice – either a 60mm or a 105mm – as you can use the longer focal length to get great portraits of the traders and the macro for some nice close-ups of the merchandise, without having to get to that food-safety-compromising proximity! Primes, if you like them, that are good for Tsukiji are 20mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. For the streets outside, the 85mm is perfect and where you do have some space to breathe, something like an 80-200mm f/2.8 is wonderful for picking out details from a distance.

Useful and interesting links:

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Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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