The Famed Tsukiji Fish Market Closes and New Toyosu Fish Market Opens Today: How Does this Impact Tokyo 2020?

Toyosu aerial view
The Toyosu fish market is pictured in this photo taken from a Mainichi helicopter on July 30, 2016. (Mainichi)

The Tsukiji era is over. The Toyosu era has begun today, October 11.

After decades in the planning, the government has finally moved the fishmongers of Tsukiji to a former gas storage facility in Toyosu, about a few kilometers southeast of the famed fish market.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan, tens of thousands visited Tsukji daily to enjoy the fresh seafood, and if they arrived before 5 am, as hundreds did every weekday, to watch the auction of frozen tuna laid out like lumber on the slick fishmonger floor.

Tsukiji was also a significantly large market, as over 1,540 tons of seafood valued at USD14 million or JPY1.6 billion traded hands every day. Around 650 businesses operated in Tsukiji, including 100 vegetable traders that sold 985 tons of fruits and vegetables daily, creating a vibrant community with over 14,000 workers and 28,000 buyers doing in the crammed confines of the Tsukiji market.

This coziness of Tsukiji, while part of the charm, was also part of the problem. Working within facilities originally constructed prior to World War II, Tsukiji businesses were not air conditioned, and kept their fish and vegetables fresh with crushed ice. Since storage space was limited, fish could be found stored outside, even in the summer months. The hustle bustle of Tsukji was made greater with the countless number of trucks that transported goods in and out of Tsukiji on its narrow roads.

The cramped quarters were an issue, and the move to Toyosu nearly doubles the available space for the market from 23.1 hectares in Tsukiji to 40.7 hectares in Toyosu. There were other reasons to move – the steel beams that kept the buildings up were rusting, the building standards were not up to date in terms of eartquake resistance, asbestos was said to be in the walls, and rats filled the nooks and crannies.

Tsukiji tunnel and transportation hub_Asia Nikkei
The Loop Line 2 plan, Nikkei Asian Review

And then there is the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, providing an extra incentive to accelerate the move. Plans for 2020 included:

  • a transportation hub of 3,000 vehicles, called Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), that would be used to move athletes, officials, and volunteers around to the various Olympic venues,
  • an extension of a major road artery, called Loop Line 2, from downtown Toranomon to Toyosu, that would allow vehicles to move unimpeded via a tunnel dug underneath Tsukiji, and
  • The Olympic Village, to be built between the Tsukiji market and Toyosu market.

When Yuriko Koike came to power as governor of Tokyo in the summer of 2016, she put a halt to the planned November 7, 2016 move of the fish market to Toyosu when high levels of a poisonous chemical, benzene, were detected in the soil and in the air of the former gas storage facility.

Tsukiji Market aerial
Tsukiji Fish Market Aerial View

Two years later, after measures to diminish the impact of the contaminents in the soil were taken, Governor Koike officially gave the go ahead to open Toyosu on October 11.

That decision has brought closure to many of the Tuskiji businesses that eventually moved to Toyosu. But the delay has left considerable uncertainty for others, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

One party is the Tokyo Olympic Organizing committee, which gives the committee much less time to convert the Tsukiji fish market into a transportation hub. Dealing with the tens of thousands of people on the move for two weeks during the Games, in addiiton to the already congested roads and trains of Tokyo, will be a tremendous challenge, and the readiness and effectiveness of the BRT will be critical to the success of the 2020 Olympics.

Another concerned party is a group, including Mitsui Fudosan Residential, Mitsubishi Jisho Residence, Sumitomo Realty & Development and Nomura Real Estate Development, which are creating different parts of the Olympic Village. The rooms for athletes will be converted and sold as condos after the Olympics, according to Nikkei Asian Review. They write that the 24 blocks of 5,600 condominums will help drive the population of the Harumi bayside area from 12,000 today to about 29,000 in ten years.

Unfortunately, the development of the tunnel part of the Loop Line 2, planned to transport people and vehicles underneath Tsukiji, was postponed after the move of the fish market to Toyosu was postponed.

As the area of the Olympic Village is not close to any train station (the closest station being a 25-minute walk to Kachidoki Station on the Oedo Line), the developers of the condos were depending on the development of high-speed connections from the Olympic Village Harumi waterfront area to Shimbashi train station in about 10 minutes, but that possibility appears to be in jeopardy with uncertainty over the development of the tunnel.

Uncertainty doesn’t sell.

Developers are hoping to start selling the condo units before the games, aiming to sell more than 4,000 of 5,600 units. But the uncertainty over whether the BRT will be fully operational by the autumn of 2022, when new owners are scheduled to take possession, is causing worries about how this will work out.

Toyosu has opened, and the era of early morning jaunts to the fish market, standing meters from the valuable frozen tuna being hawked in auction is over. As this site explains, you will find a more antiseptic version of the Tsukiji experience.

Expect the experience at Toyosu to be different from the lively, messy but also charming and authentic Tsukiji. It seems like a very organized and sterile atmosphere—and only certain clearly-marked areas will be accessible to visitors. The times of tourists touching the price tags of tuna are over—your experience is all behind glass windows now.

Tsukiji May 1989
The author at Tsukiji one early May morning in 1989, with an ugly moustache.