The Tsukiji fish market is iconoc. The tuna auctions were world famous, and this used to be the source of fresh fish for all the sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
Used to be, because already 25 years ago there were delivery trucks going from the fishing ports around Tokyo directly to the most discerning sushi restaurants - with a tank of water on the back that was full of live fish. The sashimi does not get mich fresher than that.
The closed inner market
Tsukiji in the past, like the new fish market in Toyosu, was the center of the supply of one particular type of fish: The tuna. The tuna auctions - which now take place in Toyosu - are not only world famous, they are also the center of whole tunafish distribution in the world.
But the marketplace in Toyosu is very different from the Tsukiji market, even if the auctions themselves have not changed. The outer market, which is still open in Tsukiji, is like a restaurant floor of a department in Toyosu. In Tsukiji, the market is more and more like a traditional Japanese shopping street.
For sure, there are still restaurants in the outer market. Some are fun, some are worth it, and it is a good way to try other fish cuisines than sushi. Japan has lots of different ways of preparing fish. Sushi is only one.
Fried fish for toddlers
Your kids may not be old enough to eat sushi, but in that case they will love the minced, breaded, and deep-fried croquettes. The fish is not uncooked and the croquettes can be very hot when they come out of the fryer, but once they have cooled down a little they are a great snack.
The offering at Tsukiji has changed drastically since the inner market closed, however. Tsukiji was always a food market, not just a fish market. It moved to the present location from Nihonbashi, what is now the finance quarter, already in 1935. Different other types of food were gradually moved to speciality markets - meat in Shinagawa; flowers, fruit and vegetables in Nakano. But as Tokyo grew, even as the need for central markets declined, the fish market continued to grow.
Navigating Tsukiji with toddlers
The inner market is closed and the streets surrounding the old marketplace are increasingly less crowded. But they are no wider than traditional Japanese streets, and while they are well paved, there is a curb everywhere.
If it were not for all the tourists, this could be an average shopping street around any Tokyo mid-sized station. It is already more like Ameyoko in Ueno or Jizou-dori in Sugamo than a speciality fish market.
Tourists replacing customers
The tourists are increasingly replacing the traditional customers, and owners of the small sushi shops that still dot the neighborhoods of Tokyo do not come here any more. They used to keep quality up, but with those customers gone, many of the shops selling fish and shellfish have closed, and those that remain are more interested in goods that make for a spectacular display than a sublime taste experience.
While some of the old stores remain, many of them have been replaced by stores selling bean confectionery or senbei, the Japanese rice crackers. Nothing wrong in that - our kids love them - but it is hard to think of a food less associated with fish.
From fish market to press center
The closing of Tsukiji has been mooted many times. The area is much more crowded now than in 1935 and it is already hard to imagine what a traffic chaos it was on the surrounding streets. The area is also attractive to property developers, bordering on Ginza. It is hard to imagine that there will not be a group of shining new "manshions" as Japanese call their condominium buildings.
But first it will see a different role during the Tokyo Olympic Games - as a press center.
If the press moves in, it is hard to imagine journalists not writing extensive diatribes about the pleasures of the old fish market, since they hardly have to go out the door to do it. But they will be missing the point completely.
The market is already more for tourists than for locals, and it is relatively easy to navigate with a stroller - as long as you stay in the outer market, and do not try to go in to the coveted markets that still exist. But there are two big problems: There is nowhere to change your babies, and there is nowhere for them to rest their legs (apart from the restaurants that are still open).
Still easily accessible
Bordering on Ginza means you are very central in Tokyo, and it is easy to get to Tsukiji. A fine day it is a nice walk.
The new market in Toyosu, on the other hand, borders on Odaiba which is even more fun for toddlers than Ginza (the parks in Odaiba are much better). But it is harder to get to and even if the Yurikamome driverless train is very exciting, and there are decent public toilets (with changing rooms) in the shining new market, it is modern on the verge of sterile.
Toyosu is better for lunch than Tsukiji, but it has much less soul. Even if Tsukiji is turning into a tourist trap it is still an experience. But if you want to see what Japanese markets used to be like, go to Sugamo.
This was both a post about what to eat in Tokyo and sights to see (or not to see). I have written about the food in family restaurants and the alternatives, the ten foods your kids will ask for more about in Tokyo, the top ten things to do with toddlers in Tokyo (neither Tsukiji or Toyosu are among them), and plenty more tips for parents taking their toddlers to Tokyo.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.