Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market has been my favorite spot for many years. The subtle differences between fish mongers is what adds vibrancy to the colorful characters that make up this market. Most of them have been working here for generations. Located just a two minute walk from Tsukiji train station, it’s a great place to spend the morning taking photos, followed by a very fresh sushi lunch. This has been my routine for the last eight years. The variety of closed and open spaces — from the auction houses to the narrow lane-ways — depict an ambience unlike any other fish market in the world. The bad smell of fish is not really apparent, which confirms the freshness of the product.
Creatively, the market has tons of opportunities to shoot a variety of genres like food, interiors, street portraits, or a combination of all three. The style of shooting is fast and furious, with not a lot of time to think twice about your content. Food is best shot in natural light, but unfortunately the overhead tungsten lights often leave highlighted spots on the fish, so you need to pick your subjects and ambient lighting carefully. Flash photography isn’t tolerated by any of the vendors. Also you can’t touch the product as some types of fish command a hefty price tag. I’ve been coming back for years so I’ve tried to find all of those of which I have taken a photo to give them a copy. It really helps to build the relationships if you can show your gratitude in some way. Goes without saying that tripods are not allowed either.
After multiple visits, my good friend Maguro Ken and I decided to write and photograph a small paperback book to sell at the fish market bookstore. Ken has been a tuna fish broker here for over 20 years. His local knowledge helped to put this labor of love together. Now that the market is scheduled to move to a new location in the near future, it would be a great idea to visit the market before history disappears.
Just a heads up that if you are expecting to have a fun time shooting you will be shocked to know that tourists are not really welcome. The market's main source of income in the inner part is to auction, wholesale, and deliver fish to their customers as quickly as possible. At the moment the only way to see an auction is to line up for a tour very early. First come, first served as numbers are limited. The auctions usually start around 5 a.m. and finish very quickly. If you don't want to wake very early for a tour then I would suggest you arrive just before 9 a.m. when locals are less stressed and about to finish work. Most locals at the market only know two words in English: "Get out."
Despite the rudeness, this place is as rough as fish guts and worth a visit. After a walk through the inner section of the market I would recommend a morning brunch at a sushi bar in the outer section. The outer section caters more for tourist so here you will feel more welcome.