Tsukiji's sushi paradise
Located just a short walk away from the glamorous Ginza shopping district, the Tsukiji area is a dreamland for seafood fans.
With its ideal placement just up the Sumida River from Tokyo Bay, Tsukiji has been home to Tokyo's largest fish market since 1923. Boats bring in an average of 2,167 tons of seafood here every day to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The Tsukiji Market can be found in any guidebook on the city, and its morning fish auction is a popular tourist destination for those eager to see a full bluefin tuna carcass sold for over $10,000. But the Tsukiji area is just as well known to locals as the epicenter of the sushi culture in Tokyo. After all, modern sushi was originally known as Edo-mae-zushi, literally referring to its use of fish caught in the Tokyo Bay.
Trolling for rolls near the market
While excellent sushi can certainly be had inside of the fish market proper, most of the eateries close around noon, and there is always a mad rush of patrons competing for limited seating. So we recommend eating at either one of the sushi restaurants in the jogai-shijo (external market) or at one of the fine establishments in the surrounding neighborhoods of the Tsukiji district itself.
Eating at the external market, located just a block away from where the auctions are held, provides a slightly less hectic atmosphere. Many of the sushi joints here are open 24 hours, and the marketplace, with its countless little stores selling every type of culinary ingredient imaginable, can be a fun side attraction.
Recommendations here include Sushi Sen (Akimoto building 1F, 6-23-12 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, tel. 03 3549 1136) which serves naturally-caught tuna at great prices, and Sushi Ichiban (4-13-15 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, tel. 03 3524 7188), which offers a superb traditional omakase course meal for two at under ¥4000.
Going beyond the market
The alternative is to scope out the surrounding neighborhoods of Tsukiji, where satellite establishments of those in the market provide a more refined dining experience in a relaxed, modern milieu. This is a great chance share the air with salarymen getting off of work from surrounding offices and posh shoppers coming down off of a Ginza high.
A favorite in this area is Tama Sushi (1-9-4 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, tel. 03 3541 1917), which lately has been offering a 'recession special' featuring tuna and other delicacies at serious discounts. Sushi Iwa (2-15-12 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, tel. 03 3541 0655) located just across the street from the external market, would never be called inexpensive -- but don't let that be a deterrent to stopping in and enjoying even just a few pieces of what many call the best sushi in town.
Seeing the sites
A leisurely riverside stroll is certainly the perfect way to end an evening of seafood dining in Tokyo's sushi capital. Favorite spots in the area include Tsukiji Honganji, a True Pure Land sect Buddhist temple known throughout the city for its Indian-inspired stone architecture, and the Kachidoki Bridge, a lovely short span (illuminated blue and green at night) that connects Tsukiji with the man-made islands on the other side of the Sumida River.