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Tsukiji Outer Market trying to survive

Akio Suzuki, president of Torito, a chicken meat shop, working at Tsukiji Outer Market on Monday in Chuo Ward, Tokyo

Publication Date : 11-06-2014


The market has 80 years of history


With the relocation of the Tsukiji wholesale market in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, looming several years hence, the adjacent Tsukiji Outer Market, home to many sushi restaurants and food shops, is making strenuous efforts to ensure its survival.

The Tsukiji market has about 80 years of history as a publicly run wholesale market that moved from Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district to its current location in the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. The Tsukiji market, known as “jonai shijo”, or the inner market, has become a world-class fish market. Whereas in “jogai shijo”, or the Tsukiji Outer Market, a variety of shops ranging from those selling food items to cooking tools are open to the public. The two markets have been prosperous throughout the years, together as one.

How will the outer market foster its own unique brand after the Tsukiji market relocates to the Toyosu district of Koto Ward?

“We’ve been developing our business thanks to demand from those gathering around the [Tsukiji] market,” said Akio Suzuki, 66, the third-generation president of Torito, a chicken meat shop that has been doing business in the outer market for about 80 years. “This [the outer market] has something that jonai shijo doesn’t have and the two markets have been maintaining a relationship of coexistence and coprosperity.”

Founded in 1907, Torito moved from Tokyo’s Asakusa district when the Tsukiji market opened in 1935. Since then, the shop has expanded its business with customers, including restaurants that specialise in chicken in the Ginza district. Its bento box featuring teriyaki chicken and stewed chicken coccyx meat is popular among actors at the Kabukiza theater near the outer market.

In anticipation of the Tsukiji market’s prosperity, many kinds of shops began gathering at the outer market. They included butcher shops, delicatessens such as those specialised in tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet), shops selling cooking implements such as kitchen knives, and restaurants catering to people working in the Tsukiji market, as well as wholesale buyers visiting the market.

There are currently about 400 shops in a roughly 50,000-square-metre area. The outer market is crowded with an average of more than 20,000 visitors a day, including many tourists and company employees working in the neighbourhood.

However, the Tsukiji market, which has been attracting customers for the outer market, is planned to be relocated to the Toyosu district of Koto Ward about 2.3 kilometres away. “I was really anxious as the outer market will be left behind here,” Suzuki said.

Preserving the Tsukiji brand

Increasingly concerned about its survival, five organisations in the outer market formed a nonprofit organisation council to build a Tsukiji food town in 2006.

Though they rarely worked together, shop owners gathered to discuss ways of ensuring the outer market’s survival after finishing their early-hour work. Discussions continued from afternoon well into the night, with members rubbing their drowsy eyes.

Few know the difference between “jonai shijo” and “jogai shijo”. Proving this point, a 28-year-old female company employee from Yokohama remarked, “I thought the entire market complex was going to relocate to Toyosu.”

Council members surveyed their customers and found that the outer market’s location is a key exploitable advantage, as it is located only one kilometre from the Ginza district and two kilometres from Nihonbashi. One of the respondents said, “Tsukiji is really convenient as it is located close to our restaurant and we can buy everything there—from food items to chopsticks—at the same time.”

The council members then decided to protect the Tsukiji brand by offering the kind of high-quality products sought by professional chefs and accepting small-lot orders.

Tsukiji food town studio

As part of a promotion campaign, a new facility called “Tsukiji food town studio” was opened in November last year in the outer market. At the facility equipped with an open kitchen, the general public and visiting chefs can taste and smell, for example, seaweed sold at the outer market. There is even a workshop run by a tamagoyaki shop chef who teaches how to cook a Japanese omelet like the pros.

In October, a new section tentatively called “a market of fishing ports nationwide” will be opened in the outer market, set to feature shops selling fresh fish straight from Hokkaido, Shizuoka, Nagasaki and other parts of the country.

The Chuo Ward Office will also support the outer market, expected to spend about 3 billion yen (US$29.30 million) to build a new facility tentatively named “Tsukiji new market”. About 90 fish, and fruit and vegetable shops will gather to serve as intermediate wholesalers for small-lot customers.

“The outer market has a good selection of items that impresses professional chefs as well as a wealth of knowledge,” said Hotaka Katahira, 66, a representative of Marunouchi Brand Forum, a market research group that has been supporting the outer market. “I hope the outer market will further enhance its attractiveness and lead Japan’s food culture.”


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