The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is an interesting place. Firstly because it’s the world’s largest wholesale fish market in the world, with hundreds of billions of yen worth of product passing through its gates each day. Secondly, because it’s one of those places where you can see tourism gone bad first-hand.

There are times when tourism is too much. Times when tourists ignore the rules of everyday life and invade a place, disregarding the fact that the people in that place are trying to work or live.

At Tsukiji, tourists swarm in at 5am, making their way through the narrow walkways, gawking at people as they go about their jobs, blocking paths, taking photos of people as they blink, blinded, into the flash. Of course, not all tourists are like this – some are respectful and conscious of where they are. But the signs dotted around the facility – crudely drawn cartoons of angry workers, with speech bubbles saying things like “They use flash without asking” and “They touch expensive fish” – and the fact that the number of tourists allowed into the tuna auction has been capped at 50 (which may even now be zero), is a significant indicator of the disruption that tourism has had on the workers at the market.

When we were in Tokyo we did visit the fish market. It was very interesting, but we left after about half an hour because we felt uncomfortable and in the way. All we could think about is how we would feel if someone came into our workplace and watched us and took photos of us. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it.

I’m not discouraging people from visiting – it really is a worthwhile experience and one of few opportunities to see inside such a fascinating facility. But do keep a few things in mind if you do decide to get up at an ungodly hour to catch the train to the market:

  • Ask people before taking photos – and be careful of using the flash
  • Be conscious of your surroundings; don’t stand in the small pathways and block those trying to do their jobs
  • Don’t touch the fish and product – some of the tuna in particular are worth thousands of dollars
  • Be careful of the small vehicles which whizz around the market – they can creep up very quickly and it can be difficult for the driver to see people on the ground
  • Smile and be friendly to the workers that you pass
  • Don’t treat the workers like they are animals in a zoo

Of course, what you should visit the market for is the food – fresh sashimi and sushi for breakfast, that you know has come directly from the ocean.

Here are a few photos we took from the market.