On a cold early December morning, I visited the famed Tsukiji Fish Market. Now, to some people this may not seem like a big deal. But, I have been wanting to visit this enormous wholesale market since I fist traveled to Japan nearly three years ago. However, due to the market’s peak hours of activity ranging from 5:00 AM until 7:00 AM, it proved too difficult to visit, as there are no trains before five. Fortunately, during a trip to visit friends in Yokohama, I finally made it to Tsukiji. And it was everything I thought it would be and more. Between strolling through the busy market, eating breakfast at Daiwazushi, and buying a knife at Masamoto Knives, I can easily say that the Tsukiji Fish Market was my favorite place that I have visited in Japan.
Inside the Market
Upon arrival, my friends and I were offered a ride through the private back entrance by a delivery man on his three wheeled delivery car. We zipped through the loading docks and whizzed past countless other three wheelers en route to the market stalls. Needless to say, we were the only foreigners hanging on for our lives on the bed of a delivery car.
Much unlike the general consensus between the fishmongers who hate all the tourists getting in the way of their work, our driver loved showing us the insides of Tsukiji. The ride alone was worth waking up at 4:15 AM.
It’s important to remember that this is a live market, with over eight billion dollars worth of delicious seafood passing through here each year. Thus, it is important for visitors to always be on their best behavior. So, it was a bit challenging to snap pictures while always moving out of the way of the endless stream of three wheelers and the over 65,000 registered employees. I even got yelled at for looking at big Tuna. And I was later told not to take pictures of a vendor’s array of fatty otoro pieces, the most expensive cut of tuna. I can understand, as I was the one impeding on their work space and getting in the way of the work flow.
I spent an hour walking through a mazes of vendors selling exotic seafood that I’ve never seen before. I even peered inside the private tuna auction house. Unfortunately, the tuna auction is closed to the public during the busy season of mid December until mid January.
The Sushi Decision…
After the market, we ate breakfast at Daiwazushi before a quick trip to Masamoto Knives. The number of sushi options at Tsukiji can be overwhelming. From what I’ve heard, Daiwazushi and it’s neighbor, Sushidai are the two best options. The difference in quality between the two is said to be negligible. However, I can’t comment, since I’ve never tasted Sushidai. The main component separating these two sushi bars is the time spent waiting in line. Trip Advisor reports people waited three hours in line at Sushidai. I’m guessing that time estimate is for all the late raisers; this doesn’t apply to me. I arrived at Daiwazushi around 6:15 AM on a Friday and only waited about thirty minutes. There was however a line a littler bit longer next door at Sushidai. Bottom line, get there early and don’t fret about choosing “the best” sushi place. Either, Daiwazushi or, Sushidai are admirable choices.
Upon parting the doorway curtain, known as a noren, guests are greeted to the sight of three sushi chefs preparing delicacies for the twelve or so guests sitting at the counter. There is a wall divider splitting the restaurant with another sushi bar on the opposite side that sits an addition twelve people. Make no mistake, this place is tiny, so it’s important not to waste your valuable real estate chit-chatting away. You’re here to eat.
Once seated, you are immediately given a steaming hot bowl of miso soup. As with every sushi place, you scoop green tea powder into your cup and get hot water from the spigot built into the table every three seats.
After quickly perusing the menu, I ordered three tuna (maguro) at 300 yen each, one toro at 800 yen, and one yellow tail (hamachi) at 400 yen. There is also a choice to order the 3500 yen set ($35), which consists of seven nigiri pieces, and six rolled pieces.
How did it taste, you ask? Heavenly. Yes, I dare say it was divinely authorized. Especially the toro; it melted in my mouth. It was hands down the most delicious sushi I’ve ever had. It’s hard to get fresher stuff, as the chef told us the fish is brought in each morning from the market one block away. Towards the end of the meal, I got a little sad because I knew that every piece of sushi I eat after this will never compare.
Through five generations of knife making excellence, Masamoto Knives are world renowned and widely considered the best sushi knives you can get. We’re talking about over 150 years of family operated hand made knives. The store’s walls are lined with knives behind display cases. They have every style you could possibly want. Whether you want a huge 60 inch sword (maguro bōchō) used to filet tunas, or just a 4 inch utility knife for cutting vegetables, you can find it here. In addition to pre engraved company name 正本, Masamoto will even inscribe your name on the knife for no extra cost. In my opinion, this would be the coolest Japanese gift to bring home. However, they cannot do name inscriptions on stainless steel knives, which is the type of metal I bought. Oh well. I have a feeling I will be back again.
I ended up choosing a 180mm stainless steel sentoku knife. It was a tough choice as the gyuto style is also very versatile. As with most Japanese knives, there is no bolster. This makes the knife lighter and the heel of the blade sharper. I opted not to buy virgin steel (HC) because of the extra cleaning involved and the inevitable lose of shininess, known as patina. From what I’ve read, stainless steel won’t rust, and is harder, but won’t retain as much of an edge compared to carbon. As I write this, I am doubting my choice of stainless steel. If any any cooking knife gurus read this, please leave a recommendation in the comment box below. Thanks!
Before I write anymore, I want to warn you that my knowledge of knives is very limited. With that said, it took a little getting used to the knife as I have never had the luxury of handling such fine craftsmanship. The tip of the knife has a long reach, so I have to be careful not to hit anything near my cutting board in my cramped kitchen space. The knife itself is balanced beautifully and it goes without saying that the blade is extremely sharp. I can thank Masamoto for sharpening it for me in person. Overall, it is a pleasure to use, as I have even cut up some tuna while making sushi with it.
If you’re like me than you might think that dropping around $100+ for a knife is crazy. To tell you the truth, I was a little reluctant to shell out all that yen, but I had to remind myself that a great knife is worth the investment. Plus it makes cooking fun. But the most convincing point to buying a knife handmade in Japan is knowing that it’s made in the same country that produced samurai swords. So you know that it was produced with the finest craftsmanship on the planet. Even big name brands from Japan like, Shun don’t compare to the smaller locally made knives out here.
Currently, there are no Masamoto Knives on ebay. And the style that I bought is selling for twice as much on this website, but it’s sold out. I guess you just have to come to Tsukiji!
Below is a map of Daiwazushi and Masamoto Knives. Where Daiwazushi will be easy to find because of the long line, Masamoto might be a little more confusing. Luckily they are within a one minute walk of one another. Just look for the blue sign sticking out with two white sharp-angled kanji characters on it.
1. At Tsukijishijo station exit 1A, turn left.
2. Make a second left at the entrance of the fish market. It looks like a dark tunnel.
3. About halfway through the “tunnel” turn left again where there will be shops.
4. On this street you will see the blue sign.
*Daiwazushi is labeled with the blue fish and Masamoto is labeled with a red pin.