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Tsukiji Wonderland

A fish market is hardly the most glamorous tourist attraction, or location in general. I certainly have not enjoyed any of my experiences in a Singaporean wet market. However, Tokyo's world-famous Tsukiji Market manages to attract hordes of tourists on a daily basis, be it for the freshest sushi and sashimi; prepared almost immediately after being purchased by chefs in the vicinity, or the tuna auction, which is an attraction in itself. Despite visiting Tokyo twice in the past two years, I could not bring myself to either stay up late enough or wake up way before sunrise to visit the market. Fortunately enough, I managed to chance upon Tsukiji Wonderland as it aired on TV several days back and considering how I'm a sucker for anything Japanese, I sat through the entire film. The documentary aims to capture what makes the market so famous and unique, enough so to be called a 'wonderland'.

Tsukiji Market's history discussed at various points throughout the movie, rather than having an entire twenty to fourty minute segment dedicated to it. It's a smart move by the producers as the audience is kept engaged and the various aspects of the market's history are interwoven into the different areas of focus that the documentary captures. Archived footage from the market's early days was shown alongside the construction of the upcoming Toyosu Fish Market, so it puts into perspective how far Tsukiji has come. And for those of you who're planning to visit 'the world's biggest fish market', you might want to do it within the next few months before it makes the move to Toyosu later this Fall.

The documentary moves from interview to interview, be it with a sushi chef who owns a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo or the market's director himself. Every person interviewed relies on the market to make a living and the different points of view makes the film even more interesting. It isn't just spent entirely showcasing the flashy tuna auctions or following chefs shopping for the best catch of the day, but highlights how wholesalers, intermediate wholesalers and even schools are connected to Tsukiji. The market looks chaotic from the outside but it's definitely a well-oiled machine and I wonder how this will translate to the new Toyosu facility. Heck, there is even a team who makes giant blocks of ice for the wholesalers.

Camaraderie is also a key theme in this documentary. The tenants interviewed have been working in the market for years, some since they were children in fact. They were more like close friends and family members rather than business rivals and the documentary was quick to point this out early on, especially via how certain tenants might specialise in tuna and others in prawns, for example. There was no single stall that lorded over the rest, although friendly competition existed come auction time. The sushi chefs interviewed repeatedly praised the market's tenants, highlighting their honesty and work ethic. And those interviewed were no run-of-the-mill chefs either, mind you. Do Jiro Ono and Takashi Saito ring a bell?

Tsukiji Wonderland was an eye-opener in more ways than one and although I didn't visit the market during my time in Tokyo, I might just sacrifice some of my sleep to take a tour of the new Toyosu market when I'm in Japan next Winter. Although the narration included at several points throughout the documentary seemed like an afterthought, it detracted little from the overall experience and I've learned so much more about Tsukiji Market. Maybe I'll even set my alarm a little early this weekend just to take a walk through my own neighbourhood wet market...or not.

Written by ET

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