At 4:30 am on a Tuesday morning, Tadashi and I stepped into a cavernous hall almost three football fields long, filled with hundreds of busy people and stacks of styrofoam boxes, thousands of them, coddling a pristine fish. We were paying a visit to the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. We walked past boxes filled with cod, trigger fish, hairtail, yellow tail, mackerel, sea trout, shark, halibut, pomfrey and turbot, each delicately packed in ice, some wrapped in protective tissue. We saw rows and rows of wild-caught salmon, including the rare Keiji variety. We checked out boxes of live clams, some the size of a quarter, the others the size of my fist. We watched roving groups of buyers bidding for fish, floating from row to row, the auctioneer bellowing in a rhythmic chant, his assistant calling the play-by-play with a bullhorn. Highest price won, offers scribbled on a plastic board, tying bids resolved, school-yard style, though a quick contest of rock-paper-scissors.
What impressed me about this amazing scene was how absolutely ordinary it was. Just another regular day at the market. Eight five percent of this seafood, according to our host, was caught locally in Hokkaido waters, over 150 varieties of fish and shellfish. All of it destined just for the 1.8 million residents of Sapporo (a separate market handles fish sold farther a field). Tadashi and I visited the wholesale fish markets in Tokyo and Fukuoka, too, during our Japan trip. The abundance we witnessed drove home how incredibly blessed this island country is with such rich fisheries and awesome diversity of sea life. The immense care we saw in gingerly handling, storing and transporting the catch spoke to a profound respect for this good fortune.
Check out some photos from Sapporo and Fukuoka of fish and fish auctions: