Experience the sights and sounds of Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, the largest wholesale fish market in the world, through the eyes of a visitor. Discover the fascinating auction process for 800-pound tuna and follow fishmongers to a local sushi spot for the freshest morning meal, showcasing the best of Japanese cuisine.
"Follow the boots," Lloyd advised me. We had just emerged from Tokyo's Tsukiji, the world's largest wholesale fish market. It was seven in the morning. We arrived a few hours earlier to watch 800-pound tuna -- flash frozen to the suppleness of cured cement, shorn of fins, shaped like a torpedo -- being auctioned. Lloyd grew up fishing in Hawaii -- the man loves fish. Visiting the market with him (my second time) was a treat. Lloyd took me to his favorite auctioneer, a chubby man in his thirties with thick glasses, fat cheeks and a grungy baseball cap. He reminded me of the kid at school you didn't pick in gym class. But this guy could sing -- and he sang the auction in a rapid, hypnotic clip like a voodoo chant. His hands pumped up and down as he crooned. Fishmongers stood besides the tuna and listened. The big fish were lined neatly on the ground with country of origin -- Ireland, Somalia, Brazil -- painted in red on their frozen bodies. The fishmongers signaled their bids by making a hand sign like they were unscrewing the top of a jar.
The boots Lloyd was referring to were the fishmongers' black rubber waders. We were following them to breakfast. Here at Tsukiji breakfast meant sushi. By the time they finished working overnight, the fishmongers were ready for a hearty meal. Sushi -- far less common in Japan than you'd think -- was a natural here, home of the world's best fish. This suited Lloyd fine. "I eat sushi in the morning, when the fish is freshest," he told me. "Why wait 12 hours until dinner?" We passed the tourist sushi joints with long lines and followed the boots to Ryuzushi, a half-century old shop, a narrow room with a long counter. We picked up sushi by hand and swiped them lightly in soy sauce: Delicate tuna belly, full-flavored, oily mackerel, sweet squid served with a dab of freshly-ground wasabi root to give it bite. I began to understand Lloyd's point.