Fish market draws record numbers of tourists
Originally published on the Media School at IU website.
By Amanda Etchison
Amid the frenetic fishmongers bustling to and fro through wet alleyways overflowing with discarded bits of seafood in Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, an interesting sight stood out from the vibrant scene of activity: groups of wide-eyed, camera-toting tourists crowded around the perimeter of the market.
Although hailing from a diverse range of countries, the foreigners were generally easy to recognize in the crowd. Their jeans and t-shirts stood out in stark contrast to the bloodstained aprons of the Tsukiji Market employees, while GoPros and shopping bags served as further visual identification.
As a member of one of the many touring groups meandering through the market, I witnessed mixed reactions to our presence. It ranged from quizzical glances and curious questions to angry shoves and impatient requests to move out of the way.
Our visit to Tsukiji was our first official stop as tourists in Tokyo, and provided valuable insight into how this city is experienced.
The market is a popular destination for both locals and foreigners, and one of many that caters to the millions of tourists who flock to the island nation every month.
According to a May 18 article in The Japan Times, April 2016 saw 2.08 million foreign visitors come into the country, a single-month record.
Throughout the many districts in Tokyo we visited on our first full day in Japan’s capital city, it became obvious that tourism is generally accepted, and, in some cases, even embraced.
From the sparkling interior of the Tokyo Tower to the picturesque grounds of the Imperial Palace, every storefront and street was photo-ready. Most signs, thankfully, were printed in both Japanese and English, and familiar brand names straight from the malls at home illuminated the halls of the Skytree shopping complex in Sumida.
Although there is some comfort in being able to emerge from any given subway station and be immediately confronted with the green and white lettering of a Starbucks, it does make one wonder where the culture of universal marketing and tourist-friendly Japan ends and the authentic Tokyo begins.
Like any large metropolitan hub, Tokyo is a city of myriad stories. And it is through shared, genuine moments between locals and tourists — a conversation with a fish market employee or a friendly smile exchanged between fellow subway passengers that transcends language barriers — that one experiences the true culture that resides and thrives in a location.
The most memorable experiences from this trip so far have been those we’ve encountered while wandering through the streets, taking in the local life that exists away from the perfectly manicured gardens of giant tourist attractions.
One needs only to be open to striking up a conversation on the subway or simply observing the small moments that are glimpsed throughout the day to get a sense of the human story that lies beneath the shiny newness of Tokyo’s streets.
While, at times, being a tourist in city like Tokyo can be equal parts overwhelming, fascinating or scary, it is not that different from other cities around the globe. When you take the time to step back and pay attention to the stories unfolding around you, you’ll find that the heart and soul of Tokyo is actually not that foreign at all.