Tsukiji Fish Market is a different place once all the sellers and tourists clear out. In the late afternoon it feels like an abandoned factory, and in a way it is, with only a sweeper here and there pushing shredded Styrofoam into piles and the very last fishmongers cleaning their purchases.
Stepping outside to clear my head I saw this flatbed truck filled with fish guts and heads. A little distance away an old man — one of those old-fashioned dealers you can still see here and there selling from the back of truck — was slicing aji horse mackerel and katsuo bonito into sashimi before his run. He pulled a can of sweet coffee from his truck, handed it to me and started cutting immense chunks of fish and octopus for me to chew on.
“Eat it” he said, “but I don’t have any salt or shoyu.” Then he told me he’d never ridden a train in his life: When he was younger he pedalled a bicycle back and forth from Toride to Tokyo every day– that’s an hour and a half out of the city by train.
“It wasn’t like today,” he said. “We took our jobs seriously and there was no saying ‘no.’ Even if one old woman wanted just one fish from me, I’d get on my bike and ride three hours to get it.”
Most people think of only one thing when they hear the name Tsukiji: fish. Or rather, the fish market, which is said to be biggest in the world. It’s certainly one of the most delicious, and its full of tourists. As it happens, I work very near the fish market, which is why I seldom go there. I’d never really explored the area just beyond it either — the area of Tsukiji across Harumi-dori street, in the direction of St. Luke’s Hospital. I went there recently and was surprised how beautifully, impossibly old-fashioned it is for a neighborhood in the very center of town.
There’s only one gallery there — Tsukiji TASS Gallery Wakamatsuya — and it opened just last month. There are quite a few vintage buildings too, but TASS is unique because it’s old and it’s been renovated. A legacy of the 1920s, the two-storey home-shop is shingled in copper, in a once popular building style called kanban-kenchiku.
“Back then, this sort of structure was considered quite advanced,” the 71-year-old owner Masahiro Sato told me. The structure was built soon after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which set off fires that leveled much of Tokyo. Copper came into vogue afterward as a form of fireproofing. Sato has lived this green-corroded house all his life. His family has been on the spot for about 10 generations though he says, give or take one.