Newly opened Toyosu market still plagued by problems

Published on
October 12, 2018

Problems of all kinds have beset Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market since the 2001 announcement that it would replace the famed Tsukiji market, and Wednesday, 11 October, the day of its opening, was no exception.

In advance of the opening in the early morning hours, traffic jams saw long lines of trucks and unloading at undesignated areas. Later in the day, the arrival of VIPs, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, was marred when one of the turret trucks being used to move fish and equipment into the new facility, caught on fire, though the city’s Fire Department was able to extinguish the blaze and clear the road within 30 minutes.

Koike’s entanglement with Toyosu’s difficulties is nothing new. Koike gained popularity in her campaign for governor and early in her administration by attacking the plans formed under Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Governor Shintaro Ishihara to move the market to a polluted former Tokyo Gas Co. plant site. But amongst shifting political alliances, mounting costs, and the impending push to clear space to build up the city’s infrastructure for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, Koike eventually backed the move, despite the discovery in 2016 of toxic materials, including benzene, at levels thousands of times higher than the environmentally allowable level contaminating the soil underneath the Toyosu site.

The move was in large part opposed by the occupants of the Tsukiji market, and by many of Tokyo’s residents. The Asahi Shimbun, a daily newspaper in Tokyo, found in a survey that 40 percent of Tokyo residents don’t trust the food safety protocols put in place by the builders of the Toyosu market.

Mikio Wachi, who operated a tuna wholesale business in Tsukiji for the past 48 years, hung a poster on the awning above his stall reading, “Tsukiji market relocation: absolutely opposed!”

“It is as if we were to spray chemicals on the fish before selling it,” he told The New York Times.

Wachi’s son, Akihiro, compared the move to opening a fish stall in Chernobyl.

“People won’t buy,” he told the Times.

Traffic – and the lack of it – are both major concerns. While only 1.4 miles away from the Tsukiji site, Toyosu market, located on a man-made island in the city’s Koto Ward, only has only two planned access bridges, one of which will not open until November. That is making it hard for delivery trucks to get through to the market in a timely fashion.

And for tourists, the new market is less appealing than the old, as it is farther from central Tokyo, and it separates tourists from the hubbub and vitality of the sales area – a feature that formed a large part of Tsukiji’s popular appeal. The Toyosu market, located near Shijo-mae Station of the Yurikamome line, isn’t easy to access from center of Tokyo. From Tokyo Station to the Tsukiji market was 2.4 kilometers, a trip that took around 30 minutes on foot or about 20 minutes by bus. The trip from Tokyo Station to the Toyosu market takes 34 minutes by bus and over an hour on foot.

A downtown sushi restaurant operator who appeared on the TV program World Business Satellite commented that the distance and traffic caused delays for him to buy at the market, and if it continued that way it would be a problem.

The visitor experience – a major draw for tour operators and the numerous souvenir shops that sprung up around the Tsukiji market – is also lacking at Toyosu. The market currently lacks souvenir shops, as their designated area is currently a parking area, and the building to house the shops isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2023. And the new market contains a glassed-in observation area around the tuna auction floor, which allows tourists to avoid the chill of the refrigerated area and prevents them from impeding traffic, but separates them from the bustling atmosphere that gave the Tsukiji Market a special charm, according to tour operator Fumito Sasaki.

“We could enjoy exciting and chaotic atmosphere in Tsukiji by walking between wholesalers. It’s the most interesting thing,” Sasaki wrote in his Japan Wonder Travel Blog. “But we seem that we couldn’t feel at Toyosu. It’s clean but not interesting.”

To appease the discontented, Gov. Koike has promised to redevelop the old Tsukiji site within the next five years, including adding a new tuna auction. But political opponents have said that having two markets in close proximity is unrealistic. Meanwhile, vendors at Tsukiji’s outer market, which remains at the original site, expect their business to drop dramatically without the tourist pull of the inner market.

In the meantime, Koike has urged Tokyo’s residents and Toyosu’s tenants to look at the positives of the move. Despite claims that chemical residues from a former gas plant pose a health risk, improvements in sanitation and cold chain at the USD 5.8 billion (EUR 5.3 billion) facility are likely to make the food handled there safer. Various problems had arisen in association with the increased number of tourists at the old facility, including sanitation management problems such as temperature control issues caused by the entry and exit of large numbers of unauthorized persons, and problems with visitors impeding the auction and other trading activities, especially at the early-morning auction held in the tuna wholesale area. 

Those problems were supposedly solved in the new facility, which is 1.7 times the size of Tsukiji and is fully enclosed and air-conditioned. However, on the first day of the tuna auction, the tuna showed signs of thawing during the auction. The room did not achieve its target temperature due to higher-than-expected humidity.

Image courtesy of Japan Wonder Travel Blog

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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