The first time I went to Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market, it was the year 2000. I woke up at 5 am and took the subway. It was still dark out, and I remember thinking you'd have to be insane to get up this early to go look at a bunch of dead fish. But everybody told me, "You have to see it, you have to go." So, I did.
When I got to Tsukiji-Shijo station, the sun was just peeking over the horizon and the sky was a dusky blue-gray. At the entrance of the market, a bunch of decapitated tuna heads — about six or seven the size of giant beach balls — lay in a forgotten stack on the ground. Inside, the sights were even more macabre: shallow trays of eels in crimson pools of blood, boxes lined with translucent squid, the spikey snouts of swordfish sticking out from metal bins. As I turned to snap a photo of some clams, a forklift piled high with giant fins nearly ran me down. The air smelled exactly like you'd expect: cold and sharp and thick with brine.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is scheduled to close next year in order to make space for Tokyo's upcoming Olympics. It will be rebuilt in a sparkling new location, of course, but if you want to see it in all its original madness and glory, you better go soon. After you look at all the fish, you are supposed to eat sushi for breakfast at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi nearby. It is the freshest sushi in the world and a Tsukiji Fish Market tradition.
But back in 2000, I was still a vegetarian so I didn't go for sushi afterwards. Instead, I took the subway home, water and blood from the ocean all over my shoes.