Ask a Japanese of which part of their culture they are most proud and nine times out of then they will tell you that it is their food, and by food they are most likely talking fish. Japan consumes six per cent of the world’s fish harvest and imports more seafood than any other nation, and you can see it exquisitely served up in restaurants up and down the country. The beauty of Japanese fish is its freshness, but if you want really fresh fish, it’s best to get it from the source. And no, we aren’t recommending requisitioning a trawler, but instead heading to a fish market right in the heart of Nagoya.
Lying just 5 minutes walk from Meieki, Yanagibashi Chuo Ichiba fish market, has been peddling its wares to businesses of all sorts around the Tokai region since 1910, though it has been claimed that some stalls date further back into the Edo era.
Behind only Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market in size, there are over 400 shops and stalls selling all sorts of seafood products. And when we say ‘all sorts’, if you know anything about Japanese cuisine, you’ll know we mean all sorts. The variety on offer is so extensive that you can get pretty much anything fishy your heart desires. Brought in from the fishing areas of Chita Peninsula, Mikawa Bay, and Ise Bay, from tuna to octopus, to urchins and even top grade whale meat; if you find it in the sea, you’re likely to find it here.
The primary purpose of Yanagibashi fish market is to supply goods to hotels and restaurants of the area. However you shouldn’t let the fact that your surname is neither Hilton nor Marriot put you off for, as well as operating as a wholesalers, it also caters to individuals, predominantly housewives looking for the freshest of cuts to put in their hubby’s bento box.
One concern about shopping amongst this vast array of weird and wonderful seafood, is knowing one thing from another. Could you tell your squid from your octopus? Can you tell your crayfish from your giant prawn? Well, if you happen to not be particularly versed in the inhabitants of the world under the sea fear not. Every Friday and Saturday there is a tour that you can take around the market that will show you exactly what’s what. The guide of the tour is Mr Ando, the president of the market’s Marunaka Shokuhin Center and local celebrity, and lasts for two hours. On the tour you will see the ins and outs of the market, how the fish is prepared, displayed and sold, receive advice on how to keep foods in good condition and see the professional ways of cooking.
The tour costs 1000 JPY and is unfortunately only held in Japanese, but even if you do not speak the language, it is still an interesting way to spend a morning and you will see all sorts of inside aspects that you might not otherwise see on your own.
Yanagibashi Chuo Ichiba fish market is open for business between 4 and 10 am, though it at its most lively between 6 and 8. It is closed Sundays, holidays, and some Wednesdays. The tour starts in the lobby of the Castle Plaza Hotel from 8:20 (Tel: 052-582-2121); and bookings are taken up to 4pm the day before.
Image from - http://www.nic-nagoya.or.jp/en/e/archives/664 - modified