by Theodore C. Bestor
This is an anthropologist's study of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji Market. He examines the history of the place, the organization of its buyers and sellers, its relationship to the wider community and its particular place in Japanese life and in how the the Japanese people understand themselves. It is a comprehensive treatise that has its longeurs, but continues to fascinate throughout.*
The market is a curious place, partly self-governing through the traditions of the buyers and sellers, but also controlled tightly by the Tokyo municipal government. It is the largest wholesale market in the world for fish and other seafood. The perishable nature of the products makes its efficient operation crucial to a nation that relies on fresh seafood daily.The daily auctions are a highlight for tourists may be seen in several videos on YouTube, such as this one which gives a sense of the place and its energy.
Prof. Bestor has spent years studying the entire market and knows it better than most of its participants. From the past (the original Nihonbashi, or "fish quay," market in Edo was destroyed in the 1923 earthquake) to the future (planners have hoped to move the market for years to a nearby site, but have been frustrated by various problems, including pollution problems at new site), we come to know the place very well indeed.
This is an engrossing look at the place of commerce in the life of a modern nation and how the buyers and sellers have constructed a place that serves the needs of both groups, while maintaining high standards. Even the fairness in the use of space has been accounted for by means of reallocations that take place from time to time using a lottery system.
The detail in this fine work is breathtaking. It is a brilliant tribute to the market and its denizens.
*It is a well-known book and received an homage from a later author, Gordon Mathews, in the title of his book, Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, described in an earlier post on this site (see link here).