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Friday, October 23, 2009

Tsukiji: The Fish Market At The Center Of The World

TsukijiTsukiji: The Fish Market At The Center Of The World

by Theodore C. Bestor

ISBN: 0-5202-2024-2
456 pp

Long a popular destination for foreign visitors to Tokyo, Tsukiji, the world's biggest fish market with some 450 different types of fish and a daily turnover of more than 2,000 tons of fishy products, is nevertheless facing a crisis in Japan's changing business and food culture. Though it is only a short hop from Ginza, its appeal to foreigners has left some locals bemused. A recent article in the Nikkei Shimbun marvelled at the number of tours for foreigners to this most Japanese of institutions.Luckily for us, the unique nature of this great market has been captured by Bestor, an anthropologist, in this fascinating book.

Though it is an ethnographical study of Tsukiji as a trade and economic institution, at no point does the prose lose the layman. Bestor approaches his subject from a dazzling array of angles, with the focus shifting from the lives and routines of market families, to its colourful history, to more serious discussions on its significance in Japan's economic and cultural history as well as the influence it exerts on the world fishing industry.

What Bestor manages to do is to walk his reader through this complex world and bring it all gloriously to life. He starts out with his own boozy induction to the joys of sushi and first visit to the market. This helps the reader remain anchored when the greater cultural, historical, economic, culinary and social implications of the market come to be discussed. The stall banter, wheeling and dealing, market slang and nuggets of fish lore interspersed throughout help make this much more than just an academic treatise.
The arrival of kaiten-zushi, the kombini and family restaurants, and what all that actually implies for us who live here, is also discussed.

Getting to understand Tsukiji helps to put so many more pieces of the Japanese jigsaw in place and sheds light on both past and present. No matter how familiar you may be either with Japan or her greatest market, this study, the result of a decade of research and observation, will prove rewarding. There is even a welcome guide to getting the most out of a visit to Tsukiji, which anyone will surely want to see after reading this. Indeed, most Tokyoites would learn a thing or two.

Aidan O'Connor

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