Photographs by Bahag de Guzman
Words by Erin Emocling
“Now Tsukiji, Now You Don’t” is an accidental photo-series that explores a closed-for-the-day Tsukiji Fish Market: a visually saturnine preview of its scheduled relocation in preparation for the Olympics in Tokyo on 2020.
You’re standing in the middle of this alleyway, living in the present, and you enter the vast and moving world of Tsukiji—a world-famous fish market in the heart of Tokyo that pumps its own blood every waking dawn, an almost 80-year old marketplace that gave sashimi and sushi their tasteful, incomparable meaning to the rest of the world, and, sadly, an old place that is bound to be deconstructed within a number of months from now.
You’re in a time travel machine, you peek into the near future, and you enter the vast and deadened world of Tsukiji. You imagine an ocean without creatures, a land denuded of trees, and a planet devoid of oxygen. You imagine these tragic scenes and you feel your heart crumble with melancholy, fear, and abandonment.
This is Tsukiji like never before: dark, lifeless, and cold. You step onto its moist pavement and, immediately, you feel like you’re on a set of an apocalyptic film, except what you see—and what you don’t see—is real. You are aware that everything that used to run the place into a breathing mishmash of reality will soon completely vanish. You know that someday, everything in Tsukiji will turn into nothing.
You walk to and fro. You see no one, no movement, but the flicker of unwanted fish scales scattered on the cobblestones and the natural light that illuminates its emptiness all the more. You examine the place more closely.
Too closely. But the only sounds you hear are the mechanical howls of machinery noise and the occasional taunts of thieving crows. The fishmongers’ irrashaimase are nothing but imaginary echoes. Inside the deadened Tsukiji, everything, or nothing, is right in front of you.
The sought-after edible sea creatures will remain uncut and unserved. Wooden crates and plastic foam boxes will remain unstacked, untouched. Rust-laden machines, including filthy but useful wheel-barrows, will be forgotten, unused, decomposed. Its shallow streets will become sadder. All the Japanese characters on the signboards will be ignored and fade away. All the tables and weighing scales will be tossed aside. And all the blood-drenched floors and tools will dry to death. But to those who have Tsukiji as their world, committing these into memories is the only way to immortalize what’s going to be left behind.
Life would not be put to a halt. But some things can never be replaced. They just dwell as reminiscences. Tsukiji was once a place that breathed life. And so tomorrow, when you look back, you’ll always say that: Tsukiji will never be the same again.
Bahag de Guzman is both a filmmaker and a photographer based in Tokyo and Hokuriku. His most recent works include Alienistics Fashion, Mainichi Japan, and Animalistics, to name a few. He is currently working on various documentaries and event coverage around Japan. Check out his site.
Erin Emocling is a published writer, a film photographer, and the editor-in-chief of an international webzine, Parallel Planets. Her past projects include Whilst We Wait and Paranoirexia. Originally from Manila, she now lives in western Tokyo. Now Tsukiji, Now You Don’t originally appeared here.