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Tag: Tsukiji

Now Tsukiji, Now You Don’t

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.

What’s the catch? Fish Culture In An Era Of Resource Decline

The Frozen Tuna Catch at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo The Japanese love fish: catching it, inspecting its quality, auctioning it, and above all, savoring the taste of its smooth, oceany richness. But in recent years, growing global demand for fisheries products has begun to outstrip supply, threatening to silence the sushi bars and auction houses. Some of the species that are closest to the hearts (and stomachs) of the Japanese are facing such intense harvest pressure that they are on the brink of collapse.

What’s the catch? Fish Culture In An Era Of Resource Decline

Japan was the first country to take fishing and fish consumption global. After WWII, as part of economic reconstruction and efforts to bolster domestic food security, the Japanese government encouraged fishing operations to grow and explore worldwide fishing opportunities. The result was the development of the world’s first distant water fishing fleet. Since then, the Japanese and global markets for fish products have exploded. The only problem is that some of the fish – especially the most delicious and valuable – haven’t been able to keep up. The health of tuna stocks, especially from the Mediterranean, has become a subject of serious concern. There are efforts to manage the stocks and control fishing through cooperative regional management organizations, but highly efficient fishing and rampant illegal fishing activities continues. The Japanese government presented data to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) suggesting that up to 18,000 tons of bigeye tuna were caught illegally, laundered and eventually sold in Japan in 2003. This figure is significant, since it is equivalent to 21 percent of the 85,000 tons of declared bigeye caught in the Atlantic in 2003. With such a large volume of fish being caught illegally, resource managers face a real challenge in determining actual fishing efforts and establishing acceptable harvest levels for licensed fishers.

What lies ahead?

Sushi & Beer at a local Sushi-ya (Manny Santiago)

Sushi & Beer at a local Sushi-ya

Don’t count the global fishing industry out just yet. Concern over the health of fish populations has spurred industry and activists to seek creative ways to meet demand and keep the industry operational.

Entrepreneurs are looking to aquaculture to meet demand for ecologically vulnerable tuna (and to profit from raising valuable fish). To date, there has been only limited success in rearing tuna from hatcheries, and the technology of making a tuna hatchery commercially viable is still years away. And like other species raised by aquaculture, there is a great deal of controversy about the ecological impacts of fish farming: the low efficiency of fish feed made from fish meal, the use of antibiotics in pens and the impact of waste materials and escapees on local ecosystems.

Meanwhile, others have begun a practice known as tuna ‘ranching’. Tuna is harvested and put into holding pens to be fattened so they fetch a higher price. Accused of increasing pressure on fishing efforts (because of the opportunity to earn an even higher rate of return on the fish once they’ve fattened up) and creating higher incentives for IUU fishing (because sending fish to a ranch for several months makes tracing individual fish very difficult), tuna ranching is under fire from international NGOs. In the short term, however, the practice is rapidly growing because of its financial returns.

Inching towards sustainability?

The Japanese market is notorious for focusing on quality in fish products, but now multiple efforts urge consumers, producers and managers to take sustainability more seriously.

In market-based efforts to encourage sustainability, activists, and even corporations, are trying to persuade consumers to choose their fish based not on quality or taste, but on the conditions under which they were caught. Some of Japan’s largest retailers have begun to sell fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit that has developed environmental standards for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. Fisheries that meet MSC’s standards can undergo a certification process that allows them to carry a label declaring that they are a ‘sustainable’ fishery. Recently, MSC has announced it will open a regional office in Tokyo. Several stores, including Precce Premium store, Kamewa Shoten Co., Aeon Co. and Seiyu Ltd. have begun carrying some of the 500+ products bearing the MSC logo. Everyday fish consumers in Japan can now assert their preference for a sustainable fishing sector.

Attention is gradually turning toward the plight of the oceans. Producers, consumers and governments are slowly beginning to take action to reorient Japan’s tuna fishing and consumption practices toward sustainable sources of supply. Evidence of these changes gives reason for cautious optimism, but a battle for the oceans lies ahead, a battle that must be won if there will be fish in the oceans for the next generation to enjoy.

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