Tsukiji Fish Market reopens, the NJ blame game continues


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Hi Blog.  Good news in that Tsukiji Fish Market, closed due to “unmannerly foreigners” (according to the Japanese-language press), has reopened to the public with more security (good), with intentions to move to a location more accessible to visitors (good again, in retrospect).  The bad news is that the J-media (even NHK) has been playing a monthlong game of “find the unmannerly foreigner” (even when Japanese can be just as unmannerly) and thus portray manners as a function of nationality.  It’s a soft target:  NJ can’t fight back very well in the J-media, and even Stockholm-Syndromed self-hating bigoted NJ will bash foreigners under the flimsiest pretenses, putting it down to a matter of culture if not ill-will.  Bunkum and bad science abounds.  Japan Times article and a word from cyberspace follows.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009


Tsukiji reopens tuna auctions to the public

By MARIKO KATO, Staff writer, Courtesy of AW


The Tsukiji fish market, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist attractions, reopened its early morning tuna auctions to the public Monday after a monthlong ban.  

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which runs the gigantic wholesale market in Chuo Ward, temporarily banned onlookers, 90 percent of whom are foreign tourists, from the tuna trading floor Dec. 15, citing visitors’ bad behavior among other reasons. The ban ended Saturday, and the first auctions took place Monday.


“We decided to reopen because we had said we would only close for a month,” said Yoshiaki Takagi, deputy head of the venue, officially called the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market.

Even after the ban was imposed, a few dozen people a day continued to show up in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bidding, Takagi said. Before the temporary closure, as many as 500 people would watch the auctions.

“We were so lucky that we were able to see the auctions today,” said Danish visitor Rikke Grundtvig, who was one of a group of international MBA students on a study visit from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership at Steinbeis University Berlin.

“We have many nationalities in our group, South African, Brazilian, American, and we all wanted to see the fish this morning before we started studying,” she said.

The central observation area, which measures about 30 sq. meters and has room for about 60 people, opened at 5 a.m. with the auctions starting at 5:30 a.m.

Security guards were deployed on the auction floor and handbills in five languages outlining acceptable behavior were distributed to observers.

According to Takagi, media reports that cited visitors’ poor behavior as the main reason for the tentative ban were not entirely accurate.

“We closed mainly because around the New Year’s period the auctions get very busy. More trucks pass through the market and it gets dangerous,” he said, adding it is difficult for the auctioneers to walk around the observation area.

But Takagi acknowledged that onlookers were causing a hygiene risk and disruptions.

“Some tried to touch the fish and used flash photography, which made it difficult for the auctioneers to see the buyers, who signal by hand,” he said.

Last April the market established rules urging visitors to voluntarily “refrain from coming.” But, Takagi said, “these measures weren’t very effective.”

“It’s shocking that tourists would try to touch the fish. If I were running the market I would have shut it down, too,” said a visitor from Los Angeles who identified himself only as David. “But it would have been a real shame if the auctions had been closed today, as it’s been the highlight of my Japan trip so far.”

Tsukiji market did not set out to be a tourist attraction, Takagi said. “It’s first and foremost a place of work,” he said, though adding he wants tourists to watch because “it reflects Japanese food culture”.

The metro government announced Thursday that Tsukiji market will move to a new location in Koto Ward in 2014. The next venue will be more welcoming to visitors, Takagi said.


From:   Paul
Subject: Problem with ill-behaved NJ campaign, in Kyoto and elsewhere
Date: January 20, 2009
To:  debito@debito.org
Dear Dave,
Last night I saw a feature story during the NHK evening news about ” マナーの悪い外国人”, an aspect of which (not to mention the title) I found quite disturbing.  I had seen an article a few days earlier in the Japan Times discussing the problem of foreign visitors to Kyoto basically acting like paparazzi and chasing down maikos to get a pictures of them, so this may just be a topic of the day.  The NHK segment was more encompassing, however, and showed in addition, scenes of foreigners reaching down while smoking, posing like they were going to lift up one of the tuna in the Tsukiji market, and another decrying poor manners of NJ in bathhouses.  A lot of the scenes of these crass behaviors were admittedly that, evidence of bad manners, and it was troubling to watch.
The one about the bathhouse, however, I found a bit odd. It showed an NJ in the bath with a minor amount of sweat on his brow, which he wiped off with his shibori, accompanied by the announcer’s comment of astonishment, “Ase o fuite. Furo no naka ni?!!”  I can’t really grasp why that’s a bad behavior.  After all, I’ve seen countless Japanese in baths with their shibori over their heads, or nearby, which they use from time to time to wipe themselves off with while bathing.  If one develops sweat on the brow while in the bath, there’s not really much to be done about it, as it will drip down into the bath anyway unless you get out.  Wiping it away, even if the towel then dips down into the water, really has no affect on accumulation of sweat in the bathwater.
I’m not really sure if this makes an appropriate post for your site, but I wondered if you had some knowledge of whether wiping parts of one’s body (in particular the face) with a bath towel while in the bath can even be considered a bad practice.  People often have no control over when and where they sweat.  The segment seemed to be picking on one poor guy, who’s behavior was otherwise unremarkable, simply because he was sweating at the brow a little bit.  It seems like an intentional dig, with visual cues, tailored to make Japanese think, “Oh my God, just look at how unhygienic these sweaty NJ are.  How can we allow them in our baths?”
This may well have been the show in question: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/hensei/program/k/20090119/001/21-2100.html
(観光立国日本・外国人のマナー 各地の悩み)

10 comments on “Tsukiji Fish Market reopens, the NJ blame game continues

  • re: bath manners

    Official bath manners from Japan Ryokan Assoc.’s “Enjoy the Real Japan at a Ryokan, A Four-Language Guide” is at the following link:


    It mentions not wearing or bringing a towel into the bath. There is no mention about wiping sweat.

    Unfortunately, it also fails to mention not shitting in the bath or not being drunk and falling asleep at the shower with the water going all night, things that our Japanese guests here at Kamesei Ryokan have done in the past. Bad bath manners go both ways.

  • Before entering the onsen, my colleagues would pour hot water on their body. No soap, no shower; just hot water in a bucket and a splash.

    Yes, I was shocked too the first time I saw a bunch of Japanese do this at an onsen while I, the foreign barbarian, carefully soaped up and washed off first. Hypocrites!

  • @Martin
    No soap or shower after the first dip in the shower either? When I was a student, I went to a few places with Japanese style baths with my host father and he always used one of the buckets to scoop some water from the bath, dump that on himself and then hop in but he always rinsed later (as is shown in Tylor’s broucher).

  • I always soaped up and cleaned up before entering public baths and was also surprised when I noticed that a lot of the natives would just splash water on themselves before entering.
    On a comment board at my gym, someone wrote complaining that an older member had been wringing out his towel in the bath. There are hardly any NJs there so I would assume a native was meant.
    I hope that visitors to Tsukiji behave themselves but these articles and TV news stories seem to paint a lot of us foreigners with a broad stroke of being rude.

  • the chasing down of the maikos to take photos of them complaint is particularly rich..

    travel in europe and guess what nationality is there snapping away inside churches etc.. when it specifically says no pictures?

  • I’ve seen this kind of show in the past. I remember a scene at a NJ hangout in Tokyo where the patrons stick their chopsticks in their rice, pour soy sauce directly on top of the rice, or eat fish without eating any rice at all. In another, NJ grandpa enters onsen covered in soap, doesn’t understand why it’s a problem despite complaints shouted in Japanese. These shows are designed to poke fun while dividing *us* from *them*; but they are not without parallels Stateside, most notably “Whopper Virgins” where remote foreigners get their first taste of BK & McD’s (see YouTube).

  • I was hoping this topic would make it on your blog…

    It looks like the major news stations decided to use the re-opening of Tsukiji as an opportunity to run “foreigners with bad manners” stories. I caught two news broadcasts on completely separate channels (sorry, I can’t remember which ones) with extended footage of foreigners behaving badly. On the whole both of them were the usual stereotypes of “foreigners are so troublesome, but we can’t really blame them because Japan is so unique and difficult to understand.”

    The one good point to one of the broadcasts (channel 1 I believe) was a short interview with an ethnic Chinese who works in international PR. He basically said that it’s no use for the Japanese to take the above attitude, and that a much more productive approach would be to work with different agencies and ministries to provide PR support for major tourist areas.

  • Yahoo News article today:

    TOKYO – Tourists are known for acting silly, but licking the tuna?

    Overwhelmed by a growing number of misbehaving tourists, Tokyo fishmongers banned all visitors from one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations — the pre-dawn tuna auctions at the world’s largest seafood market.

    The ban, imposed during the peak New Year buying season, was front-page news before it was lifted last week. Now, the tourists are back, but the debate goes on: Can tourists be trusted around the tuna?

    “We understand that the sight of hundreds of frozen tuna looks unique and interesting for foreign tourists,” said Yoshiaki Takagi, deputy director of the market. “But they have to understand the Tsukiji market is a professional place, not an amusement park.”

    One of the more notorious recent cases was that of a tipsy British tourist — caught on tape by a Japanese TV crew — who licked the head of a frozen tuna and patted its gill. Two others, also caught on video, rode around on a cart used by wholesalers. “Get out! Get out!” an irate market official shouted in English.

    “Tuna is a very expensive fish,” Takagi said. “One tuna can easily cost more than 1 million yen ($11,000). But some tourists touch them and even try to hug them.”

    Fed up, the market decided to impose the ban.

    So, when on Jan. 5, a premium bluefin tuna fetched 9.63 million yen — more than $107,000, the highest price in nearly a decade — no tourists were anywhere in sight. The restriction was lifted on Jan. 19, despite some grumbling from the fishmongers.

    The sprawling market dates back to the 16th century, when the military rulers who had just moved Japan’s capital to Tokyo — then called Edo — wanted to ensure they had a steady supply of fish.

    Today, Japan is the world’s biggest consumer of seafood. The market handles 480 kinds of seafood, attracting around 40,000 buyers and sellers daily. The value of its seafood trade amounts to $20 million per day on average, making it the heart of the national seafood distribution system and the biggest fish wholesale market in the world.

    It’s the kind of place the Japanese take for granted. But it has become a big hit with foreigners because of the colorful way the fish are auctioned off by men in rubber boots and baseball hats using arcane hand signals and the sheer volume and variety of fish available every day.

    Nearly 90 percent of visitors for tuna auctions are non-Japanese, Takagi said — a figure that seemed pretty much in line with the crowd at Tsukiji one recent morning.

    “In Holland, we have a flower market, a cheese market, but nothing like the Tsukiji market,” said Jan Groeneweg, a 55-year-old banking analyst from the Netherlands who came before sunrise to see a tuna sale. “It’s one of the top 10 attractions in Tokyo. You must visit here.”

    The no-nonsense fishmongers at Tsukiji do not see themselves as an attraction, but rather as workers with pressing business. The most common complaint from auctioneers is tourists using flash cameras, which makes it difficult for them to read the finger signals used for bidding. The market put up English signs saying “No Flash!” but that was widely ignored, Takagi said.

    “The flash of cameras really bothers me. Since I don’t speak English, I make gestures to ask foreign tourists not to use a flash. Most of them stop, but some just keep doing it,” said tuna buyer Yasumasa Oshima.

    After the ban was lifted, the market began distributing leaflets at the entrance of the tuna auction site in English, Chinese, Korean and Russian, as well as Japanese. Along with the no-flash warning, it tells visitors to stay within the observation area and leave promptly after the auctions, which open at 5 a.m.

    The post-ban crowds have been better behaved.

    “This is something you only see on the Discovery Channel,” said Chris Szydlo, a 33-year-old business consultant from Florida. “We don’t have anything like this, not even close.”


    Sounds like there’s been some pretty boorish behavior in the market…..

  • What’s funny is that I find Japanese people much more unruly than anyone else. [unevidenced overgeneralizations deleted]. I have also been in the middle of a Catholic baptism ceremony when a group of Japanese tourists burst in, ignored the 1000 guests, the choir, the priest giving a sermon and the somber atmosphere and proceeded to take about 200 photos. Easily the worst overseas behaviour I’ve ever witnessed.


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