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Please don’t lick the fish

Tourists are known for acting silly sometimes. You have to cut them some slack. But licking the tuna?

Tourists are known for acting silly sometimes. You have to cut them some slack. But licking the tuna?

Overwhelmed by an increasing number of misbehaving tourists at the world’s largest seafood market, Tokyo fishmongers last month decided to put their foot down, temporarily banning all visitors from one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city — their predawn tuna auctions.

The ban, which was lifted earlier this month, was front-page news in Japan. Now, the tourists are back, but the debate goes on: Can tourists be trusted in Tsukiji?

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

The sprawling Tsukiji 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 proper channel to get enough fish to their hungry vassals at the nearby castle.

Today, Japan is the world’s biggest consumer of seafood. The market handles 480 kinds of seafood, bringing around 40,000 buyers and sellers daily. The value of its seafood trade amounts to $20 million US per day on average. It is the kind of place that Japanese take for granted.

But because of its long history, the traditional way that 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 there every day, it has become a big hit with foreigners. But popularity has brought its problems.

One of the more notorious recent cases was that of a drunken British tourist, caught by a Japanese TV crew, who licked the head of a frozen tuna while two others, also caught on TV, rode on a trolley used by wholesalers. “Tuna is a very expensive fish,” Takagi said. “One tuna can easily cost more than 1 million yen (about $13,000 CDN). But some tourists touch them and even try to hug them.”

 
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