Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (California Studies in Food and Culture, 11) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2003/10
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Located only blocks from Tokyo's glittering Ginza, Tsukijithe world's largest marketplace for seafoodis a prominent landmark, well known but little understood by most Tokyoites: a supplier for countless fishmongers and sushi chefs, and a popular and fascinating destination for foreign tourists. Early every morning, the worlds of hi-tech and pre-tech trade noisily converge as tens of thousands of tons of seafood from every ocean of the world quickly change hands in Tsukiji's auctions and in the marketplace's hundreds of tiny stalls. In this absorbing firsthand study, Theodore C. Bestorwho has spent a dozen years doing fieldwork at fish markets and fishing ports in Japan, North America, Korea, and Europeexplains the complex social institutions that organize Tsukiji's auctions and the supply lines leading to and from them and illuminates trends of Japan's economic growth, changes in distribution and consumption, and the increasing globalization of the seafood trade. As he brings to life the sights and sounds of the marketplace, he reveals Tsukiji's rich internal culture, its place in Japanese cuisine, and the mercantile traditions that have shaped the marketplace since the early seventeenth century."
Theodore C. Bestor is Professor of Anthropology and Japanese Studies at Harvard University and past President of the American Anthropological Association's East Asian Studies Section and the Society for Urban Anthropology. His publications include "Neighborhood Tokyo "(1989), "Doing Fieldwork in Japan "(coeditor, 2003), and "How Sushi Went Global" "in Foreign Policy "(2000).
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Tsukiji is almost nothing to look at but walk in and its people have things to do and places to go. The marketplace's grimy aging rows of cramped wet stalls house a teeming population of busy auctioneers, stevedores, and customers. Theodore Bestor's book brings it all to life and goes further by analysing in depth several aspects of the market.
After justifying Tsukiji (chapter 1) as a fit study for an anthropologist to pursue, Bestor gives us a thorough description of the key aspects of the Tsukiji marketplace: Tsukiji's neighbourhood, its (in the 1930s) avant-guarde form-follows-function layout (chapter 2); it's history (chapter 3); the importance of food culture in Japan and Tsukiji's lead-and-follow role in it (chapter 4); an economic analysis the value Tsukiji adds to the production chain (chapter 5); a true anthropological study of Tsukiji's society (chapter 6); a description of the mechanics of Tsukiji's auctions (chapter 7). At the end (chapter 8) Bestor peers a little into the future and reflects on Tokyo's changing landscape and the effects and likelihood of moving Tsukiji to a new location.
I originally intended to give Tsukiji only four stars because of a few drawbacks, but decided that this would have been churlish given how much I loved it. But here are a few warnings. Chapter 1 for instance is really meant for anthropologists who might question the study as legitimate anthropology; this chapter could have been shortened and included as a preface instead. Also, some of the material will confuse people who have never traveled to Japan. For instance while Bestor does point out that Japanese households buy their food daily, he doesn't dramatize it much. A section on how a typical Tokyo family spends a typical weekday from dawn to dusk, with a description of the children's lunch box, the husband's favourite eatery, and the wife's shopping would have helped the chapter on food culture.
But these are quibbles. Readers who live or visit Japan will love this book, readers who don't will need to work a little harder at visualizing some of it. And it is rewarding. "Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World" is a tightly focused study of one particular aspect of Japan; it will give readers a more intimate look than would a more general book on all of Japan.
All in all, highly recommended!
And the place to get it is Tsukiji at the mouth of the Sumida River in Tokyo, the world's biggest fish market, where millions of pounds of fish a day and billions of dollars worth of seafood a year are received, sold (usually more than once) and shipped. That's about five times bigger than New York's (lately extinct) Fulton Fish Market.
Although Tsukiji controls only a tenth of Japan's seafood business, the Japanese are so devoted to seafood and have so much money that fisheries around the world operate on Tsukiji's beat.
New fisheries have been created just for Tsukiji, like the air-flown fresh Atlantic bluefin tuna business. Tuna is king at Tsukiji, to the point that conservationists fear the extinction of the Atlantic bluefin.
Bestor's "Tsukiji" is comprehensive, neatly fitting the market into both historical and present-day contexts, but his main interest is in what he calls intermediate wholesalers.
There are about 1,600 of them, narrowly specialized. They are proud of their alleged origin as supporters of the first ruling Shogun in Edo (now Tokyo), of their knowledge of fish (but, of course, the younger generation doesn't know what the old-timers think they should), of their hometowns, their high schools, their religious sodalities, family ties, festivals and staying power.
Staying power especially. Some dealers claim to be of the 17th generation. Tsukiji was the famous fish market of Nihonbashi until the Great Kanto earthquake destroyed it in 1923. Rebuilt in a new location, Tsukiji seems to have carried its history along with it successfully.
It is facing an uncertain future again, as usual, says Bestor. The challenges come from the market structure, which is shifting from auctions to direct, negotiated deals. And from the municipal government, which wants to move the cramped, decaying market.
It's within walking distance of Ginza, and many dealers worry that moving away will kill the market. It will almost certainly kill the "outer" market of little stalls and restaurants that congregates around the inner market. (Bestor provides a guide for tourists.)
All markets have, to anthropologists, a certain sameness, but Tsukiji has some uniquely Japanese features. Sakidori is the oddest, compared with American methods.
The auctions begin around 5 a.m., too late for supermarket chains that have to wrestle their purchases through Tokyo's traffic and also need extra time to clean, cut, wrap and price packages. Smaller local shops don't need so much lead time.
Sakidori allows the big guys to carry off whatever they want before the auction, which gives them an advantage in obtaining the best quality items. But the price is set by the smaller guys who stay later.
Another obvious difference between Tsukiji and American markets is the place of religious rites at Tsukiji. Japanese fishmongers may not be any more religious than American businessmen, but they are more likely to organize business matters in religious contexts, from parading at festivals to going as business groups to famous shrines.
Bestor has attempted to write a book for both academic anthropologists and for general readers, and cheerfully invites the general reader to skip some chapters.
It's worth the effort of reading it all. This book is not just about fish.
The book is a serious work of academic scholarship but, happily, it's only a little less readable for that. Professor Bestor descends into opaque academic jargon only once and then pretty briefly. (It rather feels as though he does it once just to prove that he can.) Other that that brief bit, there's only a smattering of academic jargon in the book and most of it is perfectly understandable. Professor Bestor is occasionally a bit repetitive, and there are a few inelegant chapter introductions and summaries ("In this chapter I have..."), but there's very little here that hinders an interested lay-person's enjoyment. Besides, who but an academic would spend 15 years visiting and learning about a fish market? Anyone who has an interest in Japanese culture should be glad that Professor Bestor did because there's a lot to learn from reading the book.
Professor Bestor explains the market's history, its seventeenth-century origin in nearby Nihonbashi, its move to Tsukiji in 1923, its move into the current buildings in 1935, its closure during the second world war, its resurgence in the 1950s, and its likely future move to a new location across the Sumida river. In equally careful detail, he tells us about the market's mechanisms and its participants: the auctions and the seven auction-houses, the hundreds of wholesalers and how they do business, how the market changes in anticipation and reaction to consumers' changing preferences, and so on.
There's no question that there are a lot of interesting facts here. I'd never have guessed that sushi as we know it was invented in the middle of the nineteenth century. But, perhaps not surprisingly, Professor Bestor is at his best when he's interpreting and analyzing as an anthropologist. Economic transactions don't happen in a vacuum.
We get a wonderfully clear picture of the numerous overlapping formal and informal relationships among the market's participants and between them and the various parts of local and national government that license and regulate the market. We also get to see wholesalers changing their businesses, not just in response to short-term market changes, but also in response to larger-scale economic trends. While they were once exclusively family businesses, many are now becoming increasingly like ordinary corporations.
Japanese social structures are famously opaque to outsiders and Professor Bestor has done a fabulous job learning about and explaining a fascinating place. And his descriptions are good enough that you can almost smell the fish. There's also a useful guide to to visiting the market at the end of the book.
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