Bluefin Tuna Auctions rules explained in Japan’s oldest fish market, Kyoto

4th February 2020

Naka san came to work in Kyoto’s Tambaguchi Market as soon as he left school, and spent he next 40 years climbing the ranks to become Kyoto’s most successful and well respected auctioneer. Now retired from that role Naka san works a less stressful job in the market offices, but remains a big personality on the market floor.

A tuna auction can be baffling to watch, but with Naka san’s explanations we get a rare glimpse into inner world of this unique and frantic buying practice. Watching from the sidelines, Naka san commentates in real time on a real life tuna auction in progress. So sit back and relax, and let Naka san take care of the entertainment.

Kyoto’s Tambaguchi fish market is Japan’s oldest, and 100 years ago would have been served by trains travelling the length of the country to bring the finest fish to Japan’s aristocracy. Today Kyoto is still known for it’s high class restaurants and fine fish, but lorries have replaced the trains to bring produce from every corner of Japan for the millions of tourists that visit Kyoto ever year, hoping for a taste of what is believed to be the best fish in the world.

Japan’s obsession with fish is as important economically as it is culturally, but consumption has been falling steadily since it’s peak in around the year 2000. Globally the Ocean’s edible fish stocks are decreasing too, and global warming is pushing Japanese fisheries to move further into international waters. Greenpeace and other International environmental organisations are calling on governments to develop more sustainable fishing strategies, and to suspend all fishing of particularly endangered stocks to allow them regenerate to more sustainable levels. Japan’s politicians claim the economy cannot withstand any suspension to the already shrinking fishing industry, but in the absence of a properly enforced national policy, on who\’s shoulders does the burden of responsibility fall?

Tambaguchi fish market is still the place Kyoto’s finest restaurants come and source their produce, but in a post ‘bubble-era’ Japan most regular customers simply can’t afford the cost of quality.

In recent years the supermarkets have tightened their grip on the lower end of the market, offering an inferior product for increasingly more affordable prices. Auctions in the market would once last for hours each morning, as the wholesalers fought to buy whole boxes at a time from the wily, career auctioneers. Wholesale prices have remained the same for the best part of 20 years, but supply is so low that auctioneers are now forced to sell the fish individually. As the market prepares for major construction works, can it find a way to stay competitive for another 100 years?