Tokyo governor tries to calm contamination concerns at city’s new fish market

Yuriko Koike cut the ribbon at the vast complex which will replace the iconic Tsukiji market, a move that has not been popular

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 9:47pm

As a brass band blared Anchors Aweigh, Tokyo’s governor led Thursday’s opening ceremony for the city’s new fish market and tried to dismiss concerns about contamination at the site that delayed the move from the famous Tsukiji market.

The new Toyosu market will not open for business until October 11, but hundreds of government and fisheries industry officials went to the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the sprawling facility. Wholesale fish sales will end at Tsukiji, which opened in 1935 and became one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

After taking a tour of the new facility, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told the crowd that Toyosu will carry on the “Tsukiji brand”, which represents a food culture loved around the world.

“Safety has been ensured,” she insisted. “Steps have been taken.”

Koike delayed the move scheduled for November 2016 after an inspection found arsenic and other contaminants in the groundwater at the site.

Tsukiji became a favourite tourist spot for its array of tiny sushi restaurants, shops selling Japanese knives and stalls hawking hundreds of species of seafood as well as confectionery.

Going, going, gone: Japan’s Tsukiji fish market to close tuna auctions to tourists in September

Yet it is also a working market, where an average of 1.6 billion yen, or about US$14.5 million, worth of seafood is moved every day.

This weekend will be the last time its iconic early morning auction will open for visitors.

The city’s plan calls for a new shopping centre facility for Tsukiji, including a theme park. Some of the stores and restaurants in the area surrounding Tsukiji’s wholesale market and auction area will stay, but its core fish market operations are moving to Toyosu.

Officials hope the new state-of-the-art market at Toyosu will also become a tourist attraction.

The move to Toyusu has been unpopular from the start because an earlier plan envisioned keeping the fish market in Tsukiji by modernising the facility with construction while it continued to operate. Tsukiji is closer to central Tokyo.

The city under Koike’s predecessors decided an updated facility was needed for sanitation and efficiency reasons. The proposal was damaged by the discovery of contaminants in the new site, and some critics have said consumer confidence cannot be restored, despite assurances that the new facility has since been made safe.

Almost every speaker at Thursday’s opening ceremony talked about how long the struggle had been for the move, including wrangling among city lawmakers.

Trouble at Tsukiji: world’s biggest fish market caught in limbo as move stalls

Takaaki Yamazaki, the head of Koto Ward, where Toyosu is located, used the Japanese expression for moving beyond the past with water, to welcome the new market.

“Let’s wash all that away and let bygones be bygones,” he said.