Farewell to Tsukiji / Market’s yokocho shopping alleys take tradition to Toyosu

The Yomiuri Shimbun

An alleyway of the Uogashi Yokocho in Tsukiji market in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, is crowded with people on Sept. 14.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the third and final installment of a series.

Uogashi Yokocho was an area of shopping alleys in Tsukiji market in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. Home to about 140 stores from dining establishments to knife shops and drugstores, it was originally a place for food professionals, but gradually became a popular attraction just like the tuna auctions.

The yokocho alleyways that played a part in the “Tsukiji brand” terminated business along with the rest of the market on Saturday and will also move to Toyosu market in Koto Ward, Tokyo. Many of these shops are scheduled to start business in Toyosu from Thursday, together with the market’s wholesalers and intermediate wholesalers.

On a recent day before the market closed for good, a 67-year-old tourist from the Netherlands was on his first visit to Tsukiji market. He was excited by the tangible feeling of the people working there, despite it being an old facility. When he learned the market would be relocated, he said it was regrettable because, while a new facility might be nice, the current atmosphere was what made the market attractive.

From early in the morning every day the market was open, visitors used to form long lines in front of Daiwa sushi. Mitsuhiro Irino, the restaurant’s 49-year-old president, worried about the relocation to Toyosu.

“With a long history of more than 80 years and a good location neighboring the Ginza district, these favorable conditions were like a suit of armor for Tsukiji,” he said. “Without these assets, I wonder if visitors will come to Toyosu.”

Then, as if trying to convince himself, he added: “Even the Tsukiji brand did not exist at the beginning. We have no choice in Toyosu but to gather our efforts bit by bit to create a new tradition.”

The style of quick eats in the form of gyudon beef-on-rice bowls also was established in Tsukiji. “Tasty, cheap and fast” is the slogan of Yoshinoya Co., which now operates about 2,000 outlets in Japan and abroad. From operating a food stall after the end of World War II, Yoshinoya opened its first restaurant in the yokocho in 1959.

The price of gyudon at that time was relatively expensive at ¥120, equivalent to that of a bowl of rice topped with roasted unagi freshwater eel. However, all 15 seats in the restaurant were always taken as customers were able to have a quick meal. Yoshinoya made its operations ever more efficient by introducing ideas such as placing chopstick stands on the wall so people could eat while standing. Accordingly, the price gradually became more affordable.

Yoshinoya will open a new outlet in Toyosu market. Though the first shop is gone, a Yoshinoya official said: “We have been nurtured by food professionals in Tsukiji. We’ll be relocated together with the market and aim to give something back to the market. We’ll continue to have the same DNA even at the new market.”

Gear for workers, visitors

“Please wear ‘uroko’ at Toyosu as well,” Kanako Ito, managing director of boots shop Ito Uroko in the yokocho, said to intermediate wholesalers who frequent the shop. Since its opening in 1910, Ito Uroko has manufactured and sold boots made from natural rubber for workers at the market.

One of the boots’ selling points is the recommendation of intermediate wholesalers who attest to their quality, saying that, while regular boots become useless within a few months, Uroko’s boots are wearable for at least a year and a half.

Ito had been working at another company when her father, Kotaro, the third representative of the shop, suddenly died, so she started working at Ito Uroko in 2000. She and her mother, the fourth representative, together developed boots with oil-proof soles. The boots enable workers in the market to walk safely on slippery floors caused by fish oil.

In the shop, caps and T-shirts decorated with the word “Tsukiji” were popular among foreign visitors. Now, goods with the word “Toyosu” stitched on them are being manufactured.

“We are determined to produce goods that are loved by many people,” Ito said, “even if we change our base from Tsukiji to Toyosu.”

Oyama Shoten sells kyogi thin wooden sheets for wrapping food. The shop opened in 1902 when the market was located in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo. The shop once struggled due to the arrival of cellophane film and aluminum foil, but recently kyogi is attracting attention again as an eco-friendly biodegradable material with excellent traits: It’s breathable, waterproof and sterile.

“From Nihonbashi to Tsukiji to Toyosu, wherever we are, we just continue to make sincere efforts,” said Daikichi Oyama, the fourth president. “Eventually, someone will acknowledge our goods as being excellent. This is what a ‘brand’ is, perhaps.”Speech

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