Loudspeakers, White Boots and Red Tuna
Inside the Beating Heart of Japanese Seafood
Fish from as close as Ishikari, just 10 miles due north, and as far as Mexico converge before sunup on a snowy morning at a massive, gray warehouse just ten minutes by car from Sapporo’s neon-clad city center. It is a daily occurrence, one of the rhythms of the city, dependable as its metro. Like clockwork, at 6:30 a.m. the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market in Chuo-ku, Sapporo comes alive with the buying and selling of the morning’s catch — sea urchin, flounder, eel, surf clam, hamaguri clam, Japanese horse mackerel, gizzard shad, sweet shrimp, yellowtail, crab, squid, tuna — to name a few.
Four hours prior, ships unloaded their catch onto trucks bound for the market. When the fish reached the market, they were sorted and inspected by brokers, little bits of paper indicating recommended prices. Then come the auctioneers, who wear dull green to distinguish themselves from the buyers, dressed in blue (everyone wears white boots). Standing on crates and using bullhorns, the auctioneers hold traditional, fast-paced auctions. The auction winners, typically brokers and intermediate wholesalers, then sell smaller quantities of the fish for fixed, higher prices to retailers, restaurants and smaller grocers. And so what was an 800-pound tuna that morning becomes the wasabi-covered toro sushi sitting in soy sauce that night.