Fire Breaks Out at Historic Tokyo Fish Market

As Tsukiji Market faces an uncertain future, a fire torches several stores at the edge of the century-old landmark

In the hours before the Sun rises, Tsukiji bustles with traders buying seafood for the coming day Jeremy Horner / Alamy

Firefighters spent more than 15 hours putting out a fire yesterday at Tokyo's Tsukiji Market, the century-old hub of Japan's seafood industry and the world's largest fish market.

"First there was only smoke, then it kept getting worse," Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the sushi restaurant Sushizanmai, told Japanese television network TV Asahi, as the Associated Press reports.

The fire started in a building at the edge of the market, eventually torching nearly 10,000 square feet of space among seven buildings, reports Elaine Lies of Reuters. The shops had already closed for the day when the fire broke out, so no one was injured in the blast. As the evening wore on, more than 60 fire trucks were brought through the narrow streets surrounding the market to work on the fire.

Built in the early 20th century, Tsukiji Market is famed for its dawn auctions, where traders compete for the best of every conceivable variety of seafood. Most notably, it hosts sales of some of the world's most valuable bluefin tuna, prized by chefs for use in sashimi. An auction earlier this year saw a single 466-pound bluefin tuna go for $632,000, and that's not even half the price of the record auction bid for one of the giant fish.

The area where those auctions and other wholesale business take place, the "inner market," was unaffected by the blaze and was open to business and tourists this morning, reports BBC News. The fire took place in the "outer market," an area catered more to the public with shops and restaurants.

"At this point we can't say anything about the cause, it's still under investigation," a Tokyo Fire Department spokesman tells Lies. "There's no information indicating arson, but again, it's still too early to say."

Tsukiji has been in a state of flux in recent years, as Tokyo has put forth plans to move the market to a new location before the city hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, those plans have been repeatedly delayed and concerns have been raised about contamination at the new site.

Earlier this summer, Tokyo's newly elected governor Yuriko Koike finally decided to proceed next year with the move, reports Yuri Kageyama of the Associated Press. In a nod to the history of the market, Koike modified the plans to build a "food theme park" at the original Tsukiji site, instead of selling it off for development.

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