The Tsukiji Market is the center of attention for most tourists and many don't realise that there is a bigger market in the city that is also open for visits.
The Ota Market is located about midway between Shinagawa and Haneda Airport in the southern part of Tokyo. They have a small fish section like Tsukiji, but most of their space is for vegetables, fruits and flowers. By the late morning, this modern market might only look like a big warehouse, but in the early morning hours there is plenty of action going on as visitors will be able to watch the auctions for the fresh produce and flowers from a close distance.
When to go
The market is open for visits free of charge from 5am-3pm on days the market is operating. (They are closed on Sundays/Holidays and most Wednesdays)
If your timing allows, definitely go in time for the auctions. Fortunately at Ota, there is no daily cap on the number of visitors allowed in. You can go just minutes before the auctions begin, and public transportation is also running (details below).
Vegetables auctions start 6:50 for about 15-20 minutes
Fruits auctions start 7:00 for about 20 minutes
Flower auctions start at 7:00 but continue on until about 8:30.
The vegetables and fruits auctions are held in the same building, with the former occuring near the entrance. There is a designated visitor area and you will be looking down on all the action from the second floor, though you are still fairly close to all the action.
The flower auctions uses a state-of-the-art system and are held at a seperate building about a five minute walk away.
How to go
The market is about a 20 minute walk through a dull warehousing district from the Ryutsu Center Station of the Tokyo Monorail. This is the line originating at Hamamatsucho Station that continues to Haneda Airport.
Visitors who prefer to avoid the walk might find it easier to take the direct Toei Bus Route 98 departing from the Konan exit (eastern side) of Shingawa Station. The ride is about 30 minutes.
The security staff at the entrance should be able to provide you with brochures in English though they are unlikely to speak any English.
Part of the designated visitor course has English signage, though overall explanation is very poor. It would help if you have someone in the group that can read Japanese.
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