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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Japan's great cultural contributions to the world
Tsukiji, Tokyo's huge world-famous fish market, is a major attraction for foreign tourists to Japan, which is odd since there's not much for a tourist to look at or to buy. (Would you take home a kilo of fresh tuna?) There aren't any guided tours either. Yet the market is described as a must-see in most tourist books, and this in a city that has next to nothing in terms...
Published on June 29, 2004 by Vincent Poirier

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19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hope you're good at skimming...
A great subject, tackled by a writer who has a nice sense of language -- but please, somebody take a red pen to this book! This isn't a dissertation anymore (I assume it once was -- it certainly reads like one). Every point is belabored. Most of what needs to be cut are repetitive descriptions of the anthropological grounding for his approach to the fish market... but...
Published on January 9, 2005 by Slip


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Japan's great cultural contributions to the world, June 29, 2004
By 
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
Tsukiji, Tokyo's huge world-famous fish market, is a major attraction for foreign tourists to Japan, which is odd since there's not much for a tourist to look at or to buy. (Would you take home a kilo of fresh tuna?) There aren't any guided tours either. Yet the market is described as a must-see in most tourist books, and this in a city that has next to nothing in terms of tourist attractions. But perhaps this makes sense; Tokyo is a place where one can be and do rather than look and marvel, and the Tsukiji market is exactly that.

Tsukiji is almost nothing to look at but walk in and its people have things to do and places to go. The marketplace's grimy aging rows of cramped wet stalls house a teeming population of busy auctioneers, stevedores, and customers. Theodore Bestor's book brings it all to life and goes further by analysing in depth several aspects of the market.

After justifying Tsukiji (chapter 1) as a fit study for an anthropologist to pursue, Bestor gives us a thorough description of the key aspects of the Tsukiji marketplace: Tsukiji's neighbourhood, its (in the 1930s) avant-guarde form-follows-function layout (chapter 2); it's history (chapter 3); the importance of food culture in Japan and Tsukiji's lead-and-follow role in it (chapter 4); an economic analysis the value Tsukiji adds to the production chain (chapter 5); a true anthropological study of Tsukiji's society (chapter 6); a description of the mechanics of Tsukiji's auctions (chapter 7). At the end (chapter 8) Bestor peers a little into the future and reflects on Tokyo's changing landscape and the effects and likelihood of moving Tsukiji to a new location.

I originally intended to give Tsukiji only four stars because of a few drawbacks, but decided that this would have been churlish given how much I loved it. But here are a few warnings. Chapter 1 for instance is really meant for anthropologists who might question the study as legitimate anthropology; this chapter could have been shortened and included as a preface instead. Also, some of the material will confuse people who have never traveled to Japan. For instance while Bestor does point out that Japanese households buy their food daily, he doesn't dramatize it much. A section on how a typical Tokyo family spends a typical weekday from dawn to dusk, with a description of the children's lunch box, the husband's favourite eatery, and the wife's shopping would have helped the chapter on food culture.

But these are quibbles. Readers who live or visit Japan will love this book, readers who don't will need to work a little harder at visualizing some of it. And it is rewarding. "Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World" is a tightly focused study of one particular aspect of Japan; it will give readers a more intimate look than would a more general book on all of Japan.

All in all, highly recommended!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential reference for for food lovers going to Tokyo, October 21, 2004
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This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
I am not an anthropologist or a foodie who is steeped in the industry. But I did go to Tokyo for 4 days with some friends to find excellent sushi. Having seen Tsukiji in a couple of television specials and worked in a much smaller market in the past I thought it would be interesting to see the real thing. Perhaps I should blame Dr. Bestor for the fact that I ended up spending two half-days engrossed in Tsukiji market but once I read the book and got over the initial shock of the place I felt like I had an inside edge and couldn't pull myself away. The book does an excellent job of balancing personal insights and experiences with objective accounts of the market's history and statistics and provides a behind the scenes understanding of supply and distribution activity as well as the multigenerational, family-run stalls. It's one thing to see the tuna auctions; it's another to have an understanding of how the fish got there, who buys them, how they are sold to the supply and distribution chains, the role of the vendors, the history of the building and other details that give it depth. In the end, after four days of tramping around Tokyo to sample great sushi and other foods, we agreed that the best sushi we had was at a tiny restaurant in the outer market. And my visits to Tsukiji - which is sadly be being replaced by a more modern facility that can better meet the needs of a city that has grown since the facility was built - were the most fascinating part of my visit thanks largely to Dr. Bestor's book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the Seriously Curious, October 8, 2004
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
Trained as a chef and living near Tsukiji market I have the pleasure of shopping at one of the greatest markets in the world. The definitive book on Tsukiji by Theodore Bestor demystifies the mystique of this very foreign market. The rituals, language, history, and the gkatah or the determined way of doing things at Tsukiji are only part of the book. I currently work in a gdepachikah, the glorious food floors found in the basements of upscale department stores, and I can verify that he is spot on regarding marketplace practices. This book is for those who are seriously curious about Japanese food and culture. It is engrossing, captivating and a wealth of information. I find myself more and more fascinated with Tsukiji. Only Professor Bestor could write this book, for only he has spent so much time in the market. Glad that someone else did the hard work and was so generous to share it with the rest of us.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is not just about fish, November 21, 2006
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
"If a maritime species can be consumed by human beings, in Japan, it almost certainly has been," writes Harvard anthropologist and sushi aficionado Theodore Bestor.

And the place to get it is Tsukiji at the mouth of the Sumida River in Tokyo, the world's biggest fish market, where millions of pounds of fish a day and billions of dollars worth of seafood a year are received, sold (usually more than once) and shipped. That's about five times bigger than New York's (lately extinct) Fulton Fish Market.

Although Tsukiji controls only a tenth of Japan's seafood business, the Japanese are so devoted to seafood and have so much money that fisheries around the world operate on Tsukiji's beat.

New fisheries have been created just for Tsukiji, like the air-flown fresh Atlantic bluefin tuna business. Tuna is king at Tsukiji, to the point that conservationists fear the extinction of the Atlantic bluefin.

Bestor's "Tsukiji" is comprehensive, neatly fitting the market into both historical and present-day contexts, but his main interest is in what he calls intermediate wholesalers.

There are about 1,600 of them, narrowly specialized. They are proud of their alleged origin as supporters of the first ruling Shogun in Edo (now Tokyo), of their knowledge of fish (but, of course, the younger generation doesn't know what the old-timers think they should), of their hometowns, their high schools, their religious sodalities, family ties, festivals and staying power.

Staying power especially. Some dealers claim to be of the 17th generation. Tsukiji was the famous fish market of Nihonbashi until the Great Kanto earthquake destroyed it in 1923. Rebuilt in a new location, Tsukiji seems to have carried its history along with it successfully.

It is facing an uncertain future again, as usual, says Bestor. The challenges come from the market structure, which is shifting from auctions to direct, negotiated deals. And from the municipal government, which wants to move the cramped, decaying market.

It's within walking distance of Ginza, and many dealers worry that moving away will kill the market. It will almost certainly kill the "outer" market of little stalls and restaurants that congregates around the inner market. (Bestor provides a guide for tourists.)

All markets have, to anthropologists, a certain sameness, but Tsukiji has some uniquely Japanese features. Sakidori is the oddest, compared with American methods.

The auctions begin around 5 a.m., too late for supermarket chains that have to wrestle their purchases through Tokyo's traffic and also need extra time to clean, cut, wrap and price packages. Smaller local shops don't need so much lead time.

Sakidori allows the big guys to carry off whatever they want before the auction, which gives them an advantage in obtaining the best quality items. But the price is set by the smaller guys who stay later.

Another obvious difference between Tsukiji and American markets is the place of religious rites at Tsukiji. Japanese fishmongers may not be any more religious than American businessmen, but they are more likely to organize business matters in religious contexts, from parading at festivals to going as business groups to famous shrines.

Bestor has attempted to write a book for both academic anthropologists and for general readers, and cheerfully invites the general reader to skip some chapters.

It's worth the effort of reading it all. This book is not just about fish.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed book on a fascinating subject, June 29, 2006
By 
Matthew D. Cowles (Minneapolis, MN, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
I've never seen the Tsukiji fish market in operation, but I'm quite sure that it's fascinating, and one of the best reasons I have for thinking that is this big and detailed book. Theodore Bestor is a professor of anthropology at Harvard, but unlike a stereotypical anthropologist, he doesn't study fossils or primitive tribes. He studies contemporary Japanese economic institutions.

The book is a serious work of academic scholarship but, happily, it's only a little less readable for that. Professor Bestor descends into opaque academic jargon only once and then pretty briefly. (It rather feels as though he does it once just to prove that he can.) Other that that brief bit, there's only a smattering of academic jargon in the book and most of it is perfectly understandable. Professor Bestor is occasionally a bit repetitive, and there are a few inelegant chapter introductions and summaries ("In this chapter I have..."), but there's very little here that hinders an interested lay-person's enjoyment. Besides, who but an academic would spend 15 years visiting and learning about a fish market? Anyone who has an interest in Japanese culture should be glad that Professor Bestor did because there's a lot to learn from reading the book.

Professor Bestor explains the market's history, its seventeenth-century origin in nearby Nihonbashi, its move to Tsukiji in 1923, its move into the current buildings in 1935, its closure during the second world war, its resurgence in the 1950s, and its likely future move to a new location across the Sumida river. In equally careful detail, he tells us about the market's mechanisms and its participants: the auctions and the seven auction-houses, the hundreds of wholesalers and how they do business, how the market changes in anticipation and reaction to consumers' changing preferences, and so on.

There's no question that there are a lot of interesting facts here. I'd never have guessed that sushi as we know it was invented in the middle of the nineteenth century. But, perhaps not surprisingly, Professor Bestor is at his best when he's interpreting and analyzing as an anthropologist. Economic transactions don't happen in a vacuum.

We get a wonderfully clear picture of the numerous overlapping formal and informal relationships among the market's participants and between them and the various parts of local and national government that license and regulate the market. We also get to see wholesalers changing their businesses, not just in response to short-term market changes, but also in response to larger-scale economic trends. While they were once exclusively family businesses, many are now becoming increasingly like ordinary corporations.

Japanese social structures are famously opaque to outsiders and Professor Bestor has done a fabulous job learning about and explaining a fascinating place. And his descriptions are good enough that you can almost smell the fish. There's also a useful guide to to visiting the market at the end of the book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Guide to a Tokyo Vacation, November 28, 2006
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
A fishing boat leaves from Barnegat Light, New Jersey

headed out for a week or more of long-line fishing for

swordfish, but two days later, it's back at the dock

meeting a refrigerated truck. What happened? Was their

trip cut short by mechanical failure? Bad ice?

No, they caught a giant bluefin tuna as a `bycatch'

and a buyer in Tokyo, notified by radio, sent a truck t

o pick it up and get it on the next plane to Japan.

At the heart of all this remarkable transport is

the soon-to-be closed Tsukiji, a giant market next

to the posh Ginza and tacky Shinbashi neighborhoods

that currently handles ten per cent of the world's

trade in fresh fish.

As a piece of social history, this book would be

fascinating and for the anthropologist concerned

with community and institution, it's a milestone.

But that's not why I am recommonding this book so

highly. I urge you to buy it because it's the key

to a particular kind of travel.

If you are going to Tokyo, there is a guidebook

and a list of recommended sights. You can even go

on a tour and have someone decide what you should

see. Or you can take the time to get familiar with

Tsukiji before you leave. You can spend your mornings

(it opens before dawn and is closed just after noon)

wandering the inner and outer market. You can have

the freshest, cheapest sushi you've ever tasted and

shop for sushi knives and other cutlery. You can

speak not a single word of Japanese and have the

time of your life.

Better yet, if you do this, it will change the way

you travel forever. You will no longer be content

to see what you've imagined seeing and what all your

friends have seen. In fact, the whole idea of `seeing'

a city will change. You'll want to taste it, hear it,

smell it and wake up with it too.

This splendid book is nicely written, Bestor has a good

touch with words, a quality not common among

anthropologists. There is also a visitors' guide to

the outer market. So whether your traveliing is ocean-spanning

or armchair-sprawling, Tsukiji is a delight.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and the forthcoming novel bang-BANG from Kunati Books. ISBN 9781601640005
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, May 9, 2008
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
A truly fascinating book about the social, commercial, spoken and unspoken interactions that take place within this complex network of one of the world's largest fish markets. I read this book in the context of an anthropology class, but I think this book would also be an enjoyable (though not exactly light) read, for anyone who likes having an in-depth, anthropological look into a place where everything happens rapidly, and where fish can become a basis of an economy and culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excelent, January 2, 2014
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This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
I think this book is an excellent expression of Japanese gastronomic, social and economic culture.

And from the anthropological point of view is great from a theoretical and practical perspective.
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19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hope you're good at skimming..., January 9, 2005
By 
Slip (Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
A great subject, tackled by a writer who has a nice sense of language -- but please, somebody take a red pen to this book! This isn't a dissertation anymore (I assume it once was -- it certainly reads like one). Every point is belabored. Most of what needs to be cut are repetitive descriptions of the anthropological grounding for his approach to the fish market... but then, there are passages like the one I will take the liberty of quoting below, which truly strain the limits of credulity. Here, from pages 77 and 78 of the hardback version, is an actual description of how to play rock-paper-scissors:

"From time to time, bidders break a tie by a quick round of the child's game of jan-ken (rock-paper-scissors). Two or more people -- on the count of jan, ken, po! -- simulatenously thrust out a hand: a fist to represent a rock, an open palm for paper, or two fingers extended for scissors. Each of the three objects can be defeated by one of the others and can in turn defeat the third: rock smashes scissors (and rock wins); paper covers rock; scissors cut paper. It is a simple mechanism for deciding among ties as long as the group is not too large; this and related hand games are commonplace legacies of Edo's popular culture.

There's the book in a nutshell: the author makes an interesting observation, then beats you over the head with it.
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If there was 0 stars it'd be 0, February 15, 2012
This review is from: Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Paperback)
This book was assigned for me as a 3000 level Philosophy class, having taken several high level philosophy classes difficult reading is often assigned. After reading just the first 20pgs or so I could not for the life of me figure out what the author was saying. His writing style feels broken and appears to go off on tangents that don't have a point. If you want to learn about Tsukiji, look elsewhere for something at least coherent.
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Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World
Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World by Theodore C. Bestor (Paperback - July 12, 2004)
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