The first market in Tokyo was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Edo period to provide food for Edo castle. Tokugawa Ieyasu invited fishermen from Tsukudajima, Osaka to Edo to provide fish for the castle. Fish not bought by the castle was sold near the Nihonbashi bridge, at a market called uogashi (fish quay) which was one of many specialized wholesale markets that lined the canals of Edo.
In August 1918, following the so-called "Rice Riots" (Kome Soudou), which broke out in over 100 cities and towns in protest against food shortages and the speculative practices of wholesalers, the Japanese government was forced to create new institutions for the distribution of foodstuffs, especially in urban areas. A Central Wholesale Market Law was established in March 1923.
The Great Kantou earthquake on September 1, 1923, devastated much of central Tokyo, including the Nihonbashi fish market. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the market was relocated to the Tsukiji district and, after the construction of a modern market facility was completed in 1935, the fish market began operations under the provisions of the 1923 Central Wholesale Market Law. Three major markets in Tsukiji, Kanda, and Koto began operating in 1935. Smaller branch markets were established in Ebara, Toshima, and Adachi, and elsewhere. At present, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's system of wholesale markets includes more than a dozen major and branch markets, handling seafood, produce, meat, and cut flowers.
At 5:00 p.m. the market begins to receive shipments. Fresh foods and other products pour in from various parts of the world by truck, plane and ship until late at night.
At 3:00 a.m. before daybreak, wholesalers lay out the goods in preparation for the start of the auction.Before auction, middlemen carefully examine the quality of the goods and estimate the price.
At 5:30 a.m. the tuna auction starts. “How much do you bid?” The auctioneer of a wholesale firm asks in a loud voice. Answering this, a lot of middlemen and authorized buyers bid against each other. The tuna received on the day sell out rapidly.
At 7:00 a.m. the goods sold at auction are immediately taken away by the middlemen. They carry the goods they have bought to their own stalls and lay them out so that caterers and other purchasers can buy them easily.
At 8:00 a.m. retailers load the goods which they have bought at auction or from middlemen into their trucks and carry them back to their own shops in town. Between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. so many people come and go around the market that it becomes awfully crowded.
At 11:00 a.m. middlemen begin to tidy up their shops. Closing time is drawing near.
At 1:00 p.m. at the peak of activity in the metropolis, the market has a short quiet time of rest while it is cleaned out. Heaps of styrofoam are heat-treated and recycled and the cleaning is finished by a sprinkler truck spraying water. The market is now cleaned up and ready for the next day’s transactions.