Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tourists in Japan must dance to a different tuna

It was Tokyo's ultimate local travel experience: get up early and head to the world's biggest fish market, Tsukiji. See the giant tuna roll in, catch the auction action, and try some of the freshest sushi in town. It was a everyday life that few tourists had seen before. Until, that is, everyone caught on to the idea...

When 200 and 300 people started packing into the auction area, it became too much. Earlier this year authorities called for tourists to show voluntary restraint and stay away, but, of course, that was never going to work. So now the ban is complete. For at least a month.

As soon as tourism becomes a mass activity, problems usually follow. The main issue with "must sees" is that people usually go through the motions and forget their common sense - especially, perhaps inevitably, when getting up at 4am. There have been reports of tourists obscuring auction hand signals with flash photography, walking around in high heels and compromising hygiene by prodding the fish.

However, couldn't such stupidity be avoided without a total ban? Tsukiji's restaurants and shops must surely hope so.

"As far as sushi restaurants are concerned, I think more than 50 percent of their customers are [outsiders] on weekdays. On Saturdays, they probably account for more than 90 percent," Susumu Isono, director of local sushi chain Isonoya, told the Japan Times.

So is this just a clever PR scam? If the authorities create a storm of publicity by making such a drastic move, guidebooks and tour operators will be obliged to change their info. "Arrive at 5am to catch the action," says Lonely Planet. Expect an update soon.

Photograph: Derek Mawhinney/ Wikipedia images