Elisabeth Sherman

The incident couldn't have come at a worse time for the market. 

August 04, 2017

Yesterday a fire erupted at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan. The disaster comes at a politically precarious time for the market, which has recently been mired in controversy.

The fire broke out at around 5 in the evening yesterday. 44 fire trucks arrived on the scene to battle the blaze, although the task proved difficult because of the neighborhood’s narrow streets and “tight-knight buildings,” Reuters reports. Authorities reported that there were no injuries or people trapped inside the market as the fire raged, however, the total damage to the market is still unclear.

The fire was concentrated in the outer market, which attracts tens of thousands of tourists per year, is integral to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic agenda for the country, as it is packed with restaurants where visitors can sample fresh and local seafood. However, the fire did not affect the inner market, where the fishermen and wholesalers prepare and sell their catch, and where the infamous tuna auctions are held.

This summer, Tokyo’s governor announced that plans to relocate the 80-year-old market would move forward, with the (new) final date of relocation slated for May 2018.  After toxins were found in the soil underneath the new location in Toyosu, the plans had to be delayed until clean up efforts could be made. The market was originally supposed to move in November of last year, a plan that had been in motion for decades, freeing up the site to be used during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Although a limited number of guests are still allowed to witness the tuna auctions on a first come, first served basis in the early morning hours, the inner market is now off limits to tourists, who merchants believe disrupt their work space.

There’s no word yet on whether or not yesterday’s fire will further delay the move.