Located only blocks from Tokyo's glittering Ginza, Tsukiji—the world's largest marketplace for seafood—is a prominent landmark, well known but little understood by most Tokyoites: a supplier for countless fishmongers and sushi chefs, and a popular and fascinating destination for foreign tourists. Early every morning, the worlds of hi-tech and pre-tech trade noisily converge as tens of thousands of tons of seafood from every ocean of the world quickly change hands in Tsukiji's auctions and in the marketplace's hundreds of tiny stalls. In this absorbing firsthand study, Theodore C. Bestor—who has spent a dozen years doing fieldwork at fish markets and fishing ports in Japan, North America, Korea, and Europe—explains the complex social institutions that organize Tsukiji's auctions and the supply lines leading to and from them and illuminates trends of Japan's economic growth, changes in distribution and consumption, and the increasing globalization of the seafood trade. As he brings to life the sights and sounds of the marketplace, he reveals Tsukiji's rich internal culture, its place in Japanese cuisine, and the mercantile traditions that have shaped the marketplace since the early seventeenth century.
Markets are so routinely regarded as fundamentally economic institutions that long–standing and quite varied anthropological perspectives on them are often overlooked. Anthropological attention focuses on patterns of individual and small–group exchange relationships within specific markets, on institutional structures that organize markets, and on the social, political, and spatial hierarchies through which markets link social classes, ethnic groups, or regional societies into larger systems. Anthropological studies of markets analyze them as nodes of complex social processes and generators of cultural activity as well as realms for economic exchange. Anthropologists' interests in markets, therefore, are partially distinct from – although certainly overlapping with – the concerns of economists.
A 500–pound tuna is caught off the coast of New England or Spain, flown thousands of miles to Tokyo, sold for tens of thousands of dollars to Japanese buyers…and shipped to chefs in New York and Hong Kong? That's the manic logic of global sushi.