Tsukiji, Tokyo and Nigiri Basami

For our first few days in Japan, the hubby and I stayed in a business hotel near the Tsukiji fish market. The near century-old Tokyo market is one of the world’s largest fish markets and is likely best known for its tuna auctions.

What? There are tuna auctions?

Why yes, there are. During the wee hours of the morning, big ass bluefin tuna are sold for obscene amounts of money. How obscene? Well, in 2013, someone paid $1.76 million USD for a bluefin weighing in at 489 pounds.

Tsukiji fish market - tuna auction

Tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish market
Image by Anna & Michal, used with permission under a Creative Commons license

People are permitted to observe the action, but the market only admits 60 people to each of two daily auctions each morning. Needless to say, it’s a tough ticket to get your hands on. Everything I read before our trip indicated that as long as you got to the market by 4:00 a.m., you had a good shot at getting in. And I wanted to see some big ass fish.

Thankfully, we had the jetlag advantage – a 3:00 a.m. wake-up time would be like 2:00 p.m. back in Vermont. If we went to the auction the day after our arrival, we’d have no problem getting up.

And it was easy. Not only were we up on time, but we were frighteningly awake. We got to the market and encountered a guard who gave us the unfortunate news – the auction was already over. It had ended at 2:20 a.m. What? Argh.

The fact was that we weren’t going to attempt it again, as we didn’t want to mess up our sleep schedule for the entire trip. No big ass fish for me. Oh well.

Tsukiji still had its charms, though. The market has two distinct areas – an inner market (wholesale business) and an outer market (restaurants and small shops). Our hotel offered breakfast at the outer market for each night we stayed there. It was so yummy. I would happily eat miso soup every morning.

We didn’t spend much time exploring the outer market until our third day in Tokyo. While trying to find something to eat for lunch, we came across a knife shop. I forgot to take a picture, but Flickr to the rescue! It looked very similar to the one below.

Tsukiji Fish Market knife shop

Image by Jonathan Lin, used with permission under a Creative Commons license

On one of the display tables, I found pairs of Nigiri Basami, traditional Japanese sewing scissors. I was so excited! I had hoped to bring home a souvenir from my trip that I could use in my studio on a daily basis – these scissors were just the ticket.

I approached one of the men in the stall and pointed to the scissors. He picked up the smallest pair, said “sewing scissors”, and told me how much they were. I nodded, then pointed at the next size up. He showed them to me, along with another pair. He recommended one of the two because it had a steel edge (at least that’s what I think he said).

I nodded again and held up three fingers. He looked shocked – I don’t think he was taking me seriously. I handed him my payment and while he went to get change, I started walking into the booth so I could check out the super shiny knives. I was quickly told that I wasn’t allowed in there. Sadness.

No worries – I now had some very cool scissors. They’re made from one continuous piece of steel and there’s no hinge or screw. They work like tweezers in that they have spring action handles. When using them, you hold them in your palm with your fingers positioned near the blades. It’s going to take a while for me to get used to handling them. And not cutting myself.

The clerked wrapped up my scissors in paper and I was psyched to unwrap this gift to myself when I got back home.

Box containing Japanese sewing scissors

This is the box they came in – I guess I’m unboxing now!

Box containing Japanese sewing scissors


Japanese sewing scissors

Japanese sewing scissors

The characters imprinted on the scissors are most likely the name of the maker (sorry I can’t read it).

Japanese sewing scissors

If you’re interested, you can get similar scissors from Talas, except their scissors are called Itokiri. I’m not sure how they’re different from Nigiri Basami.

Please note that once you have a pair, you just want more. And you’ll stupidly search online until you find these and these.

If you’d like to learn more about Nigiri Basami, check out these websites:

And if you’d like to go to the Tsukiji fish market, here’s the scoop:

  • Address: 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (Google Map)
  • Phone: 03-3542-1111
  • Public Transportation: Right above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Line; 5 minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Line; 15 minute walk from the JR Shimbashi line.

FYI: Tsukiji market is moving to the Toyosu district of Tokyo’s Koto Ward in November 2016. If you want to see the market in its current glory, you best be getting over there soon.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 20

4 Responses to “Tsukiji, Tokyo and Nigiri Basami”

By daria wilber - 18 July 2016 Reply

Hi Elissa,

I love those scissors! I saw the ones Talas is offering and am considering a pair.

Re tuna; We watch NHK News and a while back they showed a Big Ass Tuna auction and it was insane! I’m sorry you missed the auction, but really, you needed to keep your strength for paper delights!


By Elissa - 20 July 2016 Reply

Daria –

The missed auction is a double-bummer since they’re moving the market this year. Even if I get back to Japan, I won’t be able to see it in its current glory. Poo.


By Amy - 18 July 2016 Reply

I just saw these recently in my Hiromi Paper newsletter, but it looks like they are sold out already –

Sorry you missed the tuna auction 🙁

By Elissa - 18 July 2016 Reply

Amy –

Ooohhh…those are so curvy! They look like they’d be perfect for snipping threads.


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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