New Tokyo fish market has teething problems to overcome

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Numerous issues remained to be solved as Toyosu market opened in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on early Thursday, replacing long-established Tsukiji market in the capital’s Chuo Ward.

 These include whether it is possible to establish a new brand that measures up to the 83-year-old “Tsukiji brand,” how to overcome damage and losses arising from false public perceptions about harmful substances and other elements at the site, how to create an atmosphere as energetic as that of Tsukiji, and how it can remain financially stable.

 Toyosu market started operations at about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday as a new “Japan kitchen” — one of the centers of the country’s distribution and commerce.

 Transfer operations were at their peak at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with packages being carried into Toyosu from Tsukiji market one after another.

 Hurriedly preparing for the opening, a seafood intermediate wholesaler said: “Toyosu’s image has been worsened due to problems caused by the postponement of the transfer. I worry that people will wrongly have a bad impression of food traded at the market, just because they hear that it’s Toyosu fish.” 

 Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced in August 2016 that the transfer would be delayed. After that, it was revealed that soil-laying work had not been conducted under the buildings of the Toyosu market site and an underground space was established, as a measure against soil contamination. Harmful substances that exceeded the government’s environmental standards were also detected in the underground water.

 Experts examined the substances and concluded that there was no problem legally or scientifically. However, people involved in the market and the Koto Ward government have asked the Tokyo metropolitan government to correct the false impression that products traded at Toyosu are hazardous, an idea that has spread among the public due to the series of problems.

 Therefore, the Tokyo government is earnestly working to convey the safety of Toyosu market. Since June this year, Tokyo government officials and related industry executives have toured fishing ports nationwide, including Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, and Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, to explain its safety and thorough sanitary management.

 “We’ll continue our efforts to convey the functions and attractions of the new market,” said a Tokyo government official in charge.

Friction over facilities

 Part of the Tsukiji brand that attracted domestic and foreign visitors was Tsukiji outer market, which contained about 400 business, including eateries and retail shops.

 There are plans to build facilities to create a similar atmosphere of hustle and bustle to attract customers, including eateries and a hot spring facility. However, in June 2017, Koike said the Tsukiji site would be redeveloped mainly as a “theme park of food.” Her remarks drew opposition from operators who plan to construct the Toyosu facilities, saying that if similar tourist facilities are built [at the Tsukiji site], they would not be able to make a profit.

 As a result, the construction of the facilities at Toyosu market was suspended. They had been scheduled to open at the same time as Toyosu market, but that was postponed to around spring 2023.

 As an alternative, the Tokyo government plans to build a temporary facility within the site for the permanent facilities and offer, from January next year, such services as food vans selling dishes made with Toyosu ingredients.

 But an official of the Koto Ward government said, “We want the Tokyo government to promote efforts to attract customers throughout the year, not makeshift measures.”

Quadrupled upkeep costs

 The maintenance costs for Toyosu market will be higher than those for Tsukiji, as Toyosu has state-of-the-art equipment.

 The yearly maintenance and operation costs for Tsukiji market were ¥1.9 billion, but Toyosu market is expected to require more than four times that figure, at about ¥8.2 billion. As the growing cost cannot be covered only by the usage fees paid by Toyosu market traders, the annual deficit of the market is estimated at ¥9.2 billion.

 In June last year, Koike said the Tokyo government will lease the Tsukiji site to the private sector for redevelopment. The deficit of Toyusu market will be covered by the rent of the Tsukiji site, but a specific course for redevelopment has yet to be decided.

 A senior Tokyo government official said, “It’s true that we don’t even know how much we’ll be able to cover the deficit with rent from the Tsukiji site.”