JAPAN - A popular wholesale market described as "old and dirty" by a former Tokyo governor is about to get a new lease of life as a waterfront attraction expected to cost more than 500 billion yen (S$6.2 billion).
Two years from now, fans of the Tsukiji Market will find it in a new spot overlooking Tokyo Bay.
It will have a food court featuring award-winning street food from around Japan, restaurants, hot spring baths and even a hotel.
The new facility, expected to attract some 4.2 million people a year, will fill some 40ha of reclaimed land in Toyosu.
That is twice the size of the present Tsukiji Market - which is the size of 43 football fields with no comparable tourist facilities - and about 2km from the spot where it has stood since 1935.
That will put it close to the athletes' village that will be built to house competitors in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
At a ground-breaking ceremony at Toyosu on Friday, Mr Hiroyasu Ito, representing the wholesalers and other businesses now operating at Tsukiji, said: "We hope to make the new market one of the best in the world."
One of the market's main attractions are the early-morning auctions, especially of tuna.
But visitors have often been reproached for getting in the way of Tsukiji's professional buyers and causing hygiene problems by touching fish with their bare hands.
At the new market, sightseers will be restricted to designated pathways to keep them separated from people working there and out of the way of forklifts.
Another attraction of the new facility will be a cluster of some 140 restaurants serving sushi and other Japanese dishes from early morning, all made with fresh ingredients from the wholesale market.
Just as at the present Tsukiji, the new wholesale market will also handle chicken, vegetables, flowers and other food items in addition to fish.
Visitors can also check into a hotel and soak in hot spring baths, while taking in the views of Tokyo Bay at night. The hot spring bath complex is expected to be the largest in the city.
The relocation of Tsukiji Market was made necessary because it had become, in the words of the outspoken former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, "old and dirty".
The city owed it to consumers to move the market to a new place, he said. At first, there was resistance to the move to Toyosu, which was previously occupied by the Tokyo Gas utility company, where traces of pollutants such as benzene, cyanide and arsenic had been found.
Authorities were forced to conduct expensive cleaning operations, essentially replacing 2m of polluted top soil with clean soil and cleaning up the underground water.
The cost of that exercise as well as the increase in the cost of construction is expected to bring the government's total bill for the new facility to well over 500 billion yen.
The present Tsukiji market is the largest of 11 wholesale markets in Japan and is capable of handling 490,000 tonnes of marine products alone in a year.
This far exceeds the 130,000 tonnes handled by the Nagoya wholesale market, the second largest in the country.
Officials hope the new market at Toyosu will handle 10 per cent to 20 per cent more marine products. But the target may prove difficult to attain as the Japanese are eating less fish these days.
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