Massive fire breaks out at Japan's famous Tsukiji fish market

Firefighters battling a fire that broke out in Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, on Aug 3, 2017.
Firefighters battling a fire that broke out in Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, on Aug 3, 2017.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017.
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017.
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017.
Firefighters operate at the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
Passersby cover their face as they walk near the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017
Passersby cover their face as they walk near the fire site at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 3, 2017PHOTO: REUTERS
Japanese firefighters try to extinguish a fire at Tokyo's landmark Tsukiji fish market on Aug 3, 2017.
Japanese firefighters try to extinguish a fire at Tokyo's landmark Tsukiji fish market on Aug 3, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - A massive blaze has broken out on Thursday (Aug 3) at Japan's famous Tsukiji fish market, an 82-year-old institution which attracts tens of thousands of tourists daily.

Store owners and tourists have been forced to evacuate after the fire broke out just before 5pm (4pm Singapore time), the news.com.au portal reported. No reports of injuries or fatalities have emerged yet as plumes of smoke continue to emerge from the area.

The fire was in Tsukiji’s “outer” market – an area packed with informal restaurants where tourists can tuck into fresh seafood plates and sushi, reported Reuters. The “inner” market, where most seafood wholesalers are located and tuna auctions are carried out at dawn, was not affected, the report said.

The fire started at about 3pm in a three-storey building, news.com.au said, citing the Tokyo Fire Department. The flames spread to five buildings covering some 300 square metres later in the evening, media said.

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A total of 43 fire engines were deployed to extinguish the fire, NHK said.  

“I could tell immediately that it’s a fire,” said Kiyoshi Kimura, the head of the Sushizanmai restaurant chain, who was at his office in the area when the fire broke out.  “So I called managers and had everyone evacuated from our restaurants,” Kimura told Agence France-Presse.

Locals say they could smell smoke and ash 3.5km away near the famous Tokyo Tower.

Tsukiji, the largest and busiest fish market in the world, has been mired in controversy over a move to a new location 2.3km away.

The original plan was for a permanent move as the market is grappling with a surge in visitor numbers. As many as 42,000 people visit each day to watch its early morning fish auctions and visit its hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Tokyo has pumped in billions of yen to build and clean up the new controversial bayfront site, where a gas plant used to stand.

But the site was found to have unacceptable levels of contamination and the move was shelved last year. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said in June the move would go ahead but did not say when it would take place.

Japanese media has cited May next year as a plausible time.