Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market move on track, says governor

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike answers questions from reporters after a media tour at the new Toyosu Wholesale Market in Tokyo, on Feb 13, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - After years of delays, the process of moving Tokyo's world-famous Tsukiji fish market is on track, the city's governor said on Tuesday (Feb 13), pledging the site's spirit would not be lost.

The grey utilitarian complex at Toyosu is a far cry from the gritty, lively alleys of Tsukiji, where serious buyers and awestruck tourists browse for everything from record-setting tuna to root vegetables.

But governor Yuriko Koike said the decades of experience of Tsukiji's vendors would not be lost in the move, slated to finally happen on Oct 11.

As part of a campaign to promote the relocation, she met social media users on Tuesday at the new site in eastern Tokyo and sampled dishes prepared by experts from Tsukiji.

"We saw how best to use and cook ingredients. That reflects the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom among people who work at the market," Ms Koike said.

Plans to move Tsukiji, which opened in 1935, have been in the works for years, and the relocation was originally scheduled for 2016.

But myriad delays have set back the timeline, including the discovery of soil contamination at Toyosu, the site of a former gas plant.

Tokyo officials say the contamination has been remedied and Ms Koike said she detected a change in mindset from once-fierce opponents of the move.

"We are now receiving more concrete questions, like, 'the market doesn't seem to have enough parking spaces'," she said.

"This is proof that preparation for the market relocation is in full motion."

The new market boasts modern sanitation and refrigeration control, a leap forward from the open-air, dilapidated Tsukiji market.

On Tuesday, the bulk of the new complex appeared to be complete, with sections set up to host fish, meat and vegetable vendors and a giant gleaming tuna statue on display.

Now best known for its pre-dawn daily auctions of tuna, Tsukiji will be transformed into a transport hub during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, with its future fate still ambiguous.

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