Man resting. Photo: Shun Kato
Man resting. Photo: Shun Kato

Mention Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market and images of its rowdy, energetic pre-dawn and at times frenzied auctions are immediately conjured up. Founded in 1935, the world’s largest wholesale fish market remains a magical anomaly at the heart of one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Not for much longer. The center won a reprieve when plans for an early November shift to a new site outside of central Tokyo were pushed back to winter next year due to concerns over soil contamination. Part of the market was slated to be cleared for a highway for the Olympics in 2020.

The move has been mired in controversy. City officials say the shift has been planned for decades and merchants argue that the market is outdated and too small; critics worry over the loss of atmosphere at the new site, besides the issue of contamination.

For now, there’s still a chance to join visitors who begin lining up as early as 3am to watch the auctions at 5.

Photographer Shun Kato, whose previous work was on The Fishermen of Okushiri Island, spent a year capturing the people at the market in his latest series of black and white photography, which was first exhibited by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

“The people who work there are renowned for their high spirit and energy. That has an enormous impact on me,” said the 25-year-old Kato.

Photography became his fascination while studying at the Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences. He now works for Jiji Press, a wire service based in Tokyo.

Like others, he is concerned over whether the atmosphere would carry over to the new site at Toyosu. Hence his decision to document “every drama of the place” within the short time left at the current venue.

Kato’s previous work on the fishermen of Okushiri Island led him to this project on the Tsukiji fish market. The island was the hardest hit by the Hokkaido earthquake in 1993, where large parts of the island were left devastated.

That did not damp the enthusiasm for life among the inhabitants on Okushiri Island.

“The people there live every moment with all of one’s energy,” he said. Much like at Tsukiji.

Kato’s favourite character is a man pictured below from the fish wholesale business, who also happens to be a lover of Japanese festivals.

Photo: Shun Kato

He is also the same person in one of the most iconic photographs in the series. Time stood still, as the man lay sleeping on a friend’s lap.

“They were out drinking, then they came back to Tsukiji fish market. When I shot the picture he had already fallen asleep,” Kato said

Man resting. Photo: Shun Kato

But for Kato, the characters who show such unbridled passion for life also bring a tinge of melancholy.

“Sometimes he would sing. When he sings, I feel though that even the sun is incapable of withstanding the passage of time, sinking at the end of each day, and likewise, things with character are helpless to resist the passage of years,” Kato said.

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See more photos here:

Weighing the passage of time. Photo: Shun Kato
In action. Photo: Shun Kato
Tuna on trolley. Photo: Shun Kato
Man resting on counter. Photo: Shun Kato
Worker packing boxes. Photo: Shun Kato
Waiting. Photo: Shun Kato
Portrait of a fish seller. Photo: Shun Kato

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