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Tsukiji market's last days: Leaving behind tables marked by years of cutting

A worker cuts fillets of swordfish at Tsukiji fish market, in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Aug. 30, 2018. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

TOKYO -- Light pink fillets of a swordfish caught off the coast of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, appear as the trained hands of a broker carve up the fish with a knife.

"The edge of the blade only moves smoothly if the fish is oily," explained Yuji Taniguchi, 54, as he sliced up the catch.

Taniguchi was originally a sushi chef, but he closed his restaurant nine years ago to begin working at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo's Chuo Ward. He was already familiar with the market's system for buying fish from his days as a chef, and the majority of his clients are now supermarkets and chain restaurants. He finishes the morning auction just after 5 a.m., and slices up the many swordfish in a battle against the clock so he can hand the fish over to his customers by 6 a.m. sharp.

The craftsman uses around 10 knives, including one with a blade measuring nearly 1 meter in length. Taniguchi sharpens his knives each day. However, it is unlikely that he will bring his working table marked by years of cutting to the new market in Toyosu, in Tokyo's Koto Ward.

"The new shop is too small for it," he lamented. "It's a shame I will not be able to take it with me after all these years."

(Japanese original by Akiyo Ichikawa, City News Department)

* This series introduces scenes from the last days of the Tsukiji market in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, which is scheduled to end 83 years of history when it closes for relocation to the new Toyosu site in the capital's Koto Ward on Oct. 6, 2018.

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