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Art Photobook Reviews

Tsukiji Shijo by Daniel De Francisco

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

The sense of tradition and heritage is one that is common to us all. There are places and events that form the cornerstones of our lives, and which by the nature of their permanence and reliability, come to define and shape our definition of comfort through routine and familiarity.

Different to everybody and rarely of any real earth shattering importance to anyone, there are often nonetheless inexplicable feelings of loss and sadness - admittedly fleeting - when one of these pieces of our life jigsaw is removed.

Whether it is that little shop that had been there for as long as you can remember, the one that you visited as a kid and which sold those cakes that tasted so good, or the annual carnival that emanated colour, music and joy as it snaked it’s way along its well trodden and familiar route around the city.

One closes, one cancelled, the reasons, however logical or otherwise are immaterial. For a moment there is a loneliness and flicker of a memory.

Then of course we move on.

Daniel de Francisco moved from Madrid to Japan some fifteen years ago. Disillusioned with his life as a film editor at home, he decided to take his talents and move as far away as possible.

Possibly influenced by Japanese cinema, which had been part of his formal film studies, the undeniably distant and exotic Tokyo became the chosen destination.

And there he has remained, making the country his home and his life.

At some point De Francisco became aware that the institution that was the Tsukiji Fish Market was due for closure and relocation.

The oldest established market of its kind, it opened in 1935. However as with many such businesses, over time the unpredictable and astronomical rise in the value of the real estate which they occupy begins to form part of the architecture of their downfall.

Over a period of two years, De Francisco documented the final daily routines in the lives of those who made their living from Tsukiji.

It is through these pictures that we get a sense of family and community. Thanks to an elegantly smooth edit the months and years of work flow effortlessly as if all taken in a single day.

From the auctions, the preparation and transportation, to the auxiliary businesses that symbiotically blend and coexist.

Innumerable independent concessions. Stalls full of gleaming razor sharp knives, and small kitchens preparing and selling food to the countless workers and visitors.

A hard and physical environment, the sense of purpose ever present. The frenetic early part of the day is populated by overalled and insulated porters bundled up against the cold of the morning light, and drivers going about their work intense and inscrutable.

Time for levity when the day is done.

The organised frenzy of the auction as millions of Yen change hands and cash is converted to tons of gleaming fish, swiftly transported from vendors to dealers.

The gleaming metallic sheen of their bodies pared open to reveal the crimson gold of the flesh.

The oceans bounty feeding a nation, and sustaining livelihoods.

Small cafes and bars, servicing the workers. Sushi and beer.

A woman presides over a cauldron of steaming red goodness, intent on her alchemy. Her appreciative audience slurp and watch.

And after the intensity of the morning, the afternoon clean down. As much pride and activity in the clearing of the market. Then as the sun sets, just as a battlefield, the bodies of porters, drivers and fishermen litter the area. Exhausted, they lay prone on pallets or perched on quaysides, cigarettes in hand.

The satisfaction a hard days work done, and the anticipation of the one to follow.

The sun set for the last time on Tsukiji market on October 6, 2018.

It was, of course relocated, and for the fishermen one era ended and a new one began.

The restaurants and vendors that occupied the outer market remained, and the area became a thriving tourist attraction.

The now empty inner market - the hub of Tsukiji -  earmarked for redevelopment. Hotel, leisure centre, conference hall, all no doubt culturally enriching venues which happen to be infinitely more profitable.

Tsukiji Shijo is a wonderful document that allows us to relive those days of the thriving marketplace, and Daniel De Francisco’s rich colour photography puts us right at its centre.

So yes, life goes on, but for some reason I’m craving Bread Pudding.

The one I used to buy from a local shop when I was a small boy.

Tsukiji Shijo is self published in an edition of 180 copies,  plus 20 special edition copies with a choice of two prints (10 of each).

Available from


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