January 19th, 2009
04:45 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan - Everybody I know has that odd uncle or aunt who seems to magically ruin the next wedding or family holiday meal; the relative who drinks too much or maybe says inappropriate things, wrecking what should be a pleasant night for the family. At Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market, it's not a family member but misbehaving tourists.

A tourist snaps a picture at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market.
A tourist snaps a picture at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market.

Japanese TV caught drunken tourists from London licking a US $10,000 tuna at the before-dawn auction.

A few minutes later, the camera crew videotaped French tourists joyriding on a fisherman's trolley.

Such behavior led the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to ban tourists from the market for one month, trying to give its multi-billion dollar tuna industry a brief respite.

The market estimates US$18 million worth of fish pass through Tsukiji everyday and are auctioned before dawn. That's US $4.8 billion a year.

That fish passing before point-and-shoot tourist cameras become sushi at some of the world's premier restaurants seems to elude some tourists, who might think they were at Disneyland, the working market says.

"The tourists sometimes bother us," says tuna wholeseller Junichi Honma, who bought US$50,000 worth of tuna at this morning's auction.

"The time is limited for the auction, only about an hour, and they think this is just a sightseeing show. This is our livelihood."

The market re-opened for tourists today and a few dozen tourists returned. Most were well-behaved, though a couple did nearly step on a US$8000 tuna.

They all seemed delighted to get a rare glimpse of commerce from the sushi nation of the world.

But for it to continue, the market is asking its international guests to use common sense while visiting.

For example, drinking at one of Tokyo's all-night clubs and immediately arriving for the tuna auction at 5:30 a.m. probably will make you a poor guest.

The market says it will try to keep the auction open for its visitors but adds that it all depends on future behavior.

So, for the sake of the majority of good visitors, please don't be that inappropriate relative. You've heard your mother complain about it.

It doesn't make her or this world-famous market very happy.

Watch my report of the footage that sparked the tourist ban.

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Filed under: BusinessJapan


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