Photos & Projects

The Tsukiji Outer Market at Dawn with a Leica M3 and Roll of Kodak Tri-X – By Steven Bleistein

March 29, 2020

The Outer Market of Tsukiji in Tokyo is a favorite morning photography spot of mine. You might have once heard of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, where frenetic tuna auctions were held during the wee hours of the night for seventy-odd years.

The Inner Market where the auction used to be held was restricted to public. However, a thriving, public outer market with all sorts of little shops selling to restaurateurs and local consumers alike around the restricted inner market developed over the decades.

The City of Tokyo moved the tuna auction market to a new facility some kilometers away in Toyosu in October, 2018.  The aging Tsukiji Fish Market facilities were getting too decrepit and cramped for the city to bear, and so the decision to develop a modern facility was made.

Many feared that the Tsukiji Outer Market would shrivel and die without the bustling Inner Market. Yet nothing of the sort happened. The Outer Market is still so fascinating, so charming, so steeped in history, and so authentically Tokyo, that people continue to patron the shops and restaurants.

Some restaurateurs in the Outer Market have confided in me that business is even better than when the Inner Market was still open!

And this is no surprise. Tsukiji has changed little since the 1950s, so much so that if you were to look at monochrome photos of Tsukiji’s outer market, unless there is someone in the photo walking around with say an iPhone or a Walkman (people my age will know what a Walkman is. If you don’t, google it!), it is almost impossible to place the period it was taken. Tsukiji is a walk-in time capsule. 

So you want to have some of best sushi in Japan without paying exorbitant prices? Try Sushi Zanmai. Would you like to have some of the best coffee in Tokyo? Drop by Yazawa Coffee’s “Secret Stand” nestled in one of the covered alleyways behind a butcher shop, next to a Japanese omelette shop and across from a Japanese tea shop. Explore Tsukiji. There are interesting foods to buy and try everywhere you look. 

But more importantly, at least for me, the Tsukiji Outer Market has maintained its wee morning hours of operation. Most shops are open or at least setting up by 6:00 AM. And there are people there to patron the shops—Japanese locals and tourists alike!

So for me, Tsukiji is the place I like to start my day when I have morning meetings in Tokyo. It is the only place in the city that is vibrant by 6:00 AM, and wonderful for street photography. In the winter months early mornings, it is still rather dark—and that’s OK. The lighted shops make for great monochrome photography.

The photos in the article I shot in the Tsukiji Outer Market in January, around 6:00 AM. I used a Leica M3, with a Summicron 35mm f/2 eight-element, and a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400. I shot at EI3200, and developed with Kodak T-Max Developer as per Kodak’s recommendations. 

I am a street photographer who lives in Japan. If you would like to see more of my work, have a look at my website, or my Instagram @sbleistein

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  • Reply
    Floyd K. Takeuchi
    March 29, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Wonderful, atmospheric photos that capture the rough edged, working-class Tokyo most visitors don’t see. And an enthusiastic second of the recommendation to eat at Sushi Zanmai. It’s actually a chain of sushiya in Tokyo founded by Mr. Kiiyoshi Kimura, a larger than life character who I had the pleasure of interviewing at his restaurant in Tsukiji. Kimura-san, who also invented the first karaoke machine (true story), said his motivation in founding Sushi Zanmai was to give Japanese a place to enjoy quality sushi and unlike some sushiya know how much the tab wold be before they left the restaurant by having prices per piece clearly noted on menus. Kimura-san also insists on having his sushi chefs wear nametags (in Japanese) and expects them to strike up conversations with patrons. All of the restaurants welcome foreigners who don’t speak or read Japanese, by the way, and provide menus with photos. Steve’s photos are a reminder that if you haven’t had sushi for breakfast at one of the many sushiya in Tsukiji, you’ve missed out on one of the world’s simple pleasures.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 29, 2020 at 9:02 pm

      I had no idea about the history of Sushi Zanmai! When I sit at the counter, the chefs are pretty chatty–particularly when they realize I speak Japanese. Yonezawa Coffee on the other hand is one of the best kept secrets of Tsukiji. Really worth it!

  • Reply
    Michael Scott
    March 29, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Lovely pictures that show the real appeal of Tri-X in low light situations. Even at ISO 3200 it retains detail in the shadows. Great!

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 29, 2020 at 8:59 pm

      I agree. Tri-X performs wonderfully in these conditions!

  • Reply
    March 29, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    I like the Leica meter on the camera.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 30, 2020 at 1:23 am

      The Leicameter is awesome! It always nails the exposure, and I use it even when shooting slide film. This one is an MR-4, which I prefer to the other models. It was made for the M4. The activation button does not stick out in order to accommodate the slanted rewind crank of the M4. You can often find them overhauled and in working condition, but be sure to buy from someplace reputable. Kanto Camera in Japan will also overhaul Leicameters if pick one up that no longer works.

  • Reply
    Dominique Pierre-Nina
    March 30, 2020 at 12:03 am

    Great work as always i have gone as far as 1800 with Tri-X, I might have a go at 3200.

    I use to have the 35mm with glasses on M3 but I found it too heavy and for some reason aesthetically I did not like it. So I now have a 35 mm Summacron F2.8 sans glasses.

    I am not bothered by the frame line issue.

    Hope all is well in Tokyo given this COVID-19 Virus!


    Mr Dominique Pierre-Nina

    Phone: +61410471365

    Email: [email protected]


    Instagram: @pierreninaphotography

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 30, 2020 at 1:18 am

      Bonjour Dominique,

      It might surprise you to know that the first-generation Summicron 35mm even with the M3 optics is in fact lighter than the current Summicron 35mm ASPH! Personally, I prefer the version with optics and use it on all my M cameras, not just the M3, because it chooses the 50mm frame in the finder. I wear glasses, and I find I can’t view the entire 35mm frame with either .72x or .85x finder magnification of my M7 and M6J, or even the .68x magnification of my M240. I like the aesthetics, but that that is just my personal taster, and the optics always attention. People often ask me about the camera.


  • Reply
    Charles Morgan
    March 30, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Super photos of a fascinating place someday I’d love to see. Also an utter delight to see the results of pushing TriX to 3200. I recently did the same with HP5 and was blown away – so now another film to try! I also love the goggled lenses – I have the Summaron for my M3, and the viewfinder is so much better than any other M.

  • Reply
    March 31, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Super good shots!
    Wonderfull combination with the t-max developer, seems to keep the grain away.

  • Reply
    Clive W
    April 1, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Lovely slice-of-life pictures, Steven. Makes me even more itchy to visit Japan.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      April 1, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      It is definitely worthwhile to visit Japan. Now is probably not the most ideal of times, but when things settle down, come!

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