Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World


"Bestor's vivid and meticulous study of Tokyo's seafood market is at once perhaps the best description we have of a modern, large-scale commodity bazaar, an important contribution to comparative economics, and a powerful analysis of the everyday workings of Japanese culture. As a portrait of a master institution in a complex society, Tsukiji represents a major advance in the anthropological description of contemporary life."--Clifford Geertz, author of "The Interpretation of Cultures

"This is, quite simply, a masterpiece of ethnography and a jewel of a book. It will prove immediately popular and influential."--William W. Kelly, Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

"Bestor's rich portrait of Tsukiji is set within the larger frame of Tokyo's urban history, helping us see clearly the forces which, over time, resulted in the creation of the world's greatest seafood market. An impressive amount of ethnographic fieldwork turns his fascination with Tsukiji into a first-rate piece of anthropological analysis. The reader will see Tokyo's colossal fish emporium through Bestor's eyes, far better than we could ever see it with our own."--Sidney Mintz, author of "Sweetness and Power and "Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom

"This study is a fine example of how key local institutions both drive and reflect larger national and global processes. In showing us the global reach of a major seafood market in Japan, Bestor is able to bring the best practices of ethnography to the abstractions of the economy, thus deepening our sense of how money, commodities, risk and drudgery meet to produce a specific - and brilliantly evoked - cultural economy. This is a rare book, full of treats for both thespecialist and the general reader. "--Arjun Appadurai, author of "Modernity at Large


Economic theorists, like French chefs in regard to food, have developed stylized models whose ingredients are limited by some unwritten rules. Just as traditional French cooking does not use seaweed or raw fish, so neoclassical models do not make assumptions derived from psychology, anthropology, or sociology. I disagree with any rules that limit the nature of the ingredients in economic models.

George A. Akerlof, An Economic Theorist's Book of Tales (1984)

During the boom years, books about Japanese markets became commonplace: market access, market secrets, market barriers. Then, market meltdowns.

Even in the wake of Japan's sustained economic downturn since the early 1990s—or perhaps especially in that wake—there is much to be learned from Japanese markets: about how Japanese economic life is organized, how markets are formed out of the cultural and social stuff of everyday life in this or any other society, how economic activity is embedded in social institutions.

This is another book about a Japanese market. I cover the waterfront, exploring currents of collusion, favoritism, and inefficiency; close relationships between trade cartels and government bureaucracies; patterns of insider trading; and asymmetrical flows of information around which keiretsu—vertical combines—are organized. I describe trends in marketing and in the microdifferentiation of consumption as the prosperity of the past two generations has transformed the lifestyles of most urban Japanese. I examine the dynamics of employer paternalism, the management of consensus, and the cultural underpinnings of economic and social dynamism, from techniques that samurai used for managing market behavior to the twentieth-century expansion of Japanese trade overseas. And with Japanese political and economic systems now almost endlessly adrift amid scandal, self-doubt, and stagnation, I discuss how the economic success of the 1980s has given way to the economic recession and psychological depression of Japan after the Bubble.

But this market study does not herald lessons for foreign businesspeople to apply in their own organizations. I do not tout any twelve-step programs to success in one's dealings with Japanese trade partners. Nor is it a triumphal exposé of why Japanese markets don't work, why Japanese eco-

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