Ota Market: Japan’s Largest Vegetable and Flower Market
By Lynda Deaver
Ota Market, called Ota Ichiba (大田市場) in Japanese, is one of a dozen wholesale markets in Tokyo. Everyone has heard of Tsukiji, even if only as “the Tokyo fish market,” but Ota Market is over 100,000 square meters larger than Tsukiji Fish Market and boasts a flower section in addition to fruit, vegetable, and fish sections.
One of Ota Market’s most appealing attractions is the early morning auction, which visitors are welcome to watch. In fact, Ota Market contains a visitor course that overlooks the warehouse floor, perfect for getting an unobstructed view of the market activity. In spite of this, Ota Market remains a relatively obscure sightseeing destination.
Of course, this meant that we had to make a GaijinPot outing to check out the Ota Market observer course for ourselves. I met up with GP editor Anthony Joh at Omori station and we began our adventure.
At the main gate, the security guards seemed surprised to see us. We weren’t sure if they were surprised that we were foreigners or tourists or both, but soon they produced a promotional booklet in English and then led us to the start of the Ota Market visitor course. The course started inside an old very Japanese style office building, which Anthony remarked that it looked like like an insane asylum.
Just when we thought we had lost our way and would be snatched up by a Ring-esque black-haired ghost in one of the poorly-lit hallways, the visitor course arrows propelled us out onto a sunlit overpass. On sunny days, Mt. Fuji is visible from the market roof, and the trees in the wild bird sanctuary next door are a welcome sight in Tokyo.
Back inside, we finally reached the vegetable and fruit warehouse. It was already about noon, so the 6:50 am auction was long over. The warehouse itself though was a spectacle, with boxes upon boxes of produce and forklifts racing around the floor. The view from above made the warehouse seem small, but once we descended to the warehouse floor, we suddenly felt very small.
The fish market is right next to the vegetable and fruit warehouse. Boxes of bream were lined up neatly along the walkway, and giant long-legged crabs scuttled back and forth in their aquariums. A gregarious fish dealer, who had been working at Ota Market for more than ten years, seemed happy to answer our questions.
“You should come another time for the bidding at the vegetable and fruit warehouse. The flower market also has an auction, but they tend to dislike guests,” he said laughing.
Perhaps as part of this secretiveness, the flower warehouse was in an entirely different location on the Ota Market grounds and wasn’t easy to reach. The trip, however, was well worth it. The day’s activities at the flower market were obviously winding down, but the warehouse remained packed with all varieties of plants. Hibiscus, sunflowers, and Venus fly traps sat side-by-side in the largest flower market in Japan.
Even though we we warned that guests were not welcome we found that no one paid attention to us as we walked around the floor of the flower market. We even found the auction room which contained specialized computers, which presumably make for smoother bidding, although Anthony tried bidding the old fashioned way.
Although the warehouse caters to certified dealers, a kind flower seller allowed us to purchase some of his wares. Gerbera daisies in hand, we received directions to the nearest train station from the market security guards and headed back to the bustling center of Tokyo.
Visitor course times: 5:00 – 15:00 (open most weekdays and Saturdays; closed most Sundays and national holidays. Check their calendar for specifics [only available in Japanese])
Visitor center times: Weekdays 9:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00 (closed Saturdays, Sundays and holidays)
Fish market: From 5:40am
Vegetable market: From 6:50am
Fruit market: From 7:00am
Flower market: From 7:00am
Telephone: (3790) 8301
By bus: A 20 minute ride on the Keihin Kyuukou bus from the bus station at the East Exit of JR Omori Station towards Ota Market (大田市場; bus displays are currently only in Japanese). As of May 2014, buses going towards Ota Market are numbers 32 and 43. Get off at Ota Market Administrative Office (大田市場事務棟).
By train: A fifteen minute walk from Tokyo Monorail Ryutsu Center (東京モノレール流通センター駅).
Ota Market Official English Website | Map