If you have spent any time at or around Tsukiji fish market you may have noticed large rectangular woven baskets in the hands of the regular shoppers, or strapped to the backs of scooters and bicycles ferrying the mornings catch back to numerous sushi bars and izakaya (pubs). The basket is so popular with these market-goers and has been in use for so long that it's widely referred to as the Tsukiji basket.

Wondering about its origins I tracked down a knowledgeable source, a store that has been distributing the basket for decades. Matsunoya in Nihonbashi-Bakurocho, Tokyo's leading distributor of woven (and other) crafts, is an Aladdin's cave of specialist woven baskets, canvas bags and other daily items described as aramono. Over numerous cups of tea, Hiroshi Matsuno, Matsunoya's third-generation owner, explained to me how his grandfather set up the original store on the same plot in 1945 selling canvas shoulder bags, totes and rucksacks. Matsuno first noticed the basket in use at Tsukiji market about 30 years ago and traced it back to Iwate Prefecture, where numerous household makers were producing it.

The basket was originally handleless and used by farmers to transport produce from the fields to local markets. After World War II, the distribution of food became more centralized and the basket followed the produce to markets like Tsukiji. It seems probable that handles were added by individuals noticing its usefulness and adapting it to their own shopping needs. The producers followed up on the demand by adding bamboo handles, which were prone to breaking, and then switched to rope, which was more durable but less hygienic. More recently, in its current form, the rope is enclosed by a transparent plastic hosepipe.