National | Regional voices: Chubu

Aging main complex of Nagoya fish market to close amid drop in popularity of seafood

Chunichi Shimbun

The main building complex of Yanagibashi Central Market, a fish market a short walk from Nagoya Station, will close at the end of this month due to deterioration, ending its run of more than 50 years.

Amid the continuing decline in the popularity of seafood, the association of the facility’s owners, which is made up of wholesalers, decided to sell the building to a land developer, with some of them choosing to quit the business entirely.

After giving the issue much thought, Kozo Nomura, 72, closed Nomura Marine Products, his tuna wholesale store in the complex, on Oct. 12.

“I couldn’t see any prospect in moving somewhere else and continuing the business in this time and age,” Nomura said. “It’s too bad since I’m still fit to work.”

The market, located in the Nakamura Ward business district, was opened more than 100 years ago by a group of fish dealers. With some 300 stores, it boasts of being one of the nation’s largest privately run fish markets.

Nomura first started working at a different wholesaler in the building 50 years ago after graduating from university. The wholesaler had 450 employees at its peak, and a sushi shop, one of its major customers, made 6,000 sushi dishes a day, he said. A great amount of fish was bid on every morning, snapped up by buyers.

In the 1990s, after the burst of the bubble economy, however, the situation began to change, with people consuming less fish and more major retailers directly buying seafood without going through wholesalers.

Sales of high-priced fish — the main product at the market — dropped, and many of its customers, including high-end Japanese restaurants and fresh fish stores, closed.

Nomura started his own business 16 years ago and survived the financial crisis following the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. But this time he decided to close down.

Out of 50 companies in the complex, 14 firms including Nomura’s chose to close. About a dozen companies willing to continue their business considered moving together to the municipal-run Nagoya Central Wholesale Market in Atsuta Ward. But they had to give up the plan because of legislative issues and decided to move to a building near the market. The rest will move to different buildings within the Yanagibashi market or switch to delivery-based wholesaling without a store.

The complex was built in 1965 under joint investment by association members. As more than 50 years have passed since its completion, the Nagoya Municipal Government requested that it undergo seismic reinforcement work.

However, because the work costs some ¥900 million, placing a great financial burden on the association, it conducted a vote last year on whether to maintain or disband. Seventy out of 73 members voted for the latter.

“It was a tough decision to make to dissolve an association with a long history,” said Tetsuya Asaoka, head of the association.

The complex is located in an area currently under major redevelopment in connection with the scheduled 2027 opening of a maglev shinkansen line linking Tokyo and Nagoya.

The focus now is on how the site of the building will be used, but the association refrained from revealing such information, including to whom the place was sold and at what price, due to confidentiality obligations.

The market itself will continue operating, but similar issues are likely to come up with other building complexes that are also aging, putting the historical market at a crossroads.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Oct. 17.

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