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Operation Tsukiji: Tokyo battles rats as iconic market shuts

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By Agence France-Presse

The operation must be ruthless, thorough and silent. Without alerting the watchful enemy, a unit of highly trained Japanese agents will throw up a ring of steel to block any escape from the vast battleground.

A rat near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, which is soon to close after 83 years -- an event expected to unleash a mass exodus of tens of thousands of the rodents  (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

A rat near Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, which is soon to close after 83 years — an event expected to unleash a mass exodus of tens of thousands of the rodents (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Despite being vastly outnumbered, the unit’s chief commander is confident of total victory against the enemy army — tens of thousands of rats expected to scurry loose when the world-famous Tsukiji fish market closes next month.

The 23-hectare (57-acre) market near Tokyo’s swanky Ginza district is home to “not thousands but tens of thousands” of rats, attracted by fish offcuts and the market’s maze of sewers, according to Tatsuo Yabe, a rat expert.

After a fabled 83-year history, the world’s biggest fish market, which is also a huge tourist magnet for its pre-dawn tuna auctions, will move to a brand-new facility in Toyosu, about 2.3 kilometres (1.4 miles) away on the waterfront.

The moving operation is unprecedented. Some 900 businesses handling 480 kinds of seafood worth $14 million daily — as well as 270 types of fruits and vegetables — will relocate over a period of five days.

Thousands of trucks and forklifts will take part in the move, with tonnes of waste produced in the process — manna from heaven for the furry denizens of the sewers.

“They will likely start moving en masse once they notice something unusual… The week after the market closes on October 10 will be the major battle,” a Tokyo government official who commands the Tsukiji anti-rat operation told AFP.

To prevent a mass exodus from Tsukiji, Tokyo officials — helped by veteran rat exterminators — are busy blocking pipe and sewer exits and plugging holes in fences with corrugated sheets.

Before the market is torn down, they will erect an impregnable three-metre (10-foot) steel wall around the site and slowly move in through the perimeter to “corner and catch” the rodents, said the operation’s commander, who asked not to be named.

In addition, they will instal 40,000 sticky sheets to catch rodents, along with traps and use 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of rat poison.

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