Nishiki Market: Exploring Kyoto’s 400-Year-Old Kitchen

Lily Crossley-Baxter

Stalls, samples, skewers and specialities: Kyoto’s Nishiki Market is a treasure trove of delicious treats, hearty produce, history—and even a Snoopy Cafe.

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Nishiki Market: The basics

In the downtown district of Kyoto, you can step straight off the smart, spacious Shijo Street and into a thriving shopping street filled with locals, visitors and everyone in between. From grandmothers buying pickles to toddlers chewing on skewered octopus heads, there’s something charming about this place, and plenty to explore. And it’s been here, in one form or another, since around 1615 (perhaps even earlier).

With over 100 stalls and shops lining the covered street, the Nishiki food market offers a real mixture of produce. Almost all of it is locally grown—usually by those selling it. The growing attention the market receives means that traditional family-run shops stand side by side with newer stores aimed at tourists. Many of the latter sell Kyoto-based speciality items in an attempt to fit in.

As well as street food and ingredients, you can find plenty of kitchen-related things in Nishiki—from tableware to knives to personalized chopsticks. That means you can stock your cooking area as well as your fridge.

A great deal for independent travellers who need accommodation and transport, but can find things to do on their own. The package includes round-trip tickets for the click here for details
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The 400m-long stretch can take some time to explore, with each step offering new sights and smells—and an overwhelming choice of food and drink. Shop assistants call for your attention and the passing scents draw you towards them. This is certainly an experience to be savored. While Nishiki Market could be squashed in on the way to nearby Yasaka Shrine, try to give it all the time you can.

Pro tip: If you’re worried you might miss something at Nishiki Market, you can book a tour with a local guide.

Nishiki Market operating hours

The market keeps regular hours. It’s up and running by 10am and closed at 6pm. We recommend scheduling it during the middle of your day if possible—it’s perfect for lunch or an early dinner.

In keeping with its traditional shotengai (shopping street) style, the street market is quite dim. The brightly colored roof does allow a bit of light in, but mostly lends the street a sense of permanent evening—though it’s not at all a night market. Although Japan traditionally looks down on eating in the street, there are exceptions. Skewers of meat and fish often offered in more relaxed areas—and here at Nishiki Market, you can feast on them.



What to eat in Nishiki Market

One of the best ways to explore Nishiki Market is by taste—and there’s certainly plenty of opportunity to do so. There are some snacks you might recognize, while others are a little more unusual. Depending on how adventurous you feel, there’s enough here for a feast, so you can stroll and snack as you like. Some shops have small seating areas where you can take a break if the market is busy. Here are some of the best snacks to try:

Tako tamago

A small baby octopus with a quail’s egg inside the head. The little skewered treat is candied and is a strange combination of salt and sweet.

Sesame dumplings

Small balls with a variety of flavors, these are sweet or savory, with cheese options too. They’re a crunchy treat and a great way to try the local sesame flavors. Black sesame is especially delicious, but pick and choose, they’re well worth a try!



Japanese fish cakes

Japanese fish cakes are a traditional snack here in Japan and across Asia. They’re made from fish paste, mixed with flour, then deep fried. You can try a variety of flavors, from cheese to mochi, and get a feel for your favorite.

Fresh grapefruit juice

After all this food and especially in summer, you’ll need a drink. This is where freshly pupled fruit juice comes in, and beats out any vending-machine offering. At one of the small stalls near Nishiki Shrine, you’ll see a mountain of grapefruit and can have one pulped, juiced and served with a straw as is!

Chinese dumplings

Not originally Japanese, true—but delicious nonetheless. You can try a few freshly made dumplings to fill you up, with traditional meat fillings.

Mochi in many forms

Mochi is a sweet you’ll have seen across Japan from supermarkets to street stalls. The sticky rice cake that is mochi comes in many forms, and should be tried in all.

Much like tofu, if you’ve had one type of mochi you didn’t like, don’t let it put you off. Sweet, soft mochi dusted with kinako powder (a sweet toasted soybean flour) has a peanut-like flavor, whereas the chewy dango (balls on a stick) is often dipped in a sweet/salty soy-sauce glaze. If it’s pink and in a leaf, you’re looking at sakura mochi. And if it’s white, it’s kashiwa mochi, filled with red bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf. Try one, try all and find your favorite.

Senbei

Rice crackers with different seasonings, senbei are surprisingly filling and always delicious. You can choose from soy sauce or a sweet plum sugar, as well as miso and plain salt. Made for street-eating, nothing beats a freshly made senbei!

Foods to take home from Nishiki Market

If you’re living in Japan, staying somewhere with a kitchen or have people to give gifts to, then there are some amazing foods to take away with you. To be honest, even if you just try them on a park bench somewhere—they are worth the effort. With a sea of locally grown, pickled and produced items, you can’t go wrong, especially if you ask for recommendations from the shop owners. You’ll see plenty of awesome foods on display, but it can be a bit intimidating if you don’t know quite what they are, or how to eat them. So here is a mini guide to what things are, and what to do with them.

Tsukemono: Pickled vegetables

A side dish with centuries of history in Japan, these pickled vegetables are sold from barrels and trays, still sitting in the brines and rice brans they were pickled in. With strong flavors and bright colors, they are often very decorative and add a nice sharpness to a meal.

There are two kinds of tsukemono: a short, one-night pickling and a longer one, with the pickling process using miso, salt, soy sauce or rice bran. Some of the most famous types to keep an eye out for are turnip (senmaizuke), turnip leaf with red perilla (suguki), and (among other ingredients) eggplant and cucumber (shibazuke).

Fresh tofu

Kyoto is the home of tofu, often appearing in the kaiseki meals and as a main feature of the Buddhist vegetarian food of Shojin Ryori. Made from soybeans, tofu has many forms, and if you have been put off in the past by one (usually soft tofu), don’t give up hope yet. Try the thin, fried sheets of age-tofu or the thicker atsu-age tofu. Alternatively, there’s the softer oboro-tofu or grilled yaki-tofu—all have their own charm.

At Nishiki Market, you can see trays of fresh tofu which can be eaten as is or taken home for dinner, as well as cooked snack versions too!

Tamagoyaki: Japanese omelette

Made by rolling layers of cooked egg together to form a hefty-looking block, tamagoyaki should be fluffy and a little sweet thanks to the mirin used in the cooking.

Tamagoyaki is not necessarily a Kyoto speciality, but perfected thanks to the local focus on a more vegetarian cuisine. You will see plenty of small stalls offering boxes of them for a few hundred yen. It makes a great snack, a perfect side dish and is ready to eat.

Kyoyasai: Kyoto vegetables

Believed to have more minerals, vitamins and fiber than other vegetables, Kyoyasai are revered. There are 41 kinds designated as traditional vegetables. With unusual shapes, bright colors and hearty flavors, these veggies are a real speciality and are often the focus of vegetarian dishes in the prefecture. Cultivated since the Edo period, they are highly prized and have noticeable differences to what you may be used to.

For example, the Kamo eggplants are deep purple and round, and especially delicious when grilled. The Kyo takenoko is a hand-farmed, sweet-tasting bamboo, and its fresh shoots can be eaten uncooked and dipped in vinegar-miso sauce, as they are in the Rakusai area of Kyoto.

Wagashi: Japanese sweets

Part of tea ceremony, wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets designed to represent the seasons or elements of nature. Often featuring mochi and anko (sweet red bean paste), wagashi are usually made from plant ingredients and are delicately crafted.

Kyoto being the heart of Japanese tea ceremony, there is nowhere better to try wagashi—and at Nishiki Market you can try individual sweets or buy some beautiful selections as gifts to take home.

Dried fish

You will no doubt see mountains of tiny dried fish with scoops beside them, and these are some of the more pungent offerings of Nishiki Market—as well as the most beautiful. Although they may be an acquired taste, you can eat the fish as snacks, or use them for broth or toppings.

A couple to look out for are:

Niboshi: Dried young sardines. These are either eaten as snacks and toppings, or used as soup stocks—they are the most common base for dashi (traditional Japanese stock).

You can also see them during New Year’s, where they make an appearance in osechi ryori: cooked with soy sauce and sugar to make tazukuri, and symbolizing a good harvest.

Sakura ebi: Small, pink dried shrimp. These little creatures are named after the pink cherry blossoms that are so loved in Japan. They offer a sweet, umami flavor unlike the fresh ones, and are used in a wide variety of dishes.

Furikake: Rice toppings

A sprinkling of furikake on a bowl of rice brings the meal to life. Made with a mixture of dried seaweed, sugar, salt, chili, sesame seeds, dried fish, dried miso and dried fish flakes among a huge variety of other options, packets of furikake are a great souvenir or treat to take home.

There are a few different sellers here and they all let you try samples—so get stuck in, especially if you aren’t familiar with the tastes. The packages are often nicely designed and flat, which is super for those short on space! It’s also a brilliant idea if you’re on a tight budget and foresee many a meal of rice in your future.

Souvenirs from Nishiki Market

If you’re looking for some longer-lasting gifts to take home, Nishiki can be a one-stop-shop for food and all the things you need to chop, serve and eat it with!

Aritsugu knives

Aritsugu are the purveyors of some of the best knives in Japan, with a history spanning all the way back to 1560. Opened by Fujiwara Aritsugu, the shop has been passed down from generation to generation. It has now reached the 18th in line.

Aritsugu Knives Nishiki
Photo by Everjean used under CC

Originally swordsmiths to royalty, the decline in the need for swords led to the family focusing their skills on kitchen knives. They now produce some of the best in the country. That craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap; but if you’re after something special, this may be the place for you. With speciality knives and more all-round models, you can select a blade and have your initials engraved if you like. If properly cared for, the knife can last for generations.

Engraved chopsticks

Chopsticks at Nishiki market
Photo by Ajay Suresh used under CC

One of the first places to head to for engraved chopsticks is Ichihara Heibei Shōten—a specialist store with hundreds of different types of chopsticks. From very affordable to luxury gifts, the options are arranged by wood-type, use and style, all with the option of a personal engraving. Seasonal themes, characters and special patterns adorn the chopsticks and you can get something pretty unique to match even the pickiest of eaters.

Pro tip: Read about other Japanese souvenir ideas.

Restaurants in and around Nishiki Market

Gogyo Ramen Kyoto
Photo by Zanpei used under CC

If all the street food from the stalls and shops isn’t enough, then some of the nearby restaurants might fill you up instead (and offer a spot to rest your weary feet).

Gogyo Ramen

For something filling and quick, Kyoto Gogyo Ramen is a great option, offering burnt ramen and gyoza on the side. While this might sound unusual (or even unfortunate) it’s definitely intentional and you might just find it to your liking. Cooked fresh in a flaming pan, the ramen takes on a distinct burnt, umami flavour with a hint of smokiness.

Tiger Gyoza and Donguri’s okonomiyaki

If gyoza sound good and you’d rather skip the ramen, Tiger Gyoza has a Showa-style branch nearby. A popular okonomiyaki spot is Donguri and you’ll find a branch between the market and Kawaramachi Station.

The Snoopy Cafe: Snoopy Cha-Ya

With a shop on the ground floor and a cafe upstairs, the Snoopy Cha-ya is a surprisingly contemporary spot to see while you wander through Nishiki Market. With a nod to traditional styles and plenty of real food and sweets to try, it’s also (un)surprisingly busy. The cafe serves up savory dishes like pasta as well as cakes and parfaits (plenty of seasonal variations of course), all adorned with cute Snoopy elements. While prices may be higher and servings smaller, you’re not really there for the food—so enjoy the cuteness and take plenty of pictures.

Vegetarian options

For the vegetarians, nearby is Hale, a spot with vegetarian and vegan traditional dishes that feature tofu or byproducts like yuba and okara.

Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine

When you wander out of Nishiki Market, you’ll spot of a wall lanterns for the beautiful Tenmangu Shrine. Moved a few times during its life, the shrine was originally built over a thousand years ago, and was eventually separated from Kanki-ji Temple during the religious separation of the Meiji period.

This temple enshrines the god of learning, making it a popular place to pray for luck in studying. The water here is believed to be of especially high quality—another reason many visit. Keep an eye out for the small plum-shaped amulets hanging from trees, which you can buy for ¥500. You simply write your wish, place it inside the plum, and hang it from a tree.

Hotels near Nishiki Market

If you’re looking to stay near the market (it’s a great central location anyway) there are plenty of options to choose from.

Minimal capsule hotel: Nine Hours Kyoto

A familiar option for the budget traveler who likes a little more privacy, the trendy chain offers modern capsules for decent prices. With your own small cabin, you’ll be sharing a bathroom and have free wifi, just not much headroom …

Modern capsule hotel: The Millenials Kyoto

A modern take on the capsule hotel, The Millenials offers adjoining pods, private projectors and mixed double-pods, making this a far more social affair. With a lounge for the hostel element and the privacy of a capsule, it’s a great mix and affordable to boot.

Smart hotel: Nest Kyoto Shijokarasuma

Smart and newly finished, the Nest Hotel is fast becoming one of the most popular options in Kyoto thanks to its good prices and great location. Only 10 minutes from the market, the hotel has rooms starting at just under ¥5,000 and is simple but smart.

Getting to Nishiki Market

kyoto weekend
Photo by Chris Gladdis used under CC

Already in a great central location, the Nishiki Market shopping district is easy to get to however you prefer to travel. Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line provides the closest train access, while the nearest metro station is Karasuma-Oike. For bus travelers, the closest bus stop to Nishiki is either Shijokawaramachi or Shijotakakura (both on the busy Shijo-dori shopping street). To get from Kyoto Station to Nishiki Market you can catch the 4, 5, 73, 205, 17 and 26 among others or catch the train.

If you’ve arrived for dinner and are heading to spot some geisha, it’s just a short walk from Nishiki Market to Gion along Shijo Dori across the river.

Nishiki Market FAQs

Is Nishiki Market a night market?

No, Nishiki Market’s opening hours are between 10am and 6pm, with few places deviating from these hours. Unfortunately there aren’t any real night markets in Kyoto, but why not wander through Gion or check for festivals happening while you’re there instead?

Is Nishiki Market the same as Kyoto Fish Market?

No, while there are some spots selling fresh fish, the main fish market is near Tambaguchi Station (and Kyoto Station). At the Kyoto Fish and Seafood Market, wholesalers run to busy schedules starting with auctions from 5am.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in August, 2017. Last updated December, 2018.

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Tags: Culture, Featured, Fish, Food, History, Japanese Food, Japanese Knives, Kitchen, Kyoto, Lunch, Market, Nishiki, Shrine, Snacks, Stalls, Street Food, Tea Ceremony, Tofu, Tourist
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Name: 錦市場
Address: 609 Nishidaimonji-cho, Shijo-Noboru, Tomikoji Tori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Location(s): Kyoto,
Access: Shijo Station
Web: http://www.kyoto-nishiki.or.jp/
Link in Japanese
Phone: 075-211-3882 075-211-3882
Business hours: 9/10am - 6pm
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