The streets in Kyoto are magical. So too are the markets. Nishiki Ichiba is one such market. Known to locals as "Kyoto's Pantry", it hold true to its name. Narrow but lined with more than one hundred stalls and shops (most of which are food focused), Kyoto's Nishiki Market offers so much to wandering and hungry tourists. Running between Teramachi and Shinmachi, it is Kyoto's best and largest traditional food market.
Wrapped up in a long passageway are the characteristic foods and delights of Kyoto which are locally sourced and produced. The atmosphere is busy but beautiful and the stalls even more so with the market filled with both tourists and locals walking through the traditional shotengai (shopping street). It is visited by thousands of people every day however remains neatly arranged, perfectly aligned and maintains a relaxing atmosphere, contrary to the common belief of noisy and chaotic market places.
Good are arranged neatly, patterns of fabrics and fans scattered throughout. It's an authentic and enriching experience for senses. Some stalls sell takeaway foods like yakitori skewers or packets of rice and sashimi and there are a couple of sit down restaurants that can be found among the wagashiya-san stalls and the tofu and yuba shinise. You can't go past a lovely azuki bean and lotus cake, or of course the iconic Japanese mochi, hanami dango. Stop at a couple of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) shops. Prices are a little more expensive than what you would pay for in the standard department supermarkets, but there is a definitive difference in taste, freshness and quality.
Wide eyes and an empty stomach are a prerequisite when walking through the market with many things to marvel, however don't touch the products or produce unless you're willing to pay for what you've touched. Many stall owners have a "you touch you buy" policy. Of course if there are store owners holding skewers of octopus or sweets, nudging you to have a free try, do take them up on their request because free food is good food and the food in Kyoto is amazing. Unlike other markets in Japan, it's acceptable to eat while walking through Nishiki markets. You'll be asked when you purchase if you wish to eat it now "Ima taberu", or save it for later. I suggest purchasing some as you eat and saving plenty for those late night hunger pangs.
The best time to visit Nishiki is in the early morning (going early will beat the onset of crowds) or the late afternoon. Tourists tend to visit at lunch time and understandably so, but take this into account. Although we had visited the market about an hour before closing (not what we had intended) it was still fairly busy but just as beautiful. Not all of the stores were open and many were packing up after a long day that had begun before nine in the morning, but there was still plenty to see and eat.
Strolling through the market we witnessed many owners packing up after a hard day's work, the fishmongers hosing down their stalls and those selling cakes urging people to purchase them for half the price as many cakes were to be eaten within the day. The takoyaki stall was still busy at work with a high demand of people seeking fresh octopus balls for an evening snack, so don't worry about missing out on at least having some food if you visit in the evening.
A short three minute walk from Shijo Station, take the Karasuma subway line. You could also take a walk from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line. You'll find Nishiki and it's colourful glass ceiling, one block north and parallel to Shijo Street and west of Teramachi street, located between Kyoto Station and the Imperial Palace.
Admission and opening times:
Nishiki Ichiba is open from 9am to 6pm every day except Wednesdays and Sundays. Admission is free.