Nishiki Market is known as Kyoto’s Kitchen or Japan’s Pantry, and is an incredibly popular food spot both with tourists and locals. We have a love-hate relationship with this dining hotspot and bona-fide attraction, and will cover the pros & cons, avoiding the crowds, and more in this guide to Nishiki Market.
For starters, Nishiki Market is located in Central Kyoto, near the city’s downtown commercial and shopping district. Nishiki Market actually starts near the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades, which are two twin retail areas (albeit of a less traditional nature) and is one block north of the posh Shijo Dori, which is lined with luxury retailers.
Nishiki Market itself is a narrow corridor with an iconic yellow, red, and green roof that runs five blocks and is lined with over 100 shops and restaurants. Nishiki Market specializes in all things food related, including fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, tea, sweets, tofu, knives, cookware, and even consumer products.
Nishiki Market serves two purposes. There’s the visitor-facing market selling small bites, souvenirs, and specialty items. There’s also the more industrial side with more utilitarian suppliers that provide seafood and seasonal produce to restaurants around Kyoto and as far away as Tokyo.
Both are essential for the visitor experience at Nishiki Market, and this balance prevents it from being overwhelmingly touristy. Visitors are obviously not “consuming” anything from the industrial side of Nishiki Market, but that’s what makes this feel like an authentic market, and that’s all really cool to observe.
Frankly, the touristy side is also quite fun. Here you’ll find Kyoto specialties like as pickles, dried seafood, and seasonal vegetables. My strong recommendation is to try fried ayu (sweetfish), a local specialty. The skewered octopus heads are also good, but there’s nothing distinctly “Kyoto” about those.
These two sides together give Nishiki Market an interesting, quirky, eccentric, and rough-around-the-edges sensibility. At its best, Nishiki Market is a blast, and unquestionably the best food market in Kyoto. However, it is still very much a mixed bag…
As noted above, Nishiki Market is a narrow corridor. In many spots, it’s wide enough only for 3-4 people standing side by side. It’s also incredibly popular, owing in part to its centuries’ old reputation as Kyoto’s Kitchen and another part because it’s an easy topic to cover.
Just search for Nishiki Market on YouTube–you’ll find hundreds of videos that are all, essentially, “LOOK AS THIS WEIRD THING WE ATE!” If you feel that there are not yet enough Nishiki Market vlogs on YouTube, don’t worry, as you’ll undoubtedly observe a dozen or two being recorded while you visit.
“Get off my lawn” attitude aside, Nishiki Market is often packed–and not just with vloggers. I’m just as guilty as the next tourist, snapping photos (wherever they’re allowed–which is not everywhere, so check signs!).
Others inexplicably bring all of the luggage they own with them and aimlessly meander leading to intense congestion and making some areas almost impassable.
In fairness, it’s really easy to aimlessly wander through Nishiki Market. There are so many cool things that’ll grab your attention that this is the default way to explore the shopping street.
There’s so much to see and absorb that perhaps you’ll even appreciate the cramped nature of the area, which forces you to slow down and really take in the bustling marketplace.
Crowds get especially bad on weekends, holidays, and during both cherry blossom & fall colors season. However, even on an off-season weekday, Nishiki Market can feel unreasonably congested.
That’s simply the nature of the beast–Nishiki Market is a really narrow shopping corridor.
This all might sound like us being really ‘down’ on Nishiki Market, and this should not be construed that way. We offer this all only so that you set reasonable expectations.
A lot of other resources gush about Nishiki Market, and fail to mention the realities of suffocating crowds.
It actually took us a while to come around on Nishiki Market. We had heard so many positive things about Nishiki Market, but our initial few experiences were all mind-numbing nightmare of people posing for selfies with food.
Finally, after watching a couple shows on NHK that showed another side of Kyoto’s Kitchen, we returned early in the morning to see the marketplace as it was waking up for the day.
Our new knowledge coupled with that no-crowds experience was what it took to finally win us over. Since then, we’ve returned several times in Nishiki Market’s morning and evening hours, and have had very good experiences.
Nishiki Market’s official hours are from 10 am until 6 pm, but the reality is that some vendors open earlier and some later.
We recommend going no later than 11 am, or right around 5 pm. We often go right at 10 am when it opens, but at that point there are always some stalls that have yet to open for the day.
Alternatively, we go later in the evenings–sometimes after 6 pm. With little time in Kyoto, we’re usually prioritizing temples while they’re open, which means we dedicated the evening hours to shopping, dining, and general wandering. Most of the stores in the nearby shopping arcades are open late, and some Nishiki Market vendors have later hours, too.
In terms of “what to eat” in Nishiki Market, that really will vary depending upon your tastes. If you’re adventurous, try pretty much anything you see (don’t walk and eat). The things we highly recommend are ayu (sweetfish), wagashi (Japanese sweets), kyoyasai (Kyoto vegetables), tsukemono (pickled vegetables), and tofu.
As noted above, I also like the tako tamago (octopus with a quail’s egg inside the head), but that’s definitely more of an acquired taste.
A few shops are also worth mentioning. The most famous is Aritsugu, which is a 400+ year old purveyor of what’s widely considered to be some of the best knives in Japan. There’s also Kidoairaku, a nice ceramics shop, and Ichihara Heibei Shōten, which sells personalized chopsticks.
Even if these things are too pricey for you, it’s fun to window shop and see the wide selection of handmade goods with exquisite attention to detail. (In general, the shopping scene in Kyoto is great for people who appreciate craftsmanship.)
We recommend beginning on Nishiki Market’s west end, near the intersection of Nishikikoji and Takakura Streets. This is about a 5 minute walk from Shijo Station or Karasuma Station. From there, slowly work your way east until you’ve seen and eaten enough.
At this point, you’ll be near Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine and within the twin Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades. We love these two streets almost as much as Nishiki Market, but as with Kyoto’s Kitchen, these two areas have pitfalls of their own.
Namely, there’s a lot of tacky crap here. Novelty shirts, stereotypical novelty items, and just plain junk. There are also plenty of great stores, selling everything from everyday items to high-end souvenirs and specialty items.
We are particularly big fans of Montbell, a minimalist Japanese outdoor equipment and clothing.
At the other end of the spectrum, Daiso is a solid 100 yen store, with plenty of trinkets and small items you can take home to give as gifts.
Right next door to Daiso is Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, which is a small but busy shinto shrine with lanterns and bronze cow. It’s one of the weaker shrines you’ll see in Kyoto, but it’s location makes it interesting.
Overall, Nishiki Market is a lot of fun if you time things right, but at the “wrong” time of day, it’s something that won’t be for everyone. We recommend going and seeing for yourself. At the very least, it’ll give you a chance to see the other two shopping arcades and stroll around Downtown Kyoto before making your way to Gion or wherever else you’re planning on visiting in this part of Kyoto, Japan!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan? Did you find it to be too crowded, or was your experience better? What did you think of the shopping arcades in this area? Would you recommend Nishiki Market to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does visiting this spot in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!