Nishiki Market in the Heart of Kyoto, Japan!
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Getting There: Kyoto is accessible from Tokyo or you can fly in directly to Kansai airport (KIX).
Transport: Kyoto Station is just over 2 hours by bullet train from Tokyo or 1 1/2 hours by train from KIX. The market can then be reached by subway or bus.
Times: Shops and restaurants are mostly open from 9:00am to 6:00 but it varies widely by store.
In May 2018 I ventured to Japan for the first time. I started in Kyoto where I spent a little over a week with a couple of day trips to other parts of Japan. The Nishiki Market in Kyoto was my favorite market. I found myself there 3 different times. The first time was in the evening when very few shops were open. Although there was not much to see, this walk through made me want to come back again to see it in full operation. I came back at lunch time and was not disappointed.
The market consists of many small shops selling everything from raw fish to chopsticks to sake. And then there are a variety of restaurants for sit down meals or to stand and eat. It is not part of Japanese culture to walk and eat at the same time so everyone stands near the stall and eats whatever is on offer. My favorite was the baked scallops on a stick –500 yen ($4.50 USD) for one skewer! They were so good that when I came back for the third time I had them again. Many fried items were on offer as were octopus on a stick filled with a chicken egg (yes that is what I said!), grilled fish on a stick, and both sweet and savory snacks.
As I continued to walk I saw so many things that I did not recognize. The fish looked amazing. Some of it was sold raw to take home but many shops had fried seafood or octopus on a stick, etc. There were plenty of shops selling pickled vegetables. And it was good for me that many of them had free samples available so I helped myself. Some of the tastes were better than others but I would not consider any of them really bad. It was a great way to taste a bit of pickled daikon radish, beets, ginger, onions, plums, etc. There are also many different shops selling pickled vegetables and fish with sakekasu (sake lees) which is the leftovers from the sake production.
After the scallops I found a shop selling takoyaki which is a Japanese snack which is made with octopus inside a wheat ball batter. The balls are formed in a special pan and then served with different toppings like mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, green seaweed called aonori, and dried bonito. The place I went to was packed with people sampling these delicacies. After looking at the menu and deciding which toppings I wanted and how many pieces I wanted I proceeded to the vending machine (yes, they love vending machines in Japan) where I put my money in and received a ticket which I gave to the guy behind the counter. A few minutes later I was served my hot takoyaki and I ate sitting at a small bench in front of the restaurant.
Other than fresh and prepared food, the market has shops that cater to the tourists including small souvenirs like chopsticks, bags, purses, fans, paper products, shoes, t-shirts, etc. This market really has something for everyone and is a great way to spend an afternoon. I went on the weekend and it was very busy and then went again on a weekday and the crowds were much more manageable.