A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.
The phrase "Asian food market" invokes images of noisy, messy, and crowded alleys.
This is not at all the case for Japanese food markets, though. While no less delightful in ambiance, public food markets in Japan are orderly and clean—a relaxing and yummy experience for any visitor. When traveling in Japan, you should make the effort to visit at least one.
1. Kuromon Food Market, Osaka (黒門市場, Kuromon Ichiba)
“Osaka’s Kitchen” was originally named Enmyoji Ichiba after a nearby temple. After the temple was destroyed by fire in 1912, the marketplace came to be known as Black Gate, or Kuromon, after the original black gate of the destroyed temple.
Nowadays beloved by locals and tourists alike for numerous stalls cooking and serving fresh seafood on the spot, Kuromon is also home to a variety of shops selling bags, apparel, and daily necessities, making it a convenient and affordable location to pick up travel supplies.
Best of all, the covered market is located in the Chuo district, just minutes away from the popular Dotonbori and Shinsekai areas. You can easily visit all three Osaka attractions within a day.
How to Get to Kuromon Food Market
The covered market is a short walk from Nippombashi Subway Station and Kintetsu Nippombashi Station.
2. Nishiki Market, Kyoto (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba)
Busy Shijō Street is the main shopping thoroughfare of Kyoto, full of modern department stores and shops. Mere steps away, on the other hand, is Nishiki Market, a lively covered street market specializing in all things food-related. One that’s widely considered one of the best marketplaces in Japan too.
Famous as the market where top Kyoto chefs source their ingredients, Nishiki is a paradise for anyone exploring the intricacies of Japanese cuisine as many stalls often giving out samples or sell sampler dishes. For visitors not into cooking, this beloved food market also has a handful of handicraft and apparel stores. Many uniquely Japanese souvenirs are on sale here. There is even an atmospheric Tenmangu shrine tucked away in an alcove.
How to Get to Nishiki Market
Nishiki Ichiba is less than a minute’s walk north of Shijō Street, with the closest subway station being Shijō Station on the Karasuma Subway Line. The market is also within walking distance of both Karasuma and Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. It can easily be part of a Kyoto travel itinerary that includes nearby Gion District and Yasaka Shrine.
3. Tsukiji Outer Market, Tokyo (築地場外市場, Tsukiji Jōgai Shijō)
First and foremost, Tsukiji Jōgai Shijō (or Tsukiji Outer Market) was not affected by the much-publicized Tsukiji Market shift of October 2018. What was relocated to Toyosu was the wholesale operation. The Outer Market's many shops remain open for business where they have long been.
Secondly, despite the thousands of tourists that flock to it each day, Tsukiji Outer Market is still a must-see on any Tokyo travel itinerary. Other than a fascinating variety of freshly prepared seafood and other Japanese delicacies on sale, the bustling alleys offer a glimpse at how old Tokyo i.e. Edo market streets must have been like in the past. It is not an exaggeration to say every corner and every street is a travel photography or selfie opportunity.
Thirdly, the marketplace remains a great place to buy food ingredients such as dried scallops and shrimps. While prices might not be the best within Japan, what’s sold is always top-notch in quality, with shops highly familiar with non-Japanese speaking customers too.
Last but not least, the Outer Market is but minutes away from the glitzy Ginza shopping district. In the morning, you could be feasting on fresh sashimi under the rising sun. In the afternoon, you would be sipping flower tea in a swanky minimalist café.
How to Get to Tsukiji Outer Market
Tsukiji Jōgai Shijō is a short walk from Tsukiji Shijō Station on the Oedo Subway Line, and Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line.
Etiquette When Visiting Food Markets in Japan
Regrettably, ever-rising numbers of visitors each year have attracted complaints from local residents and shoppers. When visiting any Japanese food market, do observe the following:
- Bargaining is not the culture at Japanese marketplaces. You will attract very strained looks if you insist on doing so.
- The Japanese generally frown on eating while walking. In other words, please eat your purchases at the stalls you bought them from.
- Another very good reason not to eat while walking is that trash bins are phenomenally difficult to find in Japan nowadays. On the other hand, practically all Japanese food outlets have bins for you to dispose of your skewers, paper boxes, etc.
- When taking photographs, please be respectful of other shoppers and diners. Not everyone appreciates being a part of your travel memories.
- Needless to say, any shop in the world will consider you an annoyance if you spend half an hour shooting photos but leave without buying anything.
- What’s most important to remember is that these Japanese public food markets are patronized by locals too. In other words, you are welcomed to window-shop. But please do not block locals from buying what they need.
3 Must-Visit Japanese Food Markets
© 2019 Yong Kuan Leong
Yong Kuan Leong (author) from Singapore on April 24, 2019:
Hey Liz, thanks for always reading and commenting on my hubs!
I was obliged to include the final section because coincidentally, there was a recent news article about Kyoto residents complaining they can no longer patronize Nishiki. The article borders on sensationalist, if you ask me, but I can empathize with locals who have to travel further to get daily stuffs, no thanks to tourists.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 24, 2019:
This is a very well-illustrated and interesting article with top class illustrations. I especially appreciated your tips at the end.