The Nishiki Market 錦市場

photos & text: Ry Beville

Few places in Kyoto are more vibrant than the Nishiki Market. Kyoto runs the gamut when it comes to preservation, from sites so pristine as to seem sterile to other parts of the city where historical buildings are falling into disrepair. Nishiki, however, thrives just fine on its own. It is still quite functional, a market for local restaurants and residents, a popular stroll through history and culinary delights for its many visitors.

This nearly 400m shopping arcade that runs parallel to Shijo between Teramachi Street and Takakura Street has been coined “the Kitchen of Kyoto.” The sheer variety of fresh, local food available from some of its more than 120 shops ranks Nishiki among the world’s best international food markets. From seafood to pickled vegetables, sweets to dried goods, tofu to fried foods, it’s hard not to find something that you like on the ‘menu’. Part of the pleasure of walking through Nishiki is the clamor of commerce: the shouted greetings, the haggling, the laughter and conversation of merchants and customers. Cooking ingredients, novelty items and souvenirs also stock some of the shop shelves, but food is at the heart of Nishiki.

Kyoto and food culture are synonymous in the minds of many foodies and the Nishiki market is obviously a vital part of that culture. One organization, Iori, even works with a local restaurant, taking guests to Nishiki to shop for ingredients for the dishes to be prepared later. There is a distinct satisfaction as a consumer in participating in such a tightly knit local economy this way.

In earlier centuries, Nishiki had a more robust role in the Kyoto economy. Records exist of a fishmonger setting up shop there as early as 1311, though there may have been earlier precedents. The road, at least, had existed since the late 8th century. By the early 17th century, it had become a flourishing fish market, with many vendors servicing the capital’s residents. Economic troubles after the Meiji Restoration caused the stores to dwindle to seven by 1883, though a revival in 1911 launched Nishiki back on the path to prosperity. Toward the end of the 1920s, other products such as fresh vegetables and meat were introduced. In the late 60s, there was a brief threat to the unique culture of Nishiki; a large supermarket was planning to purchase property there for a new store but the local merchants association bought the land to protect their heritage. Finally, in 1993, Nishiki got the tri-colored roof that protects vendors and shoppers from the elements.

Like most of the remaining arcades in Japan, Nishiki has a decidedly aged feel to it, as if locked in some older time. But stroll down the several blocks and you will see that it is very much alive, very much a sight to see, very much Kyoto.






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