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How to Navigate a Bustling Japanese Market Like a Pro

From key phrases to bargaining etiquette, here are seven tips to navigating Kyoto’s Nishiki Ichiba, which is filled with food, clothing and other great finds

Discover Kyoto's Nishiki Ichiba market.

1. Know Some Useful Language

Although Kyoto has its share of tourists, and some vendors will know English, it’s always good to have a few phrases in your back pocket. Try these:

How much is it?: Ikura desu ka? いくらですか?

What do you recommend?: Osusume wa nan desu ka? おすすめはなんですか?

Which is most popular?: Ichiban ninki mono wa dore desu ka? 一番人気はどれですか?

2. Skip Bargaining in Japanese Markets

Although it’s ubiquitous in other parts of Asia, bargaining is not really done in Japan, except for a few select instances (see: flea markets and Akihabara’s electronics market). Prices are usually clearly marked, and samples are freely offered at Nishiki, so you should have ample chance to decide if it’s worth it. Quality is generally very high here.

A man lays out fresh seafood on ice at a stall in Kyoto market

3. Get There Early, But Not Too Early

The market, unlike some in Japan, is fairly quiet in the early morning, but gets into full swing by mid-morning. Some vendors open at 9 a.m., but many don’t open until 10 a.m. Most stay open until 6 p.m., but a few close earlier, especially those that sell fresh food. You can easily spend a couple of hours here sampling and picking up snacks for a picnic or as souvenirs.

4. Grab Some Local Specialties

There are over a hundred stalls to peruse at the market, but a few gems include Ocha no Ujiya, which specializes in locally grown Uji green tea and tea sweets, and Kyo Tsukimachian, which sells senbei, crunchy rice crackers with various seasonings that are especially addictive!

Oysters in shell, scallops, muscles and caviar are seen on ice at Kyoto market

5. Stop for Lunch

The market has several places to take a load off and have a more leisurely meal. Try homestyle Kyoto cooking at Ikemasa-tei, or organic vegetable-based cuisine with a focus on yuba, delicate paper-thin tofu skin, at Hale.

6. Keep Going

If you get to the end of Nishiki Market and still have some pep in your step, head on around the corner to Teramachi—meaning Temple Town—an adjacent covered market which continues almost seamlessly from Nishiki. Teramachi has a mix of modern stores, fashion shops, cool cafés, and old-style temple supplies such as juzu beads, home altars and other prayer accessories.

7. Save Room in Your Luggage

With so many tempting tidbits, it’s going to be extremely difficult to leave empty-handed. We warned you!

 A shot shows the halls of Kyoto market, shoppers browsing the stalls

Image credit: Alfie Goodrich