Guide to Kyoto Markets was last updated on March 8, 2023
2023 GUIDE TO THE BEST 2 FLEA MARKETS IN KYOTO
Visiting Kyoto but not sure which of the best Kyoto markets to go to? Kyoto is famous for its flea markets and there are so many dotted around the city, each with its own tradition and niche, open only on certain days of the month. Narrowing down to just a couple to see for an authentic experience during a limited time in Kyoto can be overwhelming at times.
Like most travellers, if you are visiting Kyoto for the first time and for just a few days you may just want to join a tour to see the top Kyoto markets, which is a good idea to go for. As well, you may want an authentic experience of Kyoto’s flea markets independently, where you can browse, watch the banter of the barter, the lively spirit and the hues of the market place at your own pace for an enriched experience. For many, they combine the knowledge of the flea markets gained from research, and a tour for a meaningful experience of Kyoto markets. If you are contemplating any or all of these scenarios, then this guide is for you.
In this article, I will introduce to you two Kyoto markets, Kobo-san and Tenjin-san which make a great stop for travellers along with my experienced tips. I visited many flea markets during my stay in Kyoto and found these two to be bargain hotspots for handmade ceramics and trinkets, old, very old books and maps along with really nice and pretty silk kimono as well as yukata. A visit to either of these two flea markets in Kyoto will surely reward you with a bargain purchase. Almost everything is up at a sale price and you really wouldn’t want to leave without buying something.
Find out how to get here, best times of the day to visit and when to grab a good bargain.
ABOUT KYOTO AND KYOTO MARKETS
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan is famous for its plethora of temples, shrines, imperial palaces, magnificent gardens, quaint ryokans, ochaya (teahouses) and so much. The city oozes history at every turn. Located about 50 km (30 miles) northeast of the city of Osaka and about the same distance from Nara, another ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto is also within easy distance of Kobe, and Himeji, popular tourist destinations. If you plan to travel to these cities, you will find that a Japan Rail Pass will save you a ton of money.
Kyoto embodies the real essence of Japanese heritage. From the top temples, shrines and zen parks to an extensive range of stalls and stores that represent contemporary opulence and elegance which cater to materialistic desires. Entwined in the midst of traditional heritage and modern city life are the longstanding traditional flea markets in Kyoto.
There are numerous flea markets in Kyoto, niched to a type of trade and area. Adhering to long-standing traditions amongst the traders, regulated by local government and associations, these flea markets take place on a certain day, date and time.
Kyoto markets are a true haven for travellers to experience scrumptious street food, sample a selection of fresh and dried pickles, buy ornate souvenirs along with adorable kimono or yukata with pretty footwear — inexpensively.
Nishiki Market in Kyoto, known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” often tops every sightseeing list and for good reason. It sells anything from fresh seafood, to scrumptious street food and dried pickles along with uniquely crafted tableware. This is a place where you can experience the vibrancy of the local culture, what the natives enjoy in abundance while soaking in the aromas that permeate the air.
Nishiki Market is vast and busy. Really hyped. It covers several blocks and there are all sorts of fresh and dried food. While it is possible to explore by yourself, and knowing a little Japanese may be helpful, it is also really nice to go along with a small group led by a professional guide.
An English speaking guide who can also speak Kyoto-ben (Kyoto dialect) is invaluable when visiting Nishiki Market. A knowledgeable guide will guide you through the maze of stalls to a selected few so you can have as authentic an experience as possible within the crowded and hyped scene.
If this is the kind of thing you would like to do, then you will find this particular tour really nice to go with. With this tour you get to visit several family-owned stalls going back generations. You get to taste a wide variety of dishes including tsukemono (vegetables from the surrounding mountains preserved in vinegar), yuuba (the world’s smoothest sashimi tofu made from the world famous Kyoto mountain water), Tako (Octopus with quail egg) and Macha Warabi Mochi (a special traditional sweet covered in ground tea leaves). You will also learn about the various Japanese ingredients and how food is prepared. So, if you want to have one of the best food experiences in Kyoto, BOOK NISHIKI MARKET FOOD TOUR.
Pontocho Alley, Gion
While technically, there is no open-air Kyoto Night Market, you can still experience the night-time market scene along the five block long street where Nishiki market is situated until about 6 pm when it closes. Afterwards, make your way east to Pontocho Alley in Gion. At night-time, the atmosphere in Pontocho Alley is super lively featuring a diverse dining scene from cheap street food, to traditional and modern Japanese cuisine with free nibbles handed out to passers-by. One of the dishes that you must try when here is the classic, never-changing scrumptious Japanese Ramen in a hot steamy thick delicious broth with handmade delicate noodles. These are so yumm!
Gion is known for its charming, historic atmosphere and as an entertainment district. Long been associated with geisha (or geiko) and traditional Japanese arts, Gion has countless architectural marvels along with food and crafts shops.
Gion is an unmissable area when visiting Kyoto and exploring it at night is an experience in itself. I felt safe walking in Gion at night. The main area can be explored by yourself. It is easy enough to reach by train and bus. However, not many of the shop assistants speak English, so knowing a little Katakana or Hiragana might help but not essential. Restaurants here do offer menus in English.
If you really want to experience the authentic Gion and explore the many pretty streets off the main high-street, along with seeing the shrines and experience the food culture, then the best way to do this is to join a tour of Gion. As Gion is a popular tourist destination, there are several tours available for visitors. I found the following four tours to be the best, so you can book any one of them.
some food samples you get to taste when on a food tour in Kyoto
Here are my recommendations of the two top flea markets in Kyoto to experience, Kobo-san at Toji Temple and Tenjin-san at Kitano Tenmangu shrine.
KOBO-SAN FLEA MARKET AT TOJI TEMPLE, KYOTO
WHEN: 21st of each month
FROM: 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M
One of the popular Kyoto markets which I recommend is the Kobo-san flea market. Kobo-san market is held within the grounds of one of Kyoto’s most historic temples, the Toji Temple.
The Kobo-san market at Toji Temple is a rewarding cultural experience and is one of the most intense and unique Japanese shopping events.
Toji Temple, translated to East Temple is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a five-storey pagoda which was founded in 796 AD. Due to a lightning strike, the pagoda was rebuilt in the Edo period by Tokugawa Iemitsu. The Toji Pagoda stands at 57 metres high (187 ft).
The market is called ‘Kobo-san’ to honour the Buddhist priest, Kukai, who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan. He founded the temple in 796 AD. After his death on 21st March 835 AD, he was honoured with “Kobo-Daishi” title.
So, on the 21st of each month, the popular Kobo-san flea market takes place from dawn to dusk.
A bustling Kobo-san Kyoto market from dawn to dusk
On this one-day each month, the To-ji Temple itself becomes a secondary stage. The grounds of the Temple, turns into an enormous and liveliest market area, bustling with tourists and locals in search of antiques and good bargains. There is an incredible variety here and you can find pretty much anything that you might be looking for. The market opens at sunrise and as the sun begins to set, you will note the stalls start to pack-up and prices fall to a dramatic low!
Kimono and Yukata are a bargain at Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto
Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto at Toji Temple is home to over 1000 stalls where you can find beautiful vintage and cultural products such as second-hand kimonos, shoes, hats, hand-fans, ceramics, chopsticks, books and prints.
I bought a few kimonos for 500 Yen each. These are of top quality fabric and were well worth the money. I am a proud owner of the beautiful kimonos pictured above which are hanging in my wardrobe at the moment. There were some for even 300 Yen but I preferred these.
TIP: The Kobo-san Kyoto Market is one of the very few markets where you can negotiate and bargain over the products.
PRO TIP: There are so many stalls and you just have to keep looking till you find the right stall 😊. If you see something you really like at a good price, grab it. It won’t be there if you return in an hour! On the other hand, if you wait till after 2 or 3 pm, you will find some really good bargains. The crowd begins to dwindle after lunch and around this time vendors begin to pack-up for the day. So, the BEST TIME to pick up a BARGAIN is FIRST THING IN THE MORNING or FROM 2:00 PM.
Street Food at Kobo-san Kyoto Market
Aside from the bargain-hunting for traditional garments and fantastic souvenirs, the Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto is a great opportunity to experience the variety of Japanese street food. From yakitori (grilled meat on skewers), or takoyaki to Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.
Try the okonomiyaki if you feel like having something substantial. It is a Japanese-style savoury pancake, topped with layers of cabbage, meat, noodles and a choice of octopus or fish, with lots of okonomiyaki sauce (a combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, sugar or honey).
Read this informative article about Okonomiyaki, well-known as Hiroshima’s Soul Food. The article takes a brief look at how it all began and the best and “real” okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack. It is ball-shaped, made of wheat flour batter and cooked in a special moulded pan.
These dough balls are filled with pieces of octopus, pickled ginger and onions but you can hardly taste the ginger or the onions. It is topped with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkled with aonori or green laver (an edible green seaweed). Takoyaki is sometimes topped with shavings of dried bonito.
I must admit that takoyaki is not one of my favourite of Japanese food. People differ in taste, therefore I suggest that you try it at least once!
Best Tips for Kobo-san Flea Market in Kyoto
Give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore. You can easily get lost here, amongst the huge crowd. The enormous market area is like a maze and on occasions navigating around the stalls and re-tracing your steps may be a little challenging. So, give yourself plenty of time to get lost here and experience the authentic market atmosphere.
Mornings are best for specific items
Mornings are best if you want choices and are looking for specific items such as antiques, traditional ceramics or silk kimonos.
TIP: Kobo-san market gets going from about 9:00 A.M. but people start arriving from 8:00 A.M. to grab a good selection of what they need.
Also, it is not so crowded first thing in the morning and vendors are eager to sell to their first customers as they unpack to set up stalls.
Vendors usually begin to end their day at about 4:00 P.M. but the market stays open for longer in the summer months.
PRO TIP: If you are looking for a bargain, after 3 pm would be best as the vendors reduce their prices to at least half so they can get rid of their stock.
I visited the market at about 10:00 and the crowd was already beginning to build up but it was still pleasant. However, by midday, it was really crowded and queues were building up around the food stalls.
How to Get to Kobo-san Flea Market in Kyoto
Kobo-san Kyoto market is within the grounds of Toji Temple. Toji Temple is situated in Minami-ku. There are three ways to get to Toji temple.
From Kyoto Station
When you reach Kyoto Station, take the southwest exit towards Omiya and Kujo Street intersection This route takes 15 minutes. Just know that this route is not really that interesting. There is not much to see except busy streets amidst heavy traffic. 15-minutes is quite a long walk, if you think about it.
If you don’t fancy the walk, the nearest station, which I used, is the Toji Station.
From Toji Station
Toji Station is on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. It takes about 5-minutes to reach Toji Temple/Kobo-san Market. You can see the pagoda from the street outside the Toji Station.
Check this official site to Kyoto Station for trains, times and prices.
Buses #202 and #205 pass through Toji Temple. Find out more about taking a bus in Kyoto and whether a flat fare or a day pass is suitable for your needs.
Entry to the market and the grounds are free but there is a small charge if you are planning on visiting the pagoda and the surrounding buildings.
WHERE: Toji Temple,
ADDRESS: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8473, Japan
WHEN: 21st of each month
FROM: 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M
My thoughts about Kobo-san Flea Market at Toji Temple in Kyoto
Though the market can be intense, the temples provide a serene haven to escape to if you need a breather. Despite the crowd, Kobo-san Market is the place for antiques, trinkets and good value kimonos. There are other selections of traditional garments and hand woven pieces of material which you can purchase too. Even if you do not buy anything, the Kobo-san market at Toji temple is a great event to experience. In addition, there is a great selection of street food for you to taste.
For one day, on every 21st of each month, Kobo-san market in Kyoto comes together to represent the sereneness of the temple, the affluence of Japanese artistic traditions along with a bustling avariciousness.
If you wish to experience an authentic Japanese traditional market, I would recommend that you visit the Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto.
My second of the two Kyoto Markets not to miss is the Tenjin-san Market at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
TENJIN-SAN MARKET AT KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE KYOTO
WHEN: On the 25th of each month
FROM: 6:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M | Later in the summer.
Affectionately known as Tenjin-san market by the locals, the monthly market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in northwestern Kyoto is popular for its amazing bargains, fabric, vintage items and rare finds. Visiting the market makes a great excuse to visit the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine also, a destination that is popular among the locals as well as tourists.
The Tenjin-san market at the Kitano Tenmangu-shrine is one of the largest in Kyoto, held on the 25th of each month. There are well over 1000 stalls, in and around the shrine. Each street overflows with stalls and exploring the market stalls is an experience in itself. There are rare ornaments, silk kimonos and yukatas for a bargain. You shall also find vintage items such as pottery, and antiques along with fine woodworking. Various types of tea and ceramic tea-sets are also available.
About Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto
The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built in 947 AD in honour of Sugawara no Michizane, who was unfairly exiled by the political rivals of his time. He was a scholar and a politician during 794 AD to 1185 AD which represents the middle Heian period.
Sugawara no Michizane
Sugawara no Michizane was incredibly talented. He read poems at the age of 5 and wrote Chinese poems at the age of 11. Shrines were built to appease him, and he became known as the “god of academics.” He led the popular “Tenjin faith” throughout Japan. The Kitano Tenmangu is the main shrine and the origin of the faith. There are 12,000 shrines that are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane.
Rituals and Events
Rituals and events are held at various times throughout the year to commemorate the life of Sugawara. The Tenjin-san flea market is held on the 25th of each month to commemorate the anniversary of Sugawara’s passing.
The Kitano Tenmangu shrine is popular amongst students during exam time and during school trips. They come here to pray for wisdom and pray for help to get through their exams.
Tenjin-san flea market in Kyoto
What makes this flea market unique and will be well-worth your visit is the mixture of stalls within the traditional shrine setting. The grounds are large and there are many buildings such as the main shrine which is situated behind the worship hall (this is where the deity is enshrined). The worship hall is connected by the Ishi-no-Ma-Hall which one can visit.
In addition, there are the Sanko-mon Gate and the Ro-mon Gate, both rich in architecture and dating back centuries which are worth exploring.
The area around the shrine makes for a great escape when you get tired of the bustling crowd. So, when you need some space and quiet, you can just wander off to the calmness of the shrine and the gardens, or to enjoy your meal.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is home to beautiful buildings that has architecture going back centuries. It is decorated with hanging lanterns of various colours that just grabs your attention every now and again as you walk through the grounds.
Street Food at Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto
No flea market is complete without street food. Tenjin-san is no exception. There is a huge selection of street food stalls for every taste-bud!
The aroma of the yakisoba just draws you…which is mouth-wateringly delicious, cooked right in front of you.
Also on offer are freshly grilled corn-on-cob, fried yuba, yakitori, fried chicken along with takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
The market is open from the break of dawn till late, 9 pm, but has early closing hours in the winter.
How to Get to Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto
The Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu shrine can be accessed directly by Kyoto City Bus numbers 50 and 101 from Kyoto Station. It is about 30 minutes ride and costs 230 Yen.
There is a quicker route: take the Karasuma Subway Line to Imadegawa Station and then take the bus number 102 or 203.
In either case, get off at the Kitano Tenmangumae bus-stop.
WHERE: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
ADDRESS: Bakurocho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8386, Japan
WHEN: On the 25th of each month
FROM: 6:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M | Later in the summer.
My thoughts on Tenjin-san Market and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Tenjin-san Market is a popular market visited by both tourists and locals alike. It is especially popular with students as it is a lively place to hang-out when they come to the Kitano Tenmangu shrine to pray for wisdom and academic success in observing the Tenjin faith.
I was pleasantly surprised when I visited here. The architectural design was exceptional and the many lanterns just caught my attention. In addition, I watched a show performed by the students of the Shinto faith who sang and danced depicting an ancient story. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed.
I enjoyed watching the gracefulness of the female actresses, the beating of the drums that signified the dramatic turns in the story and the upbeat attention grabbing dancing. It was free to watch, so just make your way to the podium when visiting the market.
Tenjin-san market is a market with a difference. It is a place where you will not only experience what a traditional market in Kyoto is and what the market offers but also the inspiring architectural designs, the sereneness of the gardens along with a closer look at Shinto practices.
Recommended read: The 5 Etiquette you need to know before Visiting a Shinto Shrine
PRACTICAL INFORMATION TO CONSIDER BEFORE TRAVELLING TO JAPAN
Kyoto is a beautiful part of Japan that is worth exploring. The region is vast, absolutely rich in heritage and culture and offers so much in well-preserved gardens. To discover the richness of Kyoto may require several weeks. I say this because, although I lived in Hirakata for six months, which was only 20 minutes away from Kyoto, there was so much that I could not have experienced without a tour and wish I could have stayed longer to explore deeper.
I would highly recommend that you go on at least a couple of tours to see the best of Kyoto. Some places can only be reached by bus and navigating these can be challenging. If you do want to take the stress out of navigating public transport, and save some time on travelling and figuring out between attractions, going on small group tours are best.
My personal recommendation would be for you to go on a food tour, experience Gion and visit the top must-see places in Kyoto. The Nishiki and Gion at night tours mentioned above are excellent and I have been on them myself. You may want to consider a daytime tour of Gion with breakfast at Nishiki. In this way you can experience both in one tour. and return to experience Gion later in the evening.
Here are some of the best tours to BOOK when visiting Kyoto:
BEST KYOTO TOURS
My sincere wish is that this guide has been valuable in your search for the best Kyoto markets to visit for an authentic and rich experience of Japanese culture.
Before you go, take a look at the Useful tips for Kyoto and some of the articles about Japan appended below which may be helpful to you if you are planning a visit to other destinations in Japan.
Have an awesome time exploring and discovering the ancient land of Japan.
KYOTO TRIP USEFUL CHECKLIST
- For an overview of my essential tips about visiting Japan, see my Japan Travel page;
- Need tips on when to visit Japan? See this essential guide about the Best Time to Visit Japan;
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – You can usually reserve your room with no upfront payment. Pay at the hotel when you get there. Free cancellation too.
- Buy an E-SIM Mobile Data Plan to suit and activate it as soon as you need it. You could also rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router which I personally found especially invaluable during my stay in Japan;
- Visiting more than one city? Save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass;
- Best time to go to Japan;
- Guide to Cherry Blossoms in Japan;
- Etiquette at a Shinto Shrine;
- Books on Shintoism;
- Japan Travel Guide;
- The Best 5 Cultural Attractions in Kyoto that You Must See;
- The Best Two Flea Markets in Kyoto that You Must Experience;
- Mount Hiei: Sacred Mountain in Kyoto;
- An Easy Guide to Lake Biwa, Kyoto;
- Best of Uji in One Day;
- Murasaki Imo: The Rich Japanese Soft Serve Ice-cream;
Day Trips from Kyoto
- Best of Hiroshima in One Day;
- Guide to Two Days in Hiroshima and Miyajima;
- Best of Miyajima Island in One Day;
- Best Ways to get to Hiroshima;
- Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima Soul Food;
BASICS FOR KYOTO, JAPAN