There’s a distinct pulse to Japan’s capital city, a heartbeat that gives it the radiant, upbeat energy it’s so famous for. And nowhere is that rhythmic beat felt stronger than in the city’s many markets.
From modern-day farmers markets to ancient bazaars with stalls and shops passed down through generations, Tokyo has a tradition of lively marketplaces where locals and tourists alike experience the culture and offerings of the capital. If you’re visiting, here are some of the markets you should add to your itinerary!
Ameyoko is short for Ameyayokocho, which, in Japanese, means “candy sellers’ alley.” This refers to the market’s history as a post-WWII underground bazaar selling black-market food items such as sweet potatoes and sugar. Today, however, the marketplace has expanded to offer a wide variety of goods, from fashionable clothing and sports equipment to fresh fish and spices. Located along the Yamanote Line tracks between the Okachimachi and Ueno stations, the Ameyoko market is typically open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Originally opened in 1688, when special permission was granted to vendors to set up shop in the area surrounding the Sensoji Temple (Japan’s oldest and most visited), the Nakamise Market is one of the longest-running shopping centers in Japan. Today, it offers almost 90 different shops, some of which date back to the Edo era (1603-1868). Some of the stalls, which sell snacks, clothing, and ancient souvenirs, have been run by the same family for generations. They line an 800 foot (250 meter) walkway that leads directly to Sensoji, so you can stock up on street food and trinkets before visiting the majestic temple. Although each shop sets its own hours, most stay open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Market of the Sun
Most people are familiar with their local farmers market but probably haven’t experienced anything on this level before. The Taiyo no Marche, or Market of the Sun, is Tokyo’s massive farmers market, held on the second weekend of every month at the Tokyo Metropolitan Kachidoki. In addition to the more than 100 vendors who trek to the capital from all over the country to sell organic produce and delicacies, the market offers workshops and classes to teach visitors about farming techniques in a hands-on environment. Whether you’re browsing, practicing a new skill, or sampling and stocking up on the local fare, you’re sure to have an invigorating time at this charming marketplace.
Uncrowded and tranquil, Tokyo’s Nogi Shrine is a must for your Japanese journey. And, if you can work it into your schedule, try to attend on the fourth Sunday of the month, when the Antique Flea Market is set up. A small, but fun crafts market set up along the shrine’s Sando road, the Nogi Shrine Market consists of 40 shops offering second-hand furniture and clothing, cooking utensils, and tasty treats. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s a wonderful time to visit the small, serene shrine. The market opens at 9 a.m. and doesn’t close until early evening.
Consisting of a broad, tree-lined boulevard with high-end fashion stores and restaurants, Omotesando has earned the nickname, Tokyo’s Champs Élysées. Though not necessarily a quaint and quiet shopping experience, the busy stretch in Harajuku can still make for a fun afternoon out, with brilliant storefront windows and exquisite dining offerings. Don’t worry if you can’t afford anything — it can be fun just to stroll, browse, and people-watch. Like Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, tourists flock to the area to spot wealthy clientele popping in and out of the numerous cafés and boutiques.
This 430-year-old flea market is only held twice a year — on the 15th and 16th of December and January — and it is not to be missed. With over 700 stalls, Setagaya Boroichi is the perfect place to pick up all sorts of ancient antiques, such as handcrafted toys and fashionable kimonos. The market began in the 1570s when it was established as a “free,” or taxless, market designed to boost the local economy. Today, it is still held along the Boroichi-dori, a street which also houses the thatched-roof residence of the local magistrate. Make sure to try the popular daikon mochi rice cakes, a popular food in the Boroichi.
Are you a fan of fresh fish? Do you like vibrant and dazzling marketplaces? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then the Tsukiji Market is the perfect stop for you. One of the largest seafood markets in the world, Tsukiji moves 2,000 tons of marine products each day! The market has become somewhat synonymous with the city’s thriving food and market culture, having been featured in popular films such as “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” If nothing else, it offers an bustling atmosphere, with scooters, shoppers, trucks, and vendors mulling about and adding an air of excitement to the area.
Tokyu Food Show
Forget the clothes and souvenirs — it’s time to eat! There’s no place better for foodies than the Tokyu Food Show, nestled in the basement of the Tokyu Toyoko Department Store. With everything from fish and meats to beer and wine to sweets and pastries, you could camp out here for an entire day and eat all three meals if you wanted to. The massive market calls itself the “theater of food,” offering delicacies from all over the world, some of which are available to eat on the spot while others are for catering only. The Show is open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
UNU Farmers Market
Many acknowledge that eating healthy can help boost brain activity, so it’s no surprise that one of Tokyo’s most vibrant farmers market is held at the United Nations University, right in front of the school’s Aoyama headquarters. Open every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the market boasts a motto of “Water, sun, and the Earth,” committing itself to the theme of culture and cultivation. Roughly 40 vendors gather each weekend to sell fruits, vegetables, flowers, rice, and other foods — most of which is grown in the Kanto plain area.
Cover Photo by @chiezo_photo