Osaka is the largest city in western Japan and it flourished as the economic and commercial center of Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868). It eventually came to be called the “nation’s kitchen,” for being a bustling place to which a wide variety of foods and other goods were brought from all over Japan. Today, this same vibrant energy is still found in Osaka.
The Kuromon Market is a busy place that prospered as the center of “nation’s kitchen” for many years. Kuromon, which literally means “black gate,” was originally a fish market that opened around 1822 (and was approved as an official market in 1902). The name is said to have come from the black gate of Enmyo Temple, which stood in this area until 1912, the last year of the Meiji Period.
Over 150 shops line the streets of the Kuromon Market, selling everything from fresh fish, produce, meats, to kimonos and household goods. It is a place where shoppers can purchase the superior quality honma mon (in the Osaka dialect it means “the real stuff”). Through word of mouth, the market has become known not only within Japan but also throughout the world as the place to meet real Osaka merchants; and it is now a prime tourist spot for overseas travelers to Japan.
Hamato?Blowfish Restaurant, Nurtured Over the Years by Local Connoisseurs
The first place at the Kuromon Market we visited was a long-established blowfish restaurant, Hamato. It was founded more than 90 years ago, originally as a blowfish wholesaler. Later, it was turned into a restaurant by the grandfather of Wajima, the current owner. Here you can enjoy the torafugu (tiger globefish), which is considered one of the highest quality blowfish you can get. What’s more, the restaurant insists on only using blowfish fished in Japan?mainly in Nagasaki Prefecture and Awaji Island?that weigh 1.5 kilograms or more. Wajima tells us that such a strict insistence on using quality ingredients comes from past owners’ desires for customers to enjoy the highest quality blowfish, which are those that have lean meat and a firm texture, and this tradition continues to this day.
Hamato not only places the utmost importance on the quality of the fish, but the restaurant is also fiercely uncompromising about other ingredients that are used to enhance the flavor of blowfish dishes. The kelp used to make the soup stock is from Rausu, Hokkaido, and the bonito flakes are from Makurazaki, Kagoshima. The ponzu (citrus-seasoned soy sauce) is made at Hamato using a special recipe developed through its many years in business. Customers get to enjoy exceptional blowfish cuisine that can only be found at this restaurant.
Because it takes specialized skills and knowledge to prepare blowfish, which is extremely poisonous, it is not eaten very much in other countries. Nevertheless, the Kuromon Market has seen an increase in the number of overseas tourists, a majority of which are from other Asian countries. “We have seen more and more people from overseas showing interest in eating blowfish,” says Wajima.
When you are in Osaka?a place where more blowfish is consumed than in any other part of Japan?why not try some of the dishes at Hamato, whose traditional skills and flavors have been developed and perfected over many years with the help of the best local blowfish experts.
To Experience the Market’s Signature Vibrant Energy, Go to Kuromon Sanpei
Because the Kuromon Market began as a fish market, there are still many shops here that sell fresh fish. One of them is Kuromon Sanpei, where you can buy a wide variety of fresh fish and many other seafood products.
The store, with a floor space that exceeds 150 square meters, is bustling with local chefs and many tourists from Japan and overseas. Arranged in the storefront are many kinds of fresh fish including large Spanish mackerels that measure as long as 70 centimeters, rows of sea urchins still in their spiky shells, and large blocks of blue-fin tuna.
Seeing all of the fresh fish and hearing the lively calls of the sellers to attract customers, visitors of Kuromon Sanpei can enjoy the vibrant energy that can only be experienced in a market like this.
What’s more, Kuromon Sanpai offers visitors a chance to try the fresh fish they sell right there on the spot. This fresh fish is served as sushi or atop rice bowls in a restaurant space within the store. It is a very popular spot even among overseas tourists, and as many as 700 dishes are ordered every day.
“Not only tourists but also professional chefs visit the Kuromon Market. That’s why we have large fish like the Spanish mackerel on display. However, these fish give our storefront such a dynamic look that tourists really enjoy them, too. Like offering a restaurant space for customers to eat our products, we at Kuromon Sanpei work with the goal of creating ways for our customers to have enjoyable experiences,” says Iwasaki, the director of the store.
The store can be seen as an entertainment spot where fresh fish take the main stage, a place that is pleasing to both the eyes and the palate.
Kuromon Sanpei is a shop that offers the freshest fish from all over Japan and other products of the highest quality that please all types of customers, from tourists from overseas to professional chefs, and is representative of the constantly improving state of the Kuromon Market.
Daiwa Kaen, a Place to Get Seasonal Fruits from Around Japan
Walking further along the Kuromon Market, we were drawn to the colorful display of fruits and desserts of Daiwa Kaen, a fruit shop that has been in business since 1948.
In the front of the store are fresh seasonal fruits, like a strawberry variety called Amaou, and cakes and other sweets made with fruits that have been carefully selected.
With the exception of a certain period during the wintertime, fresh juices are also available for customers to try right away.
The drinks are packed with refreshing flavors of seasonal ingredients only a fruit specialty store could offer. It is a much-welcomed treat for a tired body that has been walking around the market.
We asked the store manager, Hasegawa, about its seasonal fruits.
“Winter fruits are strawberries, Satsuma oranges, and Dekopon oranges. An unusual item is the whitish pear from Niigata called Le Lectier. We at Daiwa Kaen carefully select and line up the best in-season fruits from all around Japan. Cakes and other sweets are made in our own factory located within the Kuromon Market, so we can offer them freshly-made for our customers to taste and enjoy.”
We saw many shoppers stop in their tracks at Daiwa Kaen as they noticed the sweets’ scent and colorful appearances of the seasonal fruits and desserts decorating the storefront.
The Energy of the Kuromon Market Sustained for Over 130 Years
We asked Yamamoto, the director of Kuromon Market Shopping District Promotion Association, how the Kuromon Market has been able to sustain its level of vitality for more than 130 years.
“I was born as the forth generation of Iseya, a pickle shop at the Kuromon Market, and grew up here. Currently my nephew has taken over as the sixth generation owner of the store. A major indisputable factor that has contributed to the continued success of Kuromon Market is the fact that the shops and the passion of past owners are steadily being passed down to the next generations.” One of the major issues that many shopping districts face is the lack of younger people who are willing to take over running the stores. While it is important to find ways to encourage customers to visit the market, what is also vital is for the shops and the people who work there to continue to maintain the community. Moreover, as the shops are passed down, the younger generation watches the older generations at work and acquire the notion that, “Wow, the merchant business looks so interesting!” The members of the Kuromon Market have valued their association as well as each other as they continually promote the market as a whole.
Furthermore, the popularity of this lively market is spreading beyond Japan and is attracting the interest of overseas visitors. In order to make the market a more enjoyable place for such overseas tourists, it is engaging in various efforts such as making tourist maps and street signs in foreign languages, and creating better Wi-Fi availability. Such efforts and the market’s lively and exciting atmosphere have enhanced the sense of satisfaction felt by overseas visitors, making many of them eager to make repeated visits.
Vitality and energies of the locals, chefs, and tourists from around the world are felt everywhere and support the Kuromon Market. Be sure to experience the “nation’s kitchen” for yourself by including the Kuromon Market on your list of must-see places to visit.
Shops at the Kuromon Market
* Shops listed below make up only a portion of the entire market.
Iseya main branch
Pickles, miso, umeboshi (pickled plums) shop
A pickle specialty store founded in 1897. We insist on using traditional methods that do not rely on machines to make our pickles. Using fresh vegetables, small amounts of salt, apple cider vinegar, and quality kelp, we continually work to produce delicious, richly flavored pickles. Our long-loved products not only make ideal additions to your regular meals, but they also make the perfect gift.
- Address：2-3-4 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Tuna specialty store
Our shop, which specializes in a variety of tunas, can be found by following our loud, spirited voices calling out to customers. We sell wholesale, but we also prepare small batches of tuna sashimi for retail purchases. Indulge in the large varieties of tuna products, from ootoro (fatty tuna) to kamatoro (a cut of the tuna’s collar area). They are hugely popular among Japanese customers as well as tourists from overseas.
- Address:：1-17-7 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Chinmi (delicacies), Japanese food ingredients
This is the only shop at Kuromon Market where you can purchase rare, quality chinmi (delicacy products) like karasumi (dried mullet roe), konowata (sea cucumber intestines), and kuchiko (dried sea cucumber ovaries). Our dried scallops from Hokkaido and wasabi snacks are popular among tourists visiting from other Asian countries. We also have a large variety of Japanese cooking ingredients. We are confident that everyone shopping here, whether they are looking for food to have with sake or as part of a meal, will be satisfied with our products.
- Address：1-21-9 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Fresh fish shop
A fish specialty store with a large space of about 160 square meters filled with a large variety of products, from fresh fish like salmon, roes, sashimi, sushi, rice bowls, to souvenirs. We also have a restaurant space that seats 80 people for those who wish to enjoy our seafood products on the spot.
- Address：1-22-25 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Blowfish, blowfish cuisine
We have been specializing in blowfish cuisines for more than 90 years. We use carefully selected blowfish of 1.5 kilograms or more. To make our delicious sashimi, we clean and slice the fish and leave them overnight in order to draw out the flavor. From around May, we offer wild blowfish for a limited time of about one month. From around November, we offer blowfish grown over three years from Awaji. It can be enjoyed as a part of a seasonal course meal, or as a single dish.
- Address：1-21-8 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Kuromon Manno Souhonten
We are a general trading company that has sold affordable and delicious domestically-produced Kuro-ge Wagyu beef since our founding in 1930. Our mission is to provide safe and delicious meats to as many of our customers as possible. At our Kuromon branch, we have a range of selected domestic Kuro-ge Wagyu beef like Kobe beef and Saga beef.
- Address：1-22-20 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Japanese food deli
The motto of our deli is “cheap, new, and delicious.” We are known for our fresh, seasonal ingredients, and the Osaka-style light-on-the-tongue bonito-based flavors. Everyday, we prepare over 40 types of ready-made foods, including nimono (stewed dishes), aemono (mixed vegetable dishes), fried dishes, salads, cooked beans and tsukudani (meats and vegetables simmered in soy sauce). We invite you to come and try our homemade foods.
- Address：2-12-23 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Fresh water and other fresh fish, and cosmetics shop
We specialize in fresh water and other fresh fish, and offer quality products carefully selected by our president. While our president was selling suppon turtles wholesale to high-end restaurants, he discovered and was deeply impressed by the high nutritional value of the suppon turtles kept at the Yaizu Fisheries High School in Shizuoka Prefecture. Therefore, he decided to develop cosmetics with them jointly with the Faculty of Pharmacy at the Kinki University. Through word of mouth, our collagen-rich products are becoming very popular.
- Address：1-21-8 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Fruits and cake shop
We are a high-end fruit store in the Kansai region that also has shops in major department stores. We gather carefully selected seasonal fruits from prime locations around Japan. Our quality fruits make wonderful gifts, and can be shipped to anywhere in Japan (overseas shipments are available for Hong Kong only). We also offer a wide variety of cakes and other desserts and baked goods made with our delicious fruits. They are great as take-home presents.
- Address：1-22-20 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Osaka’s popular curry specialty store. Our curries have a nostalgic flavor that Japanese people have long loved. They are made not just with hot spices but also with a carefully selected variety of ingredients, and are popular among Japanese and foreign tourists alike. The chef’s number one recommendation is the Beef Curry. Also popular are the take-out curry rue that you can warm and enjoy at home.
- Address：2-12-16 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Hana no Ki
Okonomiyaki and takoyaki shop
This is the place where you can enjoy Osaka’s popular konamon (flour foods). Enjoy our piping-hot, fresh-off-the-grill takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) in our casual seating area. Take-out is also available. Our most popular menu item is the okonomiyaki seafood-dama (seafood pancake). As a take-home gift, we recommend our ooban yaki (pancake containing sweet bean paste).
- Address：1-21-33 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Bonito flakes , kombu (kelp) and shiitake mushrooms shop
Dry foods specialty store that specializes in dashi (soup stock), which is the foundation of traditional Japanese cooking. We sell a wide variety of the finest, carefully selected ingredients including katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) from Makurazaki, Rishiri kombu (premium kelp from Rishiri, Hokkaido), and donko shiitake (high-grade winter mushrooms). Items we recommend are our fresh and tasty katsuo bushi, which is prepared in-house, and our original dashi packs (dashi in tea bags).
- Address：2-12-24 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Fresh fish shop
We specialize in fresh fish. We strictly adhere to our policy of ensuring freshness and being thorough in our work, and have been a favorite of the local people of Osaka for 70 years. We prepare over 10 kinds of sashimi of seasonal wild fish everyday, and we highly recommend our popular blowfish tessa (sashimi). Try our fresh fish and seafood once, and you will be hooked.
- Address：2-13-17 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
We offer kimonos for celebrations of all special and traditional occasions observed in Japan such as shichigo-san (a festival to celebrate children of certain ages), weddings, and seasonal events like new years and local festivals. Products we recommend are Japanese-style items designed in patterns and color combinations born out of the long history of Japan’s customs, tradition, and culture.
- Address：1-22-19 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
Writer : YASUHARU MOTOMIYA / Photographer : KOJI TSUCHIYA & HIROSHI KOBAYASHI
2-4-1 Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
* Right outside exit 10 at Nipponbashi Station of Sennichimae subway line.
Tourist Information on Osaka Prefecture