Nishijin, the western hub of Fukuoka, bustles with students who commute to nearby high schools and colleges and is known for its retro shopping street. One of the biggest attractions in the shopping street are the wheeled cart stalls. Merchants set up about ten of these stalls in the middle of the shopping street Monday through Saturday between 13:00 and 19:00 when the street is closed to vehicle traffic. The merchants, mostly older women, pull in their carts and set up shop.
They offer a range of fresh, cheap produce, seafood, flowers and more from Itoshima, Karatsu and other places nearby. Other popular wares include pickles, miso and mochi (rice cakes) handmade by the merchants themselves. These stalls are not only popular with the locals; people flock from far away to shop here because they enjoy talking to the energetic old ladies as they make their transactions. And if a merchant remembers you, she might even throw in a little something extra.
The wheeled cart stalls began operating in 1950, not long after the war, and for a time, more than 100 cart-owners would assemble for an open-air market. In 1967, the Nishijin Shopkeepers Association was formed. It began issuing permits for the stalls and dictated hours of operation and other rules. While there were some other open-air markets in the city, none attracted as many stalls as Nishijin.
Unfortunately, the number of stalls is gradually dwindling as many of the aging merchants cannot find younger hawkers to whom they can pass the torch. That being said, one of the stalls, which is run by pair of a sandwich-slinging foreigners, has raised some eyebrows of late. Their sandwiches are so popular that they sell out almost as soon as they set up shop. Over the years, the wheeled cart stalls of Nishijin have been a popular place for people to congregate, and we hope the tradition will be passed on as more and different people get involved.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn209, May 2016)