Kappabashi

Kappabashi-Dori, also known as Kappabashi Kitchen Town or Kitchen Street, was one of my must-visits. It’s where chefs and home cooks do their kitchen supply shopping in Tokyo. After a heavy buffet lunch at Musashi in Asakusa View Hotel, we walked toward the Senso-ji Temple area in Asakusa to enjoy the Japanese Culture Day holiday festivities. Since we were still full from everything we ate, we decided to walk back towards Kappabashi before ultimately heading home to Okachimachi. By total accident, we ended up on Kappabashi Hondori, a side alley perpendicular to the main Kappabashi-Dori street, which also provides a great view of the Tokyo Skytree.

Kappabashi Hondori is a poorly kept secret: it’s where people in the know go for slightly cheaper products compared to those on Kappabashi-Dori proper. Above-depicted is an interesting looking coffee shop and supply store called Union Coffee. Since I was far from peak hipster and my companions were getting tired after walking for maybe three kilometers with another one or two to go before going home, I wasn’t able to really take a look around a lot of the shops. Another problem was that since Culture Day was a national holiday, several stores were closed in observance thereof.

I can’t remember which stores are depicted above, but the most famous ones are Kamata, Tsubaya and Union Commerce, with the latter being a cheaper, more mainstream-oriented option on Kappabashi Hondori. Kamata (probably in the first photo, where an elder master is shown sharpening a knife) is probably the most famous one. You can get relatively inexpensive knives of top notch quality, and they will even engrave your name (in Japanese) on your blade for free. Tsubaya (a few shelves of which may be depicted in the second photo above), is another more affordable choice, with a two-sectioned store also on Kappabashi Hondori. I was greatly tempted to pick up a gyuto for myself but decided against it. I promised myself to get much better with my knife skills first and deserve a truly well-made work of art. Maybe on my next trip to Japan.

 

Perhaps my favorite part of Kappabashi are the sample food stores. These are prohibitively priced, however, and cater mostly to restaurateurs who display samples of their menu items outside their shops. It’s quite helpful to see these, especially for foreigners in restaurants without English menus.

  

They even have fake beer, and I was tempted to pick one up, if not for the price tag. I think it may have cost one or two thousand yen or so. The attention to detail is more than evident, and the items can easily stoke the fire of one’s appetite.

If I ever see a restaurant that sold a burger that large, I would definitely place an order. They have souvenir samples for sale such as key chains and fridge magnets, but they are still quite pricey at around 600-800 yen, if I remember correctly. I ended up passing on those, instead eventually picking up a small 200-300 yen uni gunkan fridge magnet from a souvenir store in Akihabara. 

Of course, kitchen supplies are in abundance, and it’s hard to canvass all the stores before coming back to the one with the best price. It’s tremendously easy to get lost, forget which store you wanted to return to, and run out of time. My advice is to just go for it

We bought chopstick rests (hashioki) for souvenirs and chopsticks to give as gifts. Prices range from a hundred yen (or even less) to several thousand, depending on the material, design and craftsmanship. The best ones I found, both price and design-wise were at the store directly under the “Chef’s Head” (see infra). I saw some Japanese titas with huge plastic shopping bags that we later found out were from that shop, which may be a good sign of their preferable prices.

All over Kappabashi are statues of the eponymous Kappa, a mythical Japanese river demon that looks like Bulbasaur and Squirtle’s mischievous offspring. The street wasn’t exactly named after this cryptoid, but because of the similar names, it ended up becoming a mascot of sorts for the Kitchen Street.

Most shops have some form of the lily pad wearing Kappa in front, and there are banners and tarps hanging from street posts featuring the river creature that’s known to drag people under and drown them.

Aside from Kappa statues, there are several other interesting store fronts and rooftops in Kappabashi. The stag beetle on the above left is the facade of one of the more high-end food sample stores, from which most of the photos earlier in this post were taken.

Seven Stars sells kitchen uniforms. If I had the budget and wanted to dress like an Iron Chef, this would definitely be the place to visit. The teacups are one indication that you have entered Kappabashi from the main Asakusa-Dori avenue.

 

The other one is the giant Chef’s head I mentioned earlier. It’s much easier to enter Kappabashi from the south, because you’ll have Boyardee to let you know you’ve made it. You can then walk down the street, starting across the chef’s head, turn right at Kappabashi Hondori to visit Tsubaya, Union Commerce, et cetera, make your way back and further north, then finally walk back south along the opposite side of Kappabashi Dori. That method would probably be ideal for someone who wants to really get to see everything Kappabashi has to offer. You would definitely need a couple of hours or so, especially if you will be doing some serious shopping.

I’ll definitely see you again, giant chef’s head. Next time, I’ll be sure to take home an artisan-made chef’s knife and some legit-looking food, as well.

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