Tokyo is a city with many specialized shopping districts. There is the Nippori textile district where you can buy fabric, there is Akihabara which specializes in electronics, anime and manga, there is Ochanomizu, the musical instrument district, the Asakusa-bashi, or craft district (one of my favorites!), Kanda Ogawa for sports equipment and Jinbocho, a huge second book market.
Kappabashi is Tokyo’s kitchen district. It is a half mile of restaurant supply stores in east Tokyo, midway between Ueno and Asakusa, that began in 1912 as an area that sold second hand tools. Today, its over 150 stores sell everything from knives to lacquer ware. It’s most unusual product may be the plastic food replicas that over 80% of Japanese restaurants use to display food in their windows to attract customers.
While some stores specialize in particular items, some offer a variety of kitchen, baking and serving items. Here are some of my favorite things to shop for:
DISHES, ESPECIALLY ONES WITH PERSONALITY
Japanese knives are some of the best in the world due to their thin, sharp bevels made of very hard materials that allow them to remain sharp for a long time. There are many knife stores in Kappabashi that provide a great selection. These knives can be very pricey so do some research or ask questions at the store.
CHOPSTICKS AND CHOPSTICK RESTS
Never have I seen a larger selection of chopsticks and chopstick rests than in Kappabashi. There are stores that sell ONLY chopsticks. They sell chopsticks made out of different materials, wood, lacquer, plastic, porcelain, and in different sizes, including the LARGE cooking chopsticks which are great for scrambling eggs and also small sizes just for children. The chopstick rests come in hundreds if not thousands of motifs and make great small gifts that fit easily in luggage.
CAST IRON TEA POTS (TETSUBIN)
Originally used in the Japanese tea ceremony, cast iron tea pots have been around for hundreds of years. Kappabashi has the largest selection of cast iron tea pots I have ever seen, in every size and color.
Even if you do not spend hours making your kid’s food look cute, bento box food is an art form in Japan. The boxes are also a popular and practical way to carry and store food. Kappabashi has a huge selection of boxes and the tools to make those darn cute faces out of rice.
While there are not a huge number of antique stores in Kappabashi there are several good ones that have a great variety.
SPECIALIZED COOKING OR BAKING ITEMS
If you are on the hunt for a hard to find cooking or baking item, chances are you can find it in Kappabashi. How about branding irons for food? yep, they have tons of them. Need a hard to find cookie cutter shape? thousands to choose from in Kappabashi. Need the latest and greatest coffee gadget? there are numerous stores in Kappabashi that specialize in coffee and coffee gadgets, including selling beans from all over the world.
Aside from shopping, be sure to take in the culture and kitsch of Kappabashi. Where else can you sit on a giant piece of sushi on the street?
or see balconies in the shape of tea cups? or a giant chef’s head on top of a building?
and don’t forget to look for the kappa statue. A kappa, or river child, is a mythical frog like creature. The kappa in Kappabashi is written differently and has no association with the mythical creature, but the street has nonetheless adopted the creature as its mascot.
How about these windows full of creepy faceless mannequins modeling uniforms for a uniform company?
and don’t miss the Kitchen Museum and its kitschy robots made out of pots and pans.
Bike delivery, Japanese style….
You can easily spend a day in Kappabashi so allow plenty of time for browsing.