For most foodies, a trip to Japan includes a long list of different kinds of dishes to try out. But after you have visited dozens of restaurants, depachika (department store food halls) and of course the Tsukiji market, you might want to know where the cooks get their equipment to prepare those tasty wonders.

Between the Ueno and Asakusa neighborhoods, Kappabashi (or “Kitchen Town”) has been the mecca for Japanese restaurant professionals and budding chefs since 1912. From kitchen equipment to tableware to clothing and decorative items, if there is anything you are still missing for your kitchen or dining room, you will most likely find it in one of the over 100 shops in Kappabashi.

Let’s check some of Kappabashi’s most wanted items!

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The giant chef's head of kappabashi
The giant chef’s head marks the beginning of the street. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Japanese knives

Japanese knives are famous throughout the world for cutting through anything like it is butter. So it’s no wonder Kappabashi has plenty of stores devoted to them, many of which are family businesses with a long-standing reputation. With hundreds of knifes on display for all kinds of purposes, you might find yourself a little lost on what to get.

Luckily, the staff of most stores speak Japanese, English and in some cases other languages too. When choosing your knife they will ask you what it will be used for, which kind of blade and handle you prefer, what kind of food and so forth.

Interior of Tsubaya, knives displayed on wall shelves
Tsubaya knife shop is packed to the ceiling with quality knives | Photo by Gregory Lane

After this ‘rigorous’ questionnaire they will offer you to take hold of a knife that matches your preferences. Having the right feel is the ultimate defining factor for many chefs.

Cheapo tip: Bring cash. Top-quality Japanese knives can be very expensive (we’re talking tens of thousands of yen), but most businesses are willing to give a discount if you pay in cash. Also see our detailed guide to buying a knife in Kappabashi.

Plastic food samples in Kappabashi
Yes, that’s all plastic. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Plastic food

Whichever restaurant you walk by in Japan, there is a good chance you will see some plastic food samples on display at the entrance. These mouth-watering displays have surely convinced many of us to try some delicious cuisine.

One of the biggest sample shops in the area is Tokyo Biken. Along with thousands of commercial samples—for everything from a creperie to a pizzeria—there are also cell-phone accessories, smartphone stands, magnets and much more.

Food Sample Tokyo Biken
Food Sample Tokyo Biken | Photo by Gregory Lane

If you want something more custom, what about making your very own food sample? Ganso Shokuhin Sample has several sessions for 20 participants (reservation required) where you are guided in making your own samples out of wax. Alternatively, you can also get a kit to do so at home. These kits feature either 8 types of cooking dishes, 5 types of parfait or 4 types of shaved ice. Makes for a unique souvenir!

Kappabashi shoppers
There are often bargains available | Photo by Gregory Lane

Other notable items and souvenirs

Apart from the accessories, the above items tend to be quite big (ticket) items—so what about some more cheapo and luggage-friendly options?

First up are chopsticks. While it might not seem like much, just think of a pair of chopsticks or chopstick holders made out of bamboo or with a fine traditional design. Other small tableware, such as bowls, plates and cups with beautiful patterns are another example of small affordable souvenirs. Elegantly crafted lacquerware for example easily makes it to the top of the shopping list when it comes to classy kitchen goods.

And lastly, lunch boxes have always been a popular souvenir among many tourists. Bento boxes as they are called in Japanese range from very simple boxes that you can find pretty much anywhere, but the ones at Kappabashi are something else.

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Access and opening hours

Kappabashi is located between Ueno Station and Asakusa Station, so you could walk from either of these for about 15 minutes. Another option is to take the Ginza Line to Tawaramachi Station and take exit 3. From here just walk west past a post office and on the next traffic light you will see the massive chef statue (see top image) on top of one of the buildings at this end of the street.

The Golden Kappa
The area is named for the mythical kappa. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Most of the stores are open between 9:00 and 17:00, but keep in mind that they tend to be closed on Sundays and public holidays. Something else to consider is that while some stores offer a delivery service, not all of them do if you are thinking about purchasing something bigger…or just a lot.

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Filed under: Shopping
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