A cook’s tour: Kappabashi Street, Tokyo’s Kitchen Town

With its handmade chefs’ knives, ornate chopsticks and bento boxes, the Tokyo street where restaurants buy kitchenware is also a great place for tourists to pick up souvenirs

The first thing you notice when entering Tokyo’s Kappabashi Street is the towering chef statue. His 11-metre-high head, with a thick moustache and a crisp white chef’s hat, has come to symbolise this neighbourhood, known locally as Kitchen Town.

The name fits as the 800-metre-long street is lined with more than 170 shops selling everything a professional or home cook could dream of. A short walk from two of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations – Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa and Ueno Park – the district has been supplying the local restaurant trade for nearly a century.

That is still its primary purpose but now it also attracts savvy visiting foodies who come to stock up on artisan pottery, high-quality Japanese chefs’ knives, handcrafted chopsticks, traditional bento boxes and a mind-boggling array of cooking utensils, (hello, wasabi grater!) for much less than they would pay elsewhere. Here are five must-visit shops.

Kamata Hakensha

Exterior of Kamata Hakensha shop on Kappabashi Street in Tokyo, Japan.
Chop chop … the family run Kamata has been selling kitchen knives since 1923 Photograph: Kamata Hakensha

Many people travel to Kappabashi just to visit Kamata, a family-run business that opened in 1923. Kamata specialises in Japanese knives, or wabōcho, handmade by craftsmen in Sakai City, Osaka. Every knife undergoes a finishing process and inspection by the shop’s owner, Seiichi Kamata, who you may see clad in a blue apron working at a grindstone. It has a strong local following but Kamata’s English-speaking staff also help tourists pick out the perfect knife from the 800 types on sale, from a small vegetable knife (about £20) to a large handmade machete (up to £1,000). One of the most popular is the Damascus (£140), featuring a wood handle and a blade made from carbon steel (tamahagane) – the same metal used in samurai swords.
2-12-6 Matsugaya, Taitō-ku, kap-kam.com. Open daily 10am-6pm


Ceramics photographed from above at Dengama, Tokyo, Japan.

Japanese artisans have been making ceramics, known as yakimono,since prehistoric times – especially so during the 16th century and the rise of the tea ceremony. Dengama celebrates this craft and is packed with more than 3,000 pieces of earthenware, stoneware and porcelain from some of Japan’s major kilns. Opened more recently than many of its neighbours (1995), the modern-looking shop sells handmade and factory-produced pieces, including serving platters (£3.50-£5), teacups and tea pots (£35-£42). It’s possible to be charged double or triple that amount in more touristy sections of town. Upstairs feels more like a museum and is reserved for more exclusive artisan work, including some of Japan’s signature pottery styles: like the clean, blue-and-white tako karakusa patterns and the oribe style of stoneware that tends to be more monochrome and asymmetrical.
Nishi-Asakusa 1-4-3, Taitō-ku, dengama.jp. Open daily 10am-7pm


It’s a stick up! Chopsticks on display at Mikura
It’s a stick up! Chopsticks on display at Mikura, which stocks more than 500 types Photograph: Mikura

Welcome to chopstick heaven. This brightly lit shop displays more than 500 different types of chopsticks along the walls and in tidy drawers. Pairs start at £1.40 and go up to £70, depending on the material and design. The factory-made options make for affordable souvenirs (up to £5.50) in both wood and plastic. The handmade chopsticks in natural woods, such as ebony, rosewood, iron tree or bamboo, often come with a label telling you exactly where in Japan the tree came from. For an extra £3.50 it’s possible to have your name engraved on your purchase.
3-25-11 Nishi Asakusa, Taitō-ku, kappabashi-mikura.com. Open daily 10am-5pm


Plastic food, and beer, on display in Tokyo’s Kappabashi Street.
Plastic food, and beer, on display in Tokyo’s Kappabashi Street. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Maizuru is one of the highest-quality producers of plastic food in Japan. The company, which originally produced samples of medical specimens in Osaka, moved to Tokyo in 1948 to focus on food moulds which were becoming popular among restaurants that liked to display plastic reproductions of menu items in their windows. Today, about 70% of business still comes from restaurants but tourists also gravitate here for fun souvenirs or to just gawp at the hyper-realistic faux dishes, ranging from ramen and soba to spaghetti and pizza – andeven beer. The larger fake food displays are expensive (a bowl of ramen goes for £55) but smaller items such as sushi magnets (about £10) and iPhone covers (£20) make great gifts.
1 Chome-5-17 Nishi Asakusa, Taitō-ku, maiduru.co.jp. Open daily 9am-6pm


Based in the building that sports the huge chef statue, Niimi is hard to miss. It’s also one of the oldest shops here, having opened in 1907 before Kappabashi became popular with cooks and restaurateurs. While many shops on the street specialise in one product, Niimi is a one-stop-emporium, witha vast array of kitchenware: pots, pans, knives, soba dishes, sake decanters and more – all at affordable prices. Kids lunch plates (of which there is an enormous selection) go for about £14-£25 a piece.
1-1-1 Matsugaya, Taitō-ku, kappabashi.or.jp. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

How to get there
Only a few minutes walk from the Asakusa and Ueno districts, it can also be accessed by the Ginza Line; the closest subway station is Tawaramachi.

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to find a range of fantastic trips

Clara Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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