Tokyo is home to a huge number of tourist attractions. Carefully maintained traditional buildings like the resplendent Buddhist temple Meiji-jingu in Harajuku and the Imperial Palace have long been iconic images of the capital. Nowadays they’ve been joined by modern, urban hubs of activity like Shibuya Crossing, where visitors take hasty photos halfway across the road as people scramble to reach the other side of the street. There are enough instantly recognisable landmarks in the city to fill a shelf of guidebooks, from Tokyo Sky Tree to the statue of loveable Akita dog Hachiko.
If you’re interested in digging a little deeper into the city, one of the best places to start is by keeping an eye on areas which local people have been making a beeline for, which might eventually lead you to Kappabashi Street.
Kappabashi Street is a vital part of Tokyo for every serious chef, restaurant owner, and dedicated home cook, so you might make the mistake of thinking the speciality here is high quality local ingredients and fresh food. In fact, the goods on display here are some of the best quality cooking utensils, bowls, dishes, chopsticks, and kitchen knives you’ll find in Japan. Take a walk through the area and you’ll quickly realise why Kappabashi has earned the nickname ‘Kitchen Street’.
Calling Kappabashi a hidden gem would be cliché, and not technically true. How can you call a street hidden when there’s an 11 metre high chef’s head at the entrance holding a kitchen knife? International tourists are normally drawn towards nearby Ueno or different areas of Asakusa though, meaning that the area is often filled with a mix of domestic tourists and local residents who need to stock up on kitchenware.
Different stores here have slightly different atmospheres; with some selling contemporary utensils and others producing craftsmanship which looks like it could have been made hundreds of years ago.
Dengama is an example of one of the stores which has kept a focus on the past, keeping alive the historical Japanese art of ceramics. Browsing through their collection can feel more like a trip to a museum than shopping for new plates and bowls, as customers navigate carefully around the sake cups and teapots.
The packed shelves of less well organised stores are just as interesting, packed with curiosities which only have a use in Japanese style cookery. Sometimes the rows can be so narrow that the neat, organised knife shops can feel safer since there’s no risk of falling rice cookers.
Kitchen Street isn’t without its curiosities, which should be predictable when the local mascot is a mythical Kappa. The street is home to a number of specialist ‘Shokuhin Sanpuru’ (Food Sample) stores, creators of impressively accurate models of food made from materials like plastic, wax, or resin. These are normally sold to restaurants to be displayed outside, but if you’re not in need of any authentic teapots or you don’t think you’ll manage to take knifes on the plane home, it’s one more reason to pay this street of skilled craftspeople a visit.