A cook’s paradise
Stars and Stripes June 24, 2003
Tokyo has a way of stashing the same types of shops in the same district.
There’s the electronics town of Akihabara, the Buddhist altar town in Asakusa and the sporting goods district in Ochanomizu.
Then there is Kappabashi — the land of kitchen utensils and plastic food models.
You’ll know when you’re there. Just look for the landmark: a 10-foot chef’s head with a blue scarf and tall white hat on top of a building. There’s also a five-story brick building with white, orange and blue teacup balconies. Just a three-minute walk from the nearest station, Kappabashi is between Ueno and Asakusa. It has more than 100 kitchenware stores for serious to apprentice cooks.
This old neighborhood offers enough shops to satisfy prospective restaurant owners. The Kappabashi district started as a collection of secondhand stores, and became a kitchenware shopping district after World War II.
Stores here offer items such as plastic food models, knives, restaurant and neon signs, glass show cases and chef and waiter outfits.
Plastic food models decorate windows of a shop like a field full of flowers. Exact replicas of dishes — as well as raw ingredients from a slice of lemon to a boiled giant crab — are sold. Stores offer entire dishes — everything from shrimp curry to sushi — to the Tokyo restaurants which display their menus, in plastic, in their front windows.
Popular items such as sushi pieces also make great gifts and can double as jokes to play on friends. But Kappabashi humor doesn’t come cheaply: A piece of fake tuna sushi will cost 700 yen, or about $6; a sushi roll will set you back 850 yen or about $7.20.
Sushi key chains also are popular gifts. They start at around 400 yen, or about $3.40 and go up to 2,300 yen, or about $19.50. Larger models cost more. For instance, a glass of beer complete with overflowing foam costs 8,500 yen, or about $72, as do sushi clocks, with fake sushi pieces replacing the hour markers.
And if you prefer fried fish to raw, Kappabashi stores also offer frying pans in sizes from 6.4 inches to 18 inches, for about $5 to about $85.
Japanese knives are internationally famous — and in Kappabashi, specialized stores sell everything from delicate sashimi blades to major meat cleavers. Some places will engrave your name on a blade for an additional cost.
Other items such as store neon signs, uniforms for chefs and waiters and glass cases also are available.
Whether you cook western or Japanese meals or both, a Kappabashi store likely has exactly the color, shape and size of eating utensils you seek. You can buy full sets of everything from Noritake porcelain dining plates to wooden boat-shaped sashimi plates — and the plastic food to go with.
To get there: Take Ginza line subway to Tawara machi station. Take a right on Asakusa-dori at the crossing behind the stairs. It is approximately a three-minute walk from the station.