At nearly a kilometer long, not counting the side streets, it is considered one of the world’s best in terms of the amount and variety of merchandise available. Anyone interested in getting close to Japanese culture, beyond the tourist attractions in other popular areas of the city, should definitely consider a full day to browse the shops that help make Japan’s culinary tradition the international status symbol it has become in the last half decade.
Kappabashi Doug Gas (), which literally means “Kappa Bridge Tool Town”, is the official name of the kitchen equipment area, but the shortened moniker “Kappabashi” is more commonly preferred by locals and tourists alike. 1) There is no bridge in Kappabashi today, but there used to be when the area first took shape around 1912; 2) Kappabashi is less a town than a street, but translation is never perfect and you’ll understand the “town” feeling when you spend a day there; 3) Kappa, the mythological Japanese creature shown in the image above, actually has nothing to do with Kappabashi and was only adopted as a mascot later when the locals could no longer ignore the phonetic connection.
Kappabashi is over 100 years old and boasts over 170 shops devoted to the cooking trade, from bowls, baskets and pans to uniform, food, tables and chairs and everything in between. My own day trip started from Reno Station (), the furthest station from the area at a fifteen-minute walk distance, but with the advantage of simplicity: The Banknote line () is the first and easiest train line to come to grips with for first-time tourists in megalopolis Tokyo.
You’ll want to exit the station from the Central Gate and then make an immediate left through the Asks Entrance. For those who prefer quick access, the Tawaramachi Station on the Gina line is the closest and will drop you off on Kappabashi Honor.
The whole area that is considered Kappabashi is basically one straight street with a covered walkway on both sides. This will help with navigation: You won’t get lost but you’ll lose shops you’d like to return to later in the day.
After turning left at Miami, walk the length of the Reno side and when the covered walkway ends, about 800 plus meters down the road, cross the street and make your way back down the Asks side. When you get back to the corner with Miami and the chef bust across the street, you will have completed your Kappabashi journey.
My own journey included a couple side-street detours on the Asks side which were well worth the time, so all included, plan to walk around two to three kilometers on the street plus however many shop stairs you climb and aisles you squeeze yourself into. I love to cook but my kitchen is stocked to capacity with utensils and other equipment, so when I go to Kappabashi, the perishables attract me the most.
One proprietor even stood in front of his shop studying English from a language textbook. One of those places should be Bridge Coffee & Ice Cream, a two-floor coffee shop with a smashing fashionable interior, which makes sense once you realize that the offices in the back and the space on the second floor are those of an architectural firm.
Nobody can sit on the second floor, but the bathrooms are up there, so feel free to go on up and browse the architecture displays in the process. While enjoying an espresso, I had the opportunity to engage one of the baristas who broke into English when I didn’t understand the Japanese term kenchikuka (), which means “architect”, so communication is not a problem.
Some attribute it to the Japanese term kappa () meaning “raincoat”, others to a local merchant in the area with the name Kappa ya. Generally speaking, the kappa stands upright, has lizard skin, a beak, and a flat bald spot on its head that serves as a source of power.
Regardless of the locale, the kappa is commonly known as a trickster figure that resides in rivers and lakes, waiting to wrestle you to your death to suck your blood, eat your liver, and slurp your soul from your anus. Before doing so, however, you might want to round the corner and look for the nearest convenient store for a bathroom, a trash can, and a cheap and portable refreshment.
There are few bathrooms, no trash cans, and no convenient stores along Kappabashi for the general foot-traffic tourist, so take the opportunities when they present themselves. One shop that nobody wants to miss is Pro pack Kappabashi, a six-floor culinary Disneyland with stationary, packaging, utensils, party goods, food, and more.
You could easily spend a couple of hours browsing this Kappabashi version of Dante’s Inferno. It’s located on the Asks side of the street and has everything from finely carved pieces of art to bags of disposable chopsticks.
It’s definitely worth your time whether you’re a regular chopsticks' user, an occasional dabbler, or a dining masochist. On my own journey, I chose a quaint little mom-n-pop shop specializing in Japanese soda and upon noodles.
Sobadokoro Amato () is located a couple blocks down Kappabashi Honor on the right and is the place I chose to refresh myself with some soda noodles, some deep-fried veggies, and an ice-cold beer. If you see the curtains hanging outside the door (called Loren in Japanese), then the shop is open for business, so head on inside and don’t let the traditional atmosphere and close quarters deter you.
A sign at a food sample shop along Kappabashi street will remind you of this common faux pas. One other detour off the main strip worth the effort is the massive Hisashi Tongan Temple () at the end of Kappabashi street on the Asks side near where the day’s journey began.
Looking down the side streets as you walk along, the temple is impossible to miss, its sweeping tiled roof dominating the skyline. It is the headquarters of the Hisashi Tongan Order of Buddhism and the current Supreme Primate OTAN Token is supposedly a direct descendant of the founder of Judo Shins Buddhism, Shin ran Shnen (1173-1262).
There is a temple in Kyoto with the same name and a shared history, a schism in the sects creating antagonistic factions, so be careful not to confuse the two should you desire to do some research online. If you visit Hisashi Tongan, feel free to go inside and take photographs and don’t forget to grab a pamphlet with some English explanation in it.
By pure chance, I happened to visit during a time of Buddhist celebration and received a complimentary rice ball and cup of tea to enjoy at my leisure. Anyone wishing to cross the San river must pay the ferry woman, a shinigami (death god), and so six coins are placed with the deceased upon cremation in certain Buddhist traditions.
Other mythological traditions have similar stories for the journey to the land of the dead, so choose your favorite and then gape in awe at how small a world we live in. Another highlight on par with the chef’s bust in terms of size and oddness is the giant rhinoceros beetle attached to the outside of a building on the Asks side of Kappabashi.
As to why that giant insect display was put on that particular building in Kappabashi is, unfortunately, not as interesting as the cautionary kappa story told earlier. Plus, the covered walkway puts everything in shadow which just helps to obscure defining shop features.
I have lived in Tokyo for eons and still make a biannual trip there just to browse or to pick up some obscure kitchen implement. Downtown Tokyo is sure to meet the expectations of any traveler to Japan looking for a glimpse into an aged and distinct culture.
Sign inspire up your everyday cooking with a virtual visit to Kappabashi Street, which has been supplying Tokyo's restaurant industry for over a century. This half-mile cookware destination is lined with 170 shops specializing in everything food related: handmade knives, ornate chopsticks, beautiful ceramic...
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Toshiba or drop lid is an essential Japanese cooking gadget for all kinds of simmered foods. For the longest time, I’ve been waiting for someone or some company to sell these adjustable stainless steel Toshiba on Amazon, but no luck yet.
If you do make tamagoyaki for your children’s bento or for your breakfast regularly, you might as well stop by a kitchen store and get one while visiting Japan. Here you can find my favorite Total brand in the picture below (top left) at Tokyo Hands in Shibuya store.
But true story… I had a really hard time finding the perfect ladle for serving miss soup. All the ladles I purchased in the U.S. are a bit too big to serve into standard size miss soup bowls.
Let me say this, the size, shape, angle of the stem, and the material of these ladles from Japan are just perfect. High-quality wooden miss soup bowls that are made in Japan are hard to find in the US.
They are light, easy to bring back, and make your daily miss soup more fun and elegant! I bought these rice bowls with Mount Fuji drawings that come with assorted colors.
Find the one that makes you smile whether the bowl has a cute cat drawing or beautiful cherry blossoms, or it might be the right color that attracts you. There are a lot of bamboo specialized stores and you might spot them while traveling, especially when you visit Kyoto, Okayama, Katakana, and more traditional cities.
Even years before I started photo shooting my recipes, I’ve been a collector of chopstick rests. If you are in Japan, you will see a lot of cute stores that sell kitchen and home goods.
Bento (lunch box) is not only for children, adults can also enjoy it at school, work, or even at home. These wooden bento boxes, called the Magewappa (), not only is environmentally friendly, but they also make your lunches so much more appetizing and presentable.
You can purchase Magewappa at any tableware and bento stores, but it’s a lot easier to go to Tokyo Hands or a bento box section of the kitchen floor in department stores. Bento box for adult is also great for portion control and perfect for those who try to lose some weight (aka me…).
Japanese chiffon cake pans are affordable and SUPER easy to use. This aluminum chiffon cake pan from Asia Shorten () is VERY famous and you can go to the store in Kappabashi Kitchen Town to find them.