A Walk Through Tokyo's Kitchen Knife District Kappabashi
Tokyo is an incredibly fascinating city. If you've never been, put it on your "must see" list. It's also a city, and culture, of niches. The Japanese pride themselves on perfection through specialization. It's one reason why Japanese kitchen knives are so... perfect!
Does it come as any surprise then that Tokyo has a district devoted to all things kitchen, including chef's knives?
The Kappabashi District: Tokyo's Kitchen Knife Mecca
Technically speaking Kappabashi translates to Kitchen Town. You can find everything from placemats to restaurant supplies in the tightly packed streets that make up this small district.
How to get to Kappabashi
You'll know when you arrive at Kappabashi thanks to a giant chef statue peering from atop a low rise office building. Sure, its a little creepy, but all part of the fun! Getting to Kappabashi, like most things in Tokyo, is a simple matter of navigating the uber efficient Japanese transit system.
Thanks to the Summer Olympic Games in 2020, Tokyo has prepared for guests of all nationalities. Most transit signs are in Japanese and English, so if you're reading this blog article you should have no problem reading transit signs in Tokyo.
Tokyo is actually a city composed of 23 cities, or wards, that all have distinct names and local municipal systems. You would never know it, because everything blends together so seamlessly.
The Japanese are masters of societal conformity, and you'll certainly experience that fact on a daily basis in Tokyo. Kappabashi is located in the Taitō ward, which is centrally located just a bit north of the true city center.
Use our embedded map to explore Kappabashi:
If you like to use Google Maps (an excellent and accurate navigation product in Tokyo) you can click this link to see exactly where Kappabashi is. You can also search for Kappabashi Dogu Street, which is the primary road that makes up Kitchen Town.
Depending on the train line you are taking, either Iriya Station or Asakusa Station will get you very close to the main street. From either station you'll walk for about ten minutes to arrive.
Finding the right knife vendor
Kappabashi is set up to service a large number of people in a hurry. You'll see open stall vendors, stores, and entire buildings with maze-like structures and floors of home and kitchen products. But we're here for the best Japanese kitchen knives, aren't we?
Assuming you don't get distracted by the other high quality products available for sale, you'll want to start shopping around for knives. Because there are many knife specialists in Kappabashi, it makes the most sense to only visit stores or stalls with knives on display. Generally speaking, if a store carries a variety of products it isn't known to be a knife specialist, and you probably won't find the best products or deals.
The best strategy here is to walk the length of Kappabashi Dogu Street, then make your way down each side visiting the smaller side streets that make up the district. You'll want to reserve about half a day for all this, and wear comfortable shoes!
What to expect when buying a Japanese chef's knife in Kappabashi
Once you've gotten a feel for the district, it's time to get serious about buying Japanese kitchen knives. If you visited enough stores and stalls, you'll know that the prices range from affordable to seemingly outrageous. Japanese store owners in specialized businesses take their reputations very seriously. If something is priced at what seems like a fortune, there is a reason behind that price.
If you are an amateur or home chef, you may want to avoid anything priced above $500. These knives are works of art, and will require special care and maintenance. Food culture is elevated in Japan, and standards for restaurants are absurdly high. At the highest end of sushi preparation, chefs may spend thousands of dollars on a single knife so that customers see the quality that stretches from preparation to ingredients.
Those same chefs are likely shopping at Kappabashi, which means their wares are getting mixed in with more consumer friendly products. Even in the sub-$500 Japanese kitchen knife range you'll find a variety of options. If you're interested in a smart, best in class solution to most cutting, slicing, and dicing situations, a western style Japanese chef's knife should be your solution. Here you'll find very high quality products in the $100 - $300 price range.
A note on haggling in Tokyo
Because Japanese kitchen knife makers pride themselves on quality, workmanship, and attention to detail there usually isn't room for haggling. The prices set are considered fair and should be taken as such. You don't want to offend the merchant by suggesting his or her kitchen knives are somehow worth less than their displayed value.
The good news is the stressful haggling process can be skipped, and you can generally trust you aren't going to be ripped off or swindled. Extra services are also available including custom engraving. If you have a non-Japanese name, the merchant can often look up and write your name in Japanese before inscribing it into the blade.
Placing a seal or namesake on a Japanese knife is a tradition stemming from sword making, in which the sword maker would place his signature on the blade to take credit for his work of art. If you are buying a Japanese kitchen knife as a gift, inscribing the recipient's name can be a wonderful way to give something memorable.
Tax free opportunities when shopping in Japan
Thanks to an aggressive tourism program targeting Asian tourists, you may be able to redeem up to 20% of your purchase upon exiting the country. The merchant will be able to tell you if you must redeem this money at the airport or if the discount can be provided at the time of sale. Either way, this is an incredible deal that is only offered on products made in Japan.
Be sure to bring your passport, as the merchant will need to record key details during the checkout process to make sure you qualify for the discount. He or she may even staple a copy of your receipt with their official seal in your passport. This is totally normal and part of the evidence that you legitimately purchase a kitchen knife in Kappabashi.
Safely transporting your new Japanese kitchen knife home
After you purchase your new Japanese kitchen knife, you'll want to make sure it's sealed tightly in its box for transport home. The merchant will be able to wrap and seal the knife for you. At the time of purchase, ask about any special care instructions for your new kitchen knife. Depending on the finish of the steel, you may need to clean and oil the knife regularly to prevent rust from forming.
Most high quality Japanese chef's knives come in a sturdy box with the brand name and warranty card. Keep this box both as a souvenir and a way to deal with any future returns or warranty redemptions. If you take care of your knife, it's unlikely anything will ever go wrong with it.
Caring for your Japanese kitchen knife
A Japanese kitchen knife will last for many lifetimes provided you care for it properly. Depending on the blade and finish you selected, there are different instructions for care.
Western home chefs should look for double edged blades that mirror the traditional look you would find at home. But you don't have to stick to the same old look! For example, the Japanese Santoku knife has a unique shape but is also very effective at everyday kitchen tasks.
While we hope you get the chance to visit, Tokyo Knives is here to help you experience the fun of buying and using a top quality Japanese kitchen knife from the comfort of your home. And like a top quality Kappabashi vendor, all of our knives are selected for their durability, beauty, and value. Happy travels!
Want to know more about the shapes and types of best Japanese chef's knives? Read our Japanese Kitchen Knife Buying Guide.