Foodie’s Guide to Kappabashi 合羽橋

Sushi Refrigerator Magnets

Sushi Refrigerator Magnets

Kappabashi is a wonderland for chefs. Here you will find almost everything that one would need for cooking. While it is famous for its plastic food models, that is only a tiny part of what you will find in this area, very close to Asakusa, the popular tourist destination. It is a short walk from Asakusa so should not be missed.

This article, which first appeared in Metroplis magazine, highlights some of my favorite kitchen tools that can be found in Kappabashi. (text follows)

The walk up Nakamise Dori towards Sensoji in Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s classic tourist destinations (and, as the cheap trinkets on all sides attest, one of its primary tourist traps). However, Asakusa has an allure for another group as well: serious cooks.

The Kappabashi area of Asakusa has everything a budding chef could possibly want. It primarily caters to restaurateurs, but nonprofessionals will have just as much fun. Most shops specialize in one particular item, from chopsticks to chinaware via coffee and bamboo. Others, like Pro-Pack, resemble little department stores, with floors of crockery and cutlery, pots and pans, containers and food.

The selection changes throughout the year, which is the reason to keep coming back. This summer I picked up bamboo trays and glass bowls for cold somen noodles. Last week, with chillier weather approaching, stores were stocked with winter essentials, and I grabbed some packs of waribashi (disposable chopsticks) for nabe parties.

You will find it hard to leave empty-handed, especially given all the tempting “must-have” kitchen gadgets on the shelves. The more you become familiar with Japanese food, the more tools you recognize, and part of the fun is learning what each is for.

My top pick is a mandolin, which will cut vegetables paper thin (and your fingers too, so slice carefully). In second place is a handcrafted oroshigane for grating ginger, garlic and daikon.
Knives are also good things to buy in Kappabashi, but if you’re going to invest in a set, be sure to shop around. Some of my cooking friends get their knives sharpened at a store called Kamata, which can re-blade an edge even after years of neglect.

Remember that Kappabashi often (although not always) deals in quantity over quality. Personally, I think the best knives in the city are found at Kiya, a shop located not in Kappabashi but Nihonbashi. Likewise, for top quality pottery I would head to a major department store. However, for simple, sturdy plates and bowls, Kappabashi has a huge variety at low prices. Some shops will deliver, which is much better than having to drag your dishes through the subway.

Before you leave, stock up on presents: plastic food magnets make fun gifts, and for close friends pick up some lacquerware—light, elegant and easy to care for. But most of all, Kappabashi is the place to treat yourself and your kitchen. We are all “Iron Chefs” deep inside—we just need the tools to get there, and Kappabashi is where we can find them.

Gotta Gets
• Mandolin for cutting veggies
• Waribashi (disposable chopsticks)
• Bamboo skewers for hors d’oeuvres
• Hashioki chopstick rests
• Lacquerware for the table
• Plastic food magnets
• Noren curtains for your home
• Wrapping paper and containers

“Kappabashi Kitchenware Town” is halfway between Asakusa and Ueno. The closest stations are Inaricho and Tawaramachi on the Ginza Line and Iriya on the Hibiya Line. Many shops are closed on Sundays.

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part 1/2

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

This article which first appeared in Metropolis magazine highlights do not miss spots in Tokyo for foodies. (text follows)

We are spoiled rotten here in Tokyo. The food-savvy consumers of Japan have raised the bar for the dining culture to a level found in only a few cities throughout the world. Here are my favorite parts of town when foraging for food in Tokyo.

To really get a feel for what the city has to offer, the best place to start is, obviously, Tsukiji Market. The inner market will be moving to Toyosu in 2012, so come and see this historical area while you can. Avoid it on Sundays, when it’s closed, and refer to the calendar for other holidays. While most people go to get their sushi at the source, I am addicted to the anago tempura at Tenfusa—tender eel in a crispy tempura batter sprinkled with a sweet soy dressing over a bowl of steaming rice.

If you are not a morning person or it’s a Sunday, head instead up to Ameyoko in Ueno. The narrow street bustles with energy, and stores are popping at the seams with goods spilling out onto the road and into neighboring stalls. Hawkers call out with their scratchy voices offering discounts to the housewives. While Ameyoko cannot be compared to Tsukiji, you will find seafood, fruit, vegetables and some imported goods. Come in the fall and see the coveted matsutake mushrooms, often from China, at discounted prices.

Getting in gear for your kitchen? Kappabashi, between Asakusa and Ueno at Tawaramachi station, is best-known as a place to pick up plastic food. Once you find that perfect sushi keychain, though, wander the streets and go where the real finds are. Kappabashi is where chefs and restaurateurs go to set up shop. If knives are what you are after, make a beeline to Kiya in Nihonbashi. The shop has a fantastic selection of cutting utensils in a range of prices, as well as other kitchen gadgets.

My favorite part of the food culture in Japan is depachika, the grand food floors in the basement of department stores. The newly revamped Isetan in Shinjuku sparkles and shines. Don’t miss the sandwiches at Alain Ducasse’s premiere boulangerie, Be, or the sweets at Pierre Herme, considered by many to be the top French patisserie. In the wine shop there is a sleek bar where you can select from a long list of toasty, smokey whiskeys. Or pick up a bento and a beer and take the elevators to the roof-top garden for an impromptu picnic away from the crowds of Shinjuku.

While Osaka may be famous for okonomiyaki, Tokyo has its own, much messier version, monjayaki. After getting out of the station at Tsukishima, follow your nose to “Monja Dori,” where it looks like time stopped about 25 years ago (left). The secret to enjoying monjayaki is to have your server help you make the first one or two until you get the hang of it. If you can manage to make it thin enough, you’ll find that the pari pari crispy bits put okonomiyaki to shame. Suggested toppings include cheese, mentaiko and mochi.

Another area that smells so good it’ll have you jumping off of the train is Koreatown in Shin-Okubo. Come here for yakiniku, but if you like to cook at home, then make time to check out the local supermarkets, where you can find kimchi, pajong mix, and the finger-licking-good Korean nori.

If you have time for a day trip, head south to Yokohama’s Chinatown for some great street food like steamed buns stuffed with chopped barbecue pork, sticky rice with chicken steamed in a bamboo leaf, and tapioca in coconut milk. While it lacks the energy you find in, say, New York’s Chinatown, and although there seems to be a curious lack of actual Chinese people, the area does not lack in restaurant options, and there are plenty of markets to pick up salt-laden stocks and dried scallops for soups.

Another day trip that does not disappoint is to Utsunomiya. Actually, the city itself is a bit depressing, but the number of gyoza restaurants is tremendous. Go with a couple of friends and hit as many places as you can for pork-filled dumplings, fried or boiled.

The urban adventure does not end here. Check out next week’s issue for Part Two of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo—with a look into various cuisine and specific shops to indulge in here in the metropolis.

Check out next week’s Metropolis for the second and final installment of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo.

For more information about Tsukiji market, see

Tenfusa. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766. Open Mon-Sat 6:30am-2pm, closed Sun and hols. Nearest stn: Tsukiji


Kiya. 1-5-6 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11:15am-5:45pm. Tel: 03-3241-1141. Nearest stn: Mitsukoshimae.

Isetan. 3-14-1 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3352-1111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku-Sanchome.


Korea Town:

Utsunomiya Gyoza:

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part Two:

Gotta Go – Nihonbashi Yukari

I am often asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. There is one restaurant that I recommend time and time again. Chef Kimio Nonaga of Nihonbashi Yukari was the 2002 Iron Chef winner, and the trophy is displayed when you first walk in. I love this restaurant for lunch or dinner. For a multi-course kaiseki dinner incorporating seasonal ingredients, you get a meal for a good value. Lunch is also reasonable. If you want to splurge, call ahead and order the Yukari bento box, pictured here. The last time I went this was 3,675 JPY.

The food here is prepared using classic Japanese techniques. Chef Nonaga trained in Kyoto at Kikunoi with Chef Murata, author of the gorgeous Kaiseki book published by Kodansha International.

If possible, sit at the counter so that you can watch Chef Nonaga perform his magic. And, tell him Yukari sent you. If you go with a Japanese speaker you can talk to him about the seasonal ingredients, how the food is prepared, and observe his passion for traditional Japanese cuisine.

Nihonbashi Yukari

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 3-2-14

tel. 03-3271-3436