We had already spent three weeks in Japan and had learnt our way of getting around Tokyo. And so with this confidence we brandished our SUICA card and set out to Tawaramachi station on the Ginza line. From there it was a short walk to Kappabashi, the kitchen town of Tokyo. Another way to access this street is to club it with your visit to the Sensoji Temple, barely a few hundred yards away. We however suggest you leave the visit to the last so that the inevitable kitchen souvenirs and knickknacks can be carried home easily instead of carting them along for the rest of your journey in Japan.
Malati always like to visit the farmer’s markets and kitchen streets in every city that we visit and ends up picking up some odds and ends; some of which to my consternation can be found back home in India as well! But this time our visit had a purpose – picking up some Japanese Knives , famed for the quality of steel and long life.
Kappabashi street (more like a town) is lined with shops selling all kinds of restaurant and kitchen needs ranging from a wide variety of crockery, cutlery, hotel furniture, kitchen implements and knives to restaurant accessories. We ambled through the street admiring the wares knowing fully well that we couldn’t cart any of the exquisite wares back home and headed to Tsubaya World, one of the oldest shops selling knives. The very small and narrow entrance shop is deceptive as the store houses thousands of models of knives. We were greeted by a very pleasant English speaking salesman who traced their history back to the Meiji period when they manufactured “military” sickles in the Russo Japanese war.
This was followed by a short discourse on knives which dispelled my preconceived notion that a kitchen knife is nothing but a knife. What kind of a knife do you want he asked – Japanese or western – Japanese knives have a curved blade- Carbon steel or Stainless – Couldn’t decide on which one. Carbon steel is more brittle but can be sharpened easily and needs more care and maintenance as it tends to rust. Stainless steel on the other hand has a higher grade of chrome alloy and lasts longer but is less sharper. To demonstrate the difference he cut through a newspaper with both types of Knives. Length he said – We said we don’t know. Wooden or plastic handles – we said wooden handles – and we were shown knives with the most exquisite handles made of cedar wood. What type of balance? Skewed front back or equally balanced? Duh! we said in true Big Moose style. To help our selection process he made Malati demonstrate her cutting style on vegetables. What is the purpose of the knife ? What type of food ? Vegetables ? Meat? Bamboo shoots ?
At which point in time we said show us some “nice” knives which we can take back home and feel good about the purchase for years. Based on Malati’s cutting style and with more advice from the salesman we picked up three “nice” knives. All hand made with elegant cedar wood handles – And crafted out of stainless steel packed in the most exquisite boxes. As if that was not enough we were given instructions on how to care for your knife. And upon the suggestion of my son Jayant we got Malati’s name inscribed on the knives. When I got back home I observed that these seven inch knives balanced at perfectly the same point on the handle. The knives were our largest single purchase through our stay in Japan. And along with the knives we also bought two mandolins – not the musical instrument as I believed but the vegetable slicer that Malati always wanted. Simple technology and very finely crafted blades cuts the most amazingly thin potato wafer slices which I have ever seen.
And so with knives and mandolins in hand we made our way to our next stop -Akihibara; the electronics town of Tokyo in search of a robot toy for my grandson Uday. We scoured the streets of Akihabara and stopped by at a few gaming parlors before landing up at a BIC Camera store which had all the toys that we looking for. And with a late lunch we ended our day and headed back to the hotel at Shinjuku. This was our last day in Japan before we set back home to Hyderabad in India.