Monday, July 27, 2009

Kappabashi 3 - good stores

After much pfaffing, finally we get to the real and useful segment of this series of posts.

Most people, I suspect, walk to Kappabashi from Tawaramachi on the Ginza line. This is most efficient, and there are probably even signs in the station like there are in Akiba for 'Electric Town'. [My preferred alternative is to get off at Asakusa, one station farther, walk toward Sensoji, and turn left approximately in the middle of the souvenir street. It's a little far, but start looking once you pass the large street - Kappabashi is a north-south street, so it'll cross your path.] If you walk that way, you'll know you've arrived at the south end of Kappabashi when you look up and see the big chef and the teacups. Although I never noticed the teacups before this last visit, so you might just see chef san. Turn right.

Unfortunately you can't save the best for last, since the store I think is best (for you and me) is right there at the corner. Den Gama has just now dispelled my last illusion about Japan - this quaint, individual store packed full of stunning, unique pottery and glass in all shapes and price part of a larger group that includes other homewares shops, candy manufactures, and a pasta cafe. Oh well. I still love it. They spend more time than the other stores arranging things artfully so consumers will be tempted to buy them, and I'd like to think that they're more careful about selecting items too. I can imagine using just about everything here. Unfortunately I got so excited that I didn't take any pictures inside.

Yabukita always looks great, and has a little more logic and style to its clutter than some other stores. On the other hand, I rarely buy anything here. The prices seem a tiny bit higher than they should be...but they have a lot of great things, and it's well worth seeing if you'll find your dream plates (cups, bowls, chopsticks...) in here. They recently opened a specialty soba store...

Seriously, a whole store devoted to making soba. One side is devoted to the rolling pins, which I now know come in all shapes, sizes and colors (who woulda thought?). The other side, the special cleavers used for cutting soba. And down the middle and in the back, all manner of mixing bowls, pitchers for dipping sauce and hot water, bowls for noodles and condiments, and bamboo strainers. All you'd need after visiting here is some tables and chairs (which you can buy down the street) and you'd be ready to open your own place.

The soba salon (as they call it) is on the same street as Union, a 'mixed goods' emporium. I only went in for the first time recently, because the bit that faces the main street focuses on coffee, and I thought that's all it was (check out the 2-metre percolator or Dutch Drip or whatever the heck that's called!). Behind the machines, bean displays, copper pots, stovetop espressolators and other coffee goodies, there's a whole different store. Like a lot of Kappabashi, it's somewhat utilitarian - actually I prefer to think of it as 'professional' or 'wholesale'. So without much fanfare, you get a whole cabinet full of corkscrews. And another of cocktail shakers. And a whole shelf of ice picks! This is right at the head of the 'knife street', which you'll probably want to check out as well; everyone loves Japanese knives!

I'm pretty sure the last picture is two champagne sabers. I've never seen one before, but considering that they were in the bottle opener they look the part. And the top one is clearly from Claude Dozorme, whose site I can't view because it's realted to 'weapons'. Really. Let's move on.

Komatsuya is my favorite disorganized store. And watch out, because the whole shelf on the right side is wholesale-only - have to buy things from 5 pieces and up (5 being the traditional size of a set in Japan; if you buy nice soup bowls or something, they'll come in a 5 set). This place spills big palettes of crockery out onto the sidewalk every morning and hauls it all back in at night. They have a great selection of soup bowls in the middle along with copious quantities of small plates and dishes on the left. It definitely tends toward the cheaper end as well; you won't find any arty pieces here, just things you'd be happy buying 5 of and using every day.

Tsubaya is one of the knife stores on the knife street (marked by Union, but it's also the main street running from north-ish Asakusa to Kappabashi. The few restaurants in the neighborhood are on it.). For some reason I didn't get a picture of the big wall o' knives, but you can a little idea of it here. Almost every store has a selection of knives, and some knife manufacturers (e.g., Henckels) have now opened slick, modern, black-white-and-red boutiques (there goes the neighborhood), but you'll feel cooler if you shop at one of the old-timey specialty shops.

Kitchen Museum is down around a corner. There's no admission charge, but you'll probably end up buying something, har har!! They have a big wall of fancy knives of all brands, but then much industrial cookery all over. The selection of copper sauce pans, starting at 4 cm (!), was particularly impressive. As were the kitchen robots they had assembled and scattered around outside (look to the right of the door).

A prior post featured the Chinese Restaurant Startup Supply Depot. Above in this post we had the soba supplier. Now it's time to open up...a diner?! Yep, all the neon signs, formica counters, green glass and black-and-white pictures of 50's Hollywood stores that you need to open your very own Americana shop in Japan. The coke machine, crates and bottles are real for all I know; the vintage Wurlitzer (whose picture I forgot to upload) had better be real for the $16,000 price tag!

You can get nifty maps showing all the stores (and I mean ALL the stores), but I think they're Japanese-only. Similarly, this home page for the neighborhood has an English page, but it's not good for much. You might want to check out my map, but for the most

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