Kappabashi Street

Plastic food models like you’ve never seen before

I can’t let you leave Tokyo without going to Kappabashi Street. Even if you’re not a big foodie, the kitchenware district is filled with all kinds of entertaining things, including stores that sell those amazingly realistic food models you see outside Japanese restaurants.

You can tell you’re at the gateway to kitchen goodness by the giant chef’s head on the left and the stack of teacups on the right

The stores lining Kappabashi Street sell everything from super-realistic food models (including the best refrigerator magnets and sushi clocks of all time) to gigantic rice cookers, branding irons for little traditional cakes, rice molds that look like bullet trains, vases, iron kettles shaped like cats, banners advertising food shops, and more.

First, the food model shops! You’ve probably seen these good-enough-to-eat works of art in display windows outside Tokyo restaurants. They have to be luscious-looking, because they’re the main way restaurants recruit new customers. Each dish is custom-made to exactly replicate the dish as it’s made at the restaurant. They have to deliver the real thing to the food model artist, so the ingredients, cutting style, and amounts can be faithfully rendered in plastic!

Be prepared to be totally fooled by how realistic the food models are
place to buy the highest quality (but also most expensive) souvenirs is the Maizaru shop (their address is Nishi-Asakusa 1-5-17) but they all sell excellent souvenirs at a range of prices
They’re masters of every kind of sushi…
…and their beer artistry makes you want to lift that glass and take a swig
The fridge magnets, keychains, clocks and smaller food models make great gifts. The models are all for sale (the bigger ones at rather eye-watering prices). On the other side of this display are the sushi, potsticker, and ramen versions
…and phone cases that look good enough to eat!

With a little advance planning you can go to a workshop and make some plastic food. Or you can buy kits to take home and DIY.

Making lettuce at the plastic food workshop
Or you can buy kits to take home and DIY
There are kits for ice cream sundaes, bowls of ramen, sushi, beer & soft drinks, and more
At the Ganso Shop they sell kits to make everything from beer to bowls of ramen

But Kappabashi Street offers more than just plastic food. You can find things sold only in Japan at nearly every store.

Knife stores sell those ultra-sharp Japanese knives made by former swordsmiths. You can also buy sharpening stones and get tips for sharpening your new knife from most of the shopkeepers
Shops specializing in handmade ceramic dishes, serving plates, teapots and more
Soup bowls, chopsticks, trays and serving dishes of every shape and color are sold at stores specializing in lacquerware
These are festival-size rice steamers. Stacks of them sit on kerosene stoves at festivals and serve up Costco-size portions of steamed rice.
Wooden food molds, handcarved the old-fashioned way.
Noren stores sell dyed cloth door curtains and advertising banners, perfect for dorm room walls (especially the ones for draft beer!)
There’s a store that sells handmade brushes & brooms, as well as inventive animal-shaped mud scrapers
If you’re in burning need of two kilos of curry powder, the restaurant supply grocery stores have you covered
Paper lanterns of all shapes, colors and sizes are sold at stores like this (although they are usually sold blank, and the calligraphy is traditionally done to order)
There’s even a store that sells everything you need to make your own buckwheat noodles (soba)
A thousand kinds of rice bowls
You can find iron teapots of all sizes, including these nyantasic models.
You can find iron teapots of all sizes, including these nyantasic models.

Most stores open from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Some stores are closed on the weekends


As we turn the corner and go back the way we came, let’s cross over to the other side of the street. We’ll pass a few funeral goods stores filled with wooden Shinto shrines, Buddhist home altars, gold temple chandeliers, Buddhist rosaries, incense, and religious statues.

Everything for the home altar

But before we get back to Tawara-machi Station, let’s stop and see the Rakugo Shrine. Rakugo is traditional Japanese comic storytelling, with a long history of wandering actors entertaining the townsfolk of yore. But during WWI, fifty-three of the most famous rakugo stories were entombed at this shrine forever.

The names carved in red on the wall outside the rakugo shrine are the stage names of famous rakugo performers from yesteryear. Let’s go in and read about why the 53 stories have never been performed since.


And if you’re up for a little more walking, let’s keep going from Tawaramachi Station along the main street toward Ueno Station. We’ll find ourselves in another fascinating, specialized district: Inari-cho, the funeral goods and Shinto shrine shopping area. I know – who would want to see THAT? But take a peek:

This area is where they sell Buddhist home altars and the intricately-pieced wooden Shinto shrines you see at many traditional businesses. As you can see, it’s worth a look!

The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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