A Japanese Cooking Knife Specialty Store Known Around the World
Japanese knives are famous for their high quality, and so have become a popular item for foreign visitors to seek out during their trips. So we decided to dedicate an article to kitchen knives, including some useful information for those, professional chefs or not, looking to buy some knives during their trip to Japan.
Buyers from all over the world flock to the Kappabashi area of Asakusa, Tokyo, to purchase various kitchen and restaurant gear. Right in the middle of this is a store called Tsubaya, which specializes in kitchen knives made by Japanese craftsmen, and is perfect for anyone wondering where they can browse a great selection. This store has even made it onto TV in Japan!
- Tsubaya opened in 1956, and has such a high reputation for kitchen knives all over Japan, many Japanese chefs here for their knives.
Japan's Largest Cookware & Kitchenware Shopping Street: Kappabashi (かっぱ橋)
If you're looking for Japanese cookware and kitchenware, or things you never even knew you needed, Kappabashi is your place. Which is why Tsubaya is located there!
CUTLERY TSUBAYA (包丁専門つば屋)🗡
Address: 3-7-2, Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 7 min. walk from Tawaramachi (田原町駅) on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line OR 3 min. walk from TX Asakusa Station on the TSUKUBA EXPRESS
1,000 Knives You Can Handle and Try Out
When you enter the store, you might feel like you've entered a museum of knives. The walls are covered with more than 1,000 cooking knives of all kinds. It's not really all that different from a museum collection— there are a lot of knives!
- A look at the knife displays. All of these knives can be taken down from the shelves and held! Many knife stores won't let you hold the knives before purchase, but Tsubaya encourages it.
- They explained that since a knife is such an important tool when cooking, they want their customers to be able to get a sense of each knife, and what it feels like.
Knives Classified According to their Applications
Since we're no cooking experts and don't know what makes each of the 1,000+ knives unique or special, we asked them to explain a few of the different kinds that Tsubaya has for sale.
We started with the most all-purpose kinds! These "universal knives" are about 15 to 20 cm long, and are what you often see in a typical home kitchen. These knives are some of the most popular items among Tsubaya's stock, since they're the most basic! They're generally divided into two varieties: Santoku & Gyuto knives.
Japanese-Style Universal Knives
The "sanko universal knife" is the most widely used knife among the many everyday knives. That means it will work well when cutting just about any food, including meat, fish, and vegetables.
The blade is made in a ratio of 5: 5, and it can cut at any angle without difficulty.
Western-Style Universal Knives
The "Kyūto Kotoku knife" is a kitchen knife widely used in Western countries, and is used mainly for cutting meat.
If you compare it to a santoku knife, you'll notice that it's longer in length and a fair amount narrower. It also has a point where the cross section of the knife edge is shifted by a ratio of 7: 3 or 8: 2, making it a good knife for cutting through hunks of meat, or tendons.
As a universal knife, it can certainly be used for all sorts of things, including vegetables or fish. But it's an especially good choice for those who cut through a lot of meat!
Tsubaya sells a variety of bread knives as well, even if they're less of a Japanese tradition. Thanks to their cross sections, and their longer ~30 cm lengths, the knives are able to cut further without going back and forth too many times. This helps preserve the shape of the bread, instead of crushing it with too much pressure.
With more Japanese people baking in their homes in recent years, bread knives have become a popular item!
These little knives originate from Japan, and are usually about 13 cm long. They're great for cutting fruit, and are even frequently used at patisseries! Since they're not particularly common, many patissiers come looking for them.
Unique Knives Only Available at Tsubaya
Fun and Creative Knives
This knife is packed with extremely practical knives, long blades, short blades, they can cut whatever food you throw at them. But that's not all they have!
Knives shaped like whales and blowfish are just some of the more silly options on display. A Chinese customer apparently once ordered a turtle-shaped knife!
Knives Just for Preparing Eel
This particular variety of knife is made specifically for preparing eel! The top of the blade has what looks like a hammer, which is used to hammer the large nail that is used to pin down the eel. They are slippery!
Make it Unique with a Custom Engraving!
If you want to make your knife truly the only one like it in the whole world, you can try out their engraving service. We tried it out by getting our friend's name engraved in kanji (Chinese characters.) Whatever message you want written onto your knife for the rest of its life, they use a dedicated machine at the back of the store to do it immediately, so you don't have to come back to pick it up!
Q & A for First-Time Visitors
Q. On my first visit, what should I buy?
A. We recommend a universal knife, or a petty knife. It's easier for beginner knife-users to use an all-purpose knife, especially since it can be used in the preparation of all kinds of ingredients. If you have a budget closer to 20,000 yen, we recommend purchasing a universal knife and a petty knife together, giving you more variety in knife size.
In addition, we recommend the "yanagiba" (柳刃), which is great for cutting raw fish!
Q. What's the difference between a wooden handle and a plastic handle?
A. The differences lie in both design and durability. Wooden handles have a strong sense of Japanese design, making them appealing to Western customers. Wood is easily discolored, so most Japanese customers prefer plastic handles. (All handles are replaceable, however.)
Q. How should I sharpen my knife?
A. The metal rods you often see in movies are kind of like first-aid, they're a quick fix when you want to use the knife immediately. For thorough sharpening, you have to use a sharpening stone, or togiishi (研ぎ石).
Q. Aren't all the knives the same, aside from size?
A. Aside from the more obvious size differences, the knives also vary in material and durability. They might all look similar at first glance, but the ratios involved in the blades, handles, and different parts' sizes are important. Some are also extra high quality!
For example, stainless steel doesn't have the same cutting force as pure iron, but it doesn't rust. So it's much easier to maintain.
Still Feeling Unsure About Japanese Knives?
Japanese cuisine is now popular around the world, and the huge variety of knives offered by Tsubaya includes a number that are suited specifically for preparing Japanese delicacies. These knives are perfect for any budding chefs you may know! And if you walk in and feel a little overwhelmed, don't worry! There are English-speaking staff, and they are happy to spend some time teaching you about the great variety of knives available, and helping you find the perfect knife to take home with you. (Just don't forget to put your precious new kitchen knife in your checked baggage! You don't want it getting confiscated by security.)
CUTLERY TSUBAYA (包丁専門つば屋)
3-7-2, Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
7 min walk from Tawaramachi (田原町駅) on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line OR
3 min walk from TX Asakusa Station on the TSUKUBA EXPRESS
(If you're looking for a place to stay nearby, try here!)
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⇩Learn More About Tsubaya in Our Video Below⇩