First, read my little intro about Japan.
Overview of Japan posts:
Japan 1: Welcome to Tokyo! (and a killer okonomiyaki)
Japan 2: Yokohama and Omuraisu
Japan 3: What Makes Japan One Of A Kind
Japan 4: Special Japanese Neighborhoods + Those Famous Food Floors
Japan 5: A Gourmet Japanese Lunch + Roppongi Hills
Japan 6: Kyoto (1st installment, 2nd installment)
Japan 7: Disneyland and DisneySea
Japan 8: Tsukiji Fish Market & Tsukiji neighborhood
When it comes to shopping, I’m positively insatiable when it comes to three things: kitchenware, cookbooks, and oh yes, kitchenware. So you can imagine my glee when my sister in law, Yappi, takes us to Kappabashi Dori, Tokyo’s main wholesale district for the restaurant industry, aka: one long street exclusively devoted to kitchenware. Incredible! While this might seem like a most unexciting activity for some, there’s plenty to see even if one isn’t into plates and things.
The area is easily recognizable by the colossal 39-foot chef’s head that looms above the Niimi building. Directly across the street on the opposite building are four pairs of cups and saucers stacked vertically. This is definitely the right place!
Stores in Kappabashi are either specialized (selling one type or category of thing) or a general collection of things. I clutch my bag close while admiring exquisite hand-painted Japanese bowls and tableware; sigh while caressing a genuine ceramic Japanese knife; ogle all manner of cookie cutters, okonomiyaki grills, and amazingly, molds to (I assume) make mooncakes in. I gawp at cauldrons deep enough to hide a small child, whisks large and scary enough to brandish as weapons, stare in wonder at a rice scooper that’s as tall as Boo, and examine foot-long cooking chopsticks. I fall in love with a teapot that just begs to be bought, a beautiful fire engine-red thing and the stuff of my hot beverage drinking dreams. But at Â¥13,000 (P7,500), those dreams don’t come cheap. I actually come back to Kappabashi again (via the scary subway) before leaving Japan, intent on buying the teapot but settle for a much cheaper model. Ayyy! If I bought the pot I truly wanted, I’d have to make myself countless cups of tea to justify that purchase.
I squeal in delight when I come upon stores selling plastic models of every imaginable foodstuff from sushi to loaves of bread to complete bento meals. These models are surprisingly expensive ”“ a simple salmon nigiri “sushi” is Â¥500, or roughly P250; a “bowl” of ramen can cost as much as Â¥7000 (P3500). I briefly consider buying even a small plastic food model as a souvenir, but for what? At that price, I might as well eat the damn thing! Cool to look at though. And I can’t get over how real they all look. Maybe that’s why they’re so expensive.
Japan’s 5th Avenue
Everybody knows Ginza, Tokyo’s fanciest district: the apotheosis of Japanese extravagance where people dressed in designer from head to toe come to shop and where more ordinary mortals simply come to dream and engage in Ginbura (Ginza strolling). The wide streets are ideal for window-shopping (practically the only thing most people can do here at these prices!), especially on weekends when cars are banned from the main street and cafés spill out onto the road. Packed into eight blocks are over 10,000 shops most of which are selling merchandise with a price tag equal to that of a small country’s GNP. In a Gucci store, I watch as a white-gloved salesman escorts a female customer to the door before handing over her purchase. The delighted lady casually slips the bag over her shoulder and walks away pushing her kid’s stroller. Imagine: lady, baby, and Gucci. The stuff of designer-label dreams.
All the brand giants are here from Bulgari to Mikimoto. All this flashy competition has led to commissioning architects to fashion storefronts with spectacular facades. Watch maker Mont Blanc has a see-through glass elevator that customers can use to access the building’s other levels, although ordinary tourists like me use it to have a gander at the view. Heehee.
I’m lucky to come back to Ginza at night when the entire area is crammed with people and the neon lights are ablaze in their fiery glory. This is the pulsing, vibrant Tokyo that is so legendary.
Underground where the treats abound
It’s at the basement level of large department stores where Japan’s food lovers congregate. This is the place to witness, smell, and experience the culinary wealth and diversity that is Japan. Called depachika (department store basement), this is where the finest sushi, tea and coffee, sake, bento boxed meals, Japanese confectionery, and celestial pastries are to be had. Shops and stalls are grouped according to product so sushi gives way to katsudon, yakitori (grilled meat on skewers), coffee, chocolates, breads, and pastries. It’s tantalizing and terrifying all at once just because of the sheer amount of choice. Most depachikas go on sale near 8:00pm which is closing time so the madness multiplies. Because seeing is believing, I’ll let my photos do the talking. Believe me, Japan is a fabulous place for a food lover like me to be.