I took a long stroll down Kappabashi Street on one of my trips to Japan. Kappabashi Street is a pretty well-known area on the northern side of Tokyo where you can find all things needed for any cook in any kitchen. I was surprised by the plastic food displays but also impressed with the many kitchen gadgets and tools available for sale. As much as I wanted to get more gadgets, I had a goal of getting a knife.
The reviews of Tokko knives shops said that Kappabashi street is where to go to get a knife. There are a couple of stores here; Kamata, Tsubaya, and Kama-asa. Which one did I pick? Tsubaya was great but I think I was overwhelmed being surrounded by so many knives. Kama-asa seemed more like a general store with cooking gadgets.
I ended up at Kamata. Kamata had friendly and knowledgeable staff. Side note: all the stores had knowledgeable staff. To me, this store had a great feel. It was not as tight as Tsubaya and not offer cooking supplies like Kama-asa. I chose Kamata because they had a great selection of knives at the right price. Yes, they all had $25 knives. They also had $3,000+ knives.
I was looking for a chef knife. I know. I was in Japan…why not get a Japanese style knife? As much as I wanted to buy more knives, I had a set budget. I browsed through santoku, yanagiba, deba, and other Japanese specialty knives. I drooled all over all of them and I had to stick to my plan. The Japanese chef knives are designed a little differently than a French chef knife. While approximately the same length, the Japanese chef knife, called a Gyuto, is a little lighter with more weight towards the tip. The tip is not as pointed as a western-style knife. I mean, it’s sharp but western chef knives have more of a curve to the blade side while the Japanese Gyuto is flat.
I’m sure the other stores had their brand of knives. At Kamata, it was clear to see their branded knives. I decided on which store and which style of knife. Now which one to pick? There were over 100 Gyuto knives in the store. The salespeople kept pushing me towards the stainless steel versions while I knew I wanted something with a little more carbon. There was a part of me that wanted a high carbon knife to learn how to deal with properly cleaning the knife and also having a sharp edge.
Back to the knife, I let the store know my budget and they picked out a few knives. Again, they pointed me towards the stainless steel versions. I explained that I was a cook but they still pointed me towards the stainless steel. They brought out 3 more knives. Knives, like guitars, should be a “hold and feel before purchase” decision. I picked up each knife and closed my eyes. From an outside view, it might have looked like I was trying to pick a wand at Ollivanders. While you want to have your eyes on the knife at all times, there might be a second went you’re not looking and need to know what the knife is doing. I’ve gotten cut several times because of this and that’s why I close my eyes when I pick the knife.
I was also able to pick a knife based on balance and not on looks. Ok, in general, they all had a look I liked to it came down to feel.
I ended up with a Kamata 88th anniversary edition. I quickly got it engraved and packed up for my trip back home. I’ve heard that they pack the knife in front of you and seal it because you’re technically not supposed to open it and might have problems if you take the knife out in public or while you’re at the airport and they go through your suitcase and see the seal broken.
I’m extremely happy with my Kamata Gyuto. What happened? No carbon blade? As much as I wanted a high carbon blade, this stainless steel has worked out for me and still stays sharp. For my next trip, I hope to go to Sakai during one of their knife festivals. If I’m just in Tokyo, then I’ll hit up Masamoto.