Kappabashi is the kitchenware corner of Tokyo, hence its nickname, "Kitchen Town." A colossal chef's head marks the southern entrance to this offbeat neighborhood, which bears a certain novelty as a place to go window-shopping.
Chef's Head / Kitchenware Street (Dougu Gai)
Along Kappabashi Dougu Street (dougu means "implement" or "tool"), there are numerous shops, which sell everything from dishes and knives to plastic food replicas.
Window-Shopping for Fake Food Samples
Sculpted with great care, the sampuru, or fake food samples, are meant for restaurant display windows, but there are people who collect them, too (an expensive hobby, once you see that a single piece of plastic sushi boasts a price tag of almost 2,000 yen, or around twenty U.S. dollars.)
Kappabashi is an area typical of Tokyo in that if you wander down the right back street, you are liable to find a grand old Buddhist temple, tucked away among vending machines, cars, and apartment stacks.
Back out on the main street, there is also a pocket park where the golden statue of Kappa Kawatoro stands sentry over the neighborhood.
The pocket park is sandwiched between two buildings, on the corner of an intersection, where there is also a shop that sells restaurant signs and akachochin, those red paper lanterns that often advertise specific foods and types of alcohol outside Japanese gastropubs.
Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri (The Downtown Star Festival)
Across the street, at the same intersection, lies the entrance to Kappabashi Hondori. This street holds a nice vista of Tokyo Skytree, and every July, it is lined with colorful hanging decorations for the Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri, or Downtown Star Festival.
The festival runs for about a week, but the best time to drop in is on the weekend, when there are parades and street performances. During this time, Kappabashi Hondori is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian street.
Even if you miss the festival window, you can still go kappa-hunting on this street.
Kappa-Hunting on Kappabashi Hondori
Though the name Kappabashi is thought to be derived from the Japanese word for raincoat, or a local merchant named Kappaya, there is also a river deity in Japanese folklore called the kappa, whose likeness (a cross between that of a duck and turtle) is carved in storefront statues all along the street. The creature serves as a mascot for Kappabashi.
If you double back across the intersection, and follow it away from the Skytree, Kappabashi Hondori will eventually take you over to Ueno Station. Along the way, you can even find a small temple dedicated to the kappa.
Sogen-Ji (The Kappa-Dera Temple)
At Sogen-ji, commonly known as the Kappa-dera Temple, watery cucumbers, the kappa's favorite snack, straddle the offertory box, and a petrified kappa claw sits preserved behind glass. About the size of a large rabbit's foot, and about as dubious as a "real" Sasquatch foot, this cryptid fossil ranks as one more novelty in a neighborhood full of them.
Located near Tawaramachi Station, the next stop after Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Kappabashi Kitchen Town is also within walking distance of the landmarks Senso-ji and Ueno Park.