Tokyo: Finding the Perfect Souvenir
A humongous Chef's head greets you at the south end of Kappabashi Street, the heart of Kitchenware Town, a restaurant and kitchen supply shopping district located between two major touristy areas, Ueno and Asakusa. Here you can find bargains on cups, bowls, trays and other pottery, lacquerware bento boxes make terrific jewelry cases along with seat cushion covers, chopsticks and sashimi knives. At the Kamata knife shop, located along the main thoroughfare (you can't miss this place there's a giant knife painted on the sign above the shop door), you can have your name engraved on the blade in kanji, if there's a character for it, or katakana (the Japanese alphabet for writing foreign words), and the shop will do it while you wait.
Make time to browse the shelves of Maiduru, maker of the plastic food found in restaurant display cases, located across the road and a few blocks south from Kamata. Practically its own art form here, these samples the sushi and soba and udon noodles, the king crabs and grilled veggies, shrimp tempura and strawberry cakes look real and delicious enough to eat. And who wouldn't like a kappamaki-from-Kappabashi fridge magnet? (A "kappa" is a sea sprite of Japanese legend, and there are little statues of them up and down the street.) The fake food is expensive though; a keychain can set you back $25.
An alternative to Kappabashi Street: There are loads of souvenir shops along Nakamise Street, the main road that leads straight to the Senso-ji temple. And I haven't seen a better selection of cell phone charms which also make nice Christmas tree ornaments anywhere. (Warning: This area is packed with tourists on weekends.) Try the side streets on the other side of Asakusa park for painted silk panels, paper lanterns, wooden toys and other traditional Japanese crafts, some being made on the spot.
To get to Kappabashi Kitchenware Town, take the Tokyo Metro's Ginza line to Tawaramachi, one stop before Asakusa. Walk four blocks west and turn right at the chef's head. To reach Nakamise Street, take the Ginza line to Asakusa station, Exit 1. Walk one block west along Kaminarimon Dori; the Asakusa Tourist Information Center will be on the corner on your left. Turn right and cross the street, toward the Kaminari shrine gate.
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