Today, Japanese knives have been popular among professional chefs from all over the world for its great quality. And not only chefs but also there are many international travelers who are willing to buy some knives in Japan during their trip.
Knives and steel tools such as tweezers and scissors can last long if you take good care of them.
In this article, we will introduce this special knife store called Ubukeya, traditional knife and steel tool shops where its origin dates back to the Edo period.
Introduction of Ubukeya
Ubukeya is located in a nice neighborhood of Nihonbashi Ningyo-cho, which is near Tokyo station. They sell over 300 different kinds of miscellaneous steel products such as knives, scissors and tweezers etc. One of the most famous Sushi restaurants Jiro uses knives from this shop because of the trust for their skills and beautifully made products. Ubukeya sells traditional and high quality items that have been loved by both professionals and locals for so many years. This is one of a few stores in Japan who continues their business in a traditional way (we will talk more about this later).
We had the opportunity to talk with the 8th generation of Ubukeya owner, Yazaki Yutaka-san, and we will happily share some of the stories of this beautiful store with you.
Story of Ubukeya
Ubukeya was established originally in Osaka in 1783. In the 1800s, they relocated the store to Tokyo, and in the late 19th century, they settled the store in the current location.
The store is an old three-story wooden building standing out among the modern buildings around the Ningyo-cho Station, which makes you feel like time has stopped at the store. When you get inside, you will see the display of the history of tools they have made in the past. You can find sewing shears which is said to be the first sewing shears ever in Japan, and they also have the big tweezers, the playful works from the predecessor craftsmen.
The name Ubukeya comes from the Japanese word Ubuke (fuzz) and customers gave a compliment on their wrought steel tools which the first owner Kinosuke made and said “These can shave, cut and even pull a fuzz”.
As a craftsman and merchant
What makes them unique and considered as one of the most important stores, is the way they conduct their business. It is called 職商人(Shoku Shonin) in Japanese. A “Shoku Shonin” is a craftsman but also a merchant. They run their own store and order high skilled craftsmen outside to make tools, but final finishing is done by themselves at the store. Hence, they sell only things they are content with.
At Ubukeya, they stock unfinished products such as unsharpened knives. There is a workshop at the back of the store where Yazaki-san and his son take care of the polishing process. All products are polished carefully by their hands and then finally put on the shelves at Ubukeya.
Before the World War Ⅱ, there used to be more knife stores that operated in this way but not anymore. Today, only a few stores still conduct the traditional way of business like Ubukeya.
Yazaki-san also told an interesting story of how they developed the craftsmanship.
In the Edo period, around the 1700s, the peaceful era lasted long and the sword smiths were going out of business. At the same time, the culinary culture was developed and the needs for knives began to increase as people could spend more time on their hobbies. Along with this trend, people started to make home tools and that is how they improved their tool making skills.
Ubukeya started their business in Osaka first, but Edo (old Tokyo) was the best place to sell because they had the highest consumption in Japan, so they made a branch in Edo. Because they couldn’t find people to take over the business in the Kansai area, the stores there were closed and only the Edo store remains open until today.
The secret of Japanese quality
What makes Japanese products different from other countries?
Let’s take knives as an example, we would like to tell you the secrets of Japanese quality that Yazaki-san shared with us.
First of all, there were more high quality iron ores available in Western countries and people didn’t have to have great skills to make good products. On the other hand, Japan only had low quality materials and they needed to have high skills to make good quality knives. Japanese craftsmen tried to make them better with their skills and kept putting more effort on improving. As a result of their hard work, in the modern era, when people use the same material all around the world, Japanese high quality knives stand out.
When the materials are all the same, what defines their value is the craftsmanship.
Keep the tradition with face to face selling
Ubukeya believes it is very important to sell their products face to face with their customers. At the shop, they will listen to what their customers want and recommend them to check the feeling of the products, to choose the best thing for them. By asking the right questions in person, they can select the product that the customers need the most.
In today’s mass consumption society, people are likely to throw away their stuff when it is done or when they get tired of it, it becomes much easier to get rid of stuff and waste. But Ubukeya hopes people keep using the good stuff for a long time. If you can go for a maintenance regularly, you can continue using it for longer than you think. Even if the tool you bring is not from Ubukeya, they will happily accept it to take care of the maintenance.
Always cherish their relationship with customers
They cherish all their relationships in every way and that is the reason why they take care of the maintenance for tools even the ones customers bought at the other stores. At Ubukeya, they will always welcome you with warm and kind smiles.
Get many tools that match your needs and take good care of them and understand the passion behind the tools with Ubukeya.
Main products lineup
At Ubukeya, they have various kinds of Japanese knives and Western knives that you can choose from depending on your needs. Also, they have many kinds of tweezers, scissors and sewing shears, which are the main products of Ubukeya. You will be surprised by the number of steel products they have at the store!
Price List (tax excluded)
|Type||Usage||Blade length||Price (Yen)|
*All listed above are in stainless steel. Japanese knives in carbon steel are available as well.
There are much more stories to share about the history of tools and Ubukeya. Why not visiting the store by yourselves and listen to their stories and see their beautiful works with your own eyes? Find your treasures at this special store while you are visiting Japan!
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Upcoming Online Cooking Event in Nihonbashi
In the neighborhood of Ubukeya, there are many traditional food companies who contributed to the development of Japanese rich culinary culture. Mizkan is one of them.
Did you know that the secret of delicious sushi actually depends on vinegar in rice?
In this event, you can listen to special stories about the history and secret of Japanese vinegar from a lecturer of Mizkan, a vinegar brewery established in 1804, who contributed to the “sushi boom” in the 19th century by producing special vinegar. And also, you can learn how to cook with it at home!