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Traditional Japanese knife shop in Tokyo’s Ningyocho district dates back to the Edo period

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The hiragana letters on Ubukeya’s nameplate are based on the script of four calligraphy artists.

Ubukeya, a long-standing cutting tool store, is located in the Nihonbashi Ningyocho area of ​​Chuo Ward, Tokyo. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the district flourished as a home to kabuki and puppet drama shows, and as a place for nightly entertainment with geisha.

Although modern buildings now surround the neighborhood, one small building in the traditional townhouse style still stands. The building’s signboard features the store’s name, ‘Ubukeya’, in hiragana characters. The characters are written horizontally from right to left, the reverse of the modern style. A suitcase next to the entrance shows scissors and knives.

The cutting tools shop was opened in Osaka in 1783 during the Edo period. The shop’s name comes from the reputation of its founder, Kinosuke’s bladed tools, which were said to be able to shave even ‘ubuke’ or peach fuzz.

Later the store moved to Edo, the old name for Tokyo, and was moved to the Ningyocho district just before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The current store was built during the early Showa era (1926-1989), and the beautiful karakasa-style ceiling and display cabinets, which are diagonal to make items easier to view, have remained in place ever since.


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The Yomiuri Shimbun
The impressive Karakasa style ceiling in the Ubukeya store. The current store was built during the early Showa era (1926-1989).

Cutting tools used from the Meiji to Showa eras are on display in the shop. They escaped damage from the 1923 Kanto earthquake, air raids during World War II, and other disastrous events.

The items have been classified by the department office as tangible public property and include precious items such as products made by a swordsmith who made the first sewing scissors in Japan. An item called a ‘hinoshi’, shaped like a small frying pan, is especially impressive. It is thought that the hinoshi was used as an iron by putting charcoal in it.

In the past, there were many kimono wholesalers in the store, and sewing scissors and traditional Japanese scissors sold well for cutting clothes. Now employees of upscale ryotei restaurants are placing orders for kitchen knives because they want top-quality cookware.

Foreign tourists are also attracted by the traditional appearance of the store’s exterior, and once inside they buy a pair of traditional Japanese scissors.

In both cases the products bear the traditional Ubukeya logo. Kitchen knives neatly lined up in the display cases have a dull shine through the glass and give the visitor the feeling that the edge must be sharp.


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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Traditional Japanese scissors on display in Ubukeya

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Traditional Japanese scissors bear the name Ubukeya.

The store also receives many orders for repairing and sharpening knives. The time required for the work varies from case to case and sometimes takes about a month.

The store runs on people’s desire to use excellent products for as long as possible, but also on the commitment of the store’s owners and craftsmen.

Current owner Taiki Yazaki, 34, said: “We repair and maintain various types of steel and cutting tools. By taking our work seriously, we keep the tradition alive.”

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Ubukeya


map
The Yomiuri Shimbun



Address: 3-9-2 Nihonbashi-Ningyocho, Chuo Ward, Tokyo

Access: One minute walk from Ningyocho Station on the Hibiya Line or Toei Asakusa Line.

Opening hours: Open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays and national holidays.

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