This summer, a friend brought me to Hitachiya, a Japanese kitchen supply store tucked away in a strip mall in Torrance. As I browsed the shelves of beautifully crafted kitchen utensils, I heard a familiar sound – a bright, rhythmic hum. I turned around to see a man in the corner of the shop sharpening a chef’s knife by sliding it back and forth over a whetstone.
The sound took me back to my travels in Japan – I imagined myself walking through the damp alleys of the famous Tsukiji fish market, where fishmongers were sharpening knives and calling orders during the morning flurry. I thought of the shops in the outer market, where rows of vendors sold everything from spices to preserves to hand-woven fabrics.
Back in Hitachiya, just half an hour from my home in Los Angeles, I stood in awe watching the craft of professional sharpener Masa Hirota, who spent his childhood in Tokyo helping his father make small knives called Takewari houcho using samurai swords. I decided to buy my own chef’s knife, one with a blue handle and a textured finish. Today it holds a special place in my kitchen, reminding me of one of my favorite countries to visit.
Los Angeles is home to a vibrant Japanese-American community and a large Japanese expatriate population. As someone who writes about the influence of Japanese culture in LA, I’ve visited many stores in town that make me feel like I’ve been briefly transported to Japan: a teahouse downtown from LA, a housewares store in March Vista, a sandwich shop in Echo Park. If you are dreaming of your first or next trip to Tokyo, browse these spaces. And pick up delicious, beautifully designed items while you’re at it.