Tsubaya’s founder, Hiroshi Saito, launched his business in 1981 after traveling the globe, meeting many chefs, and realizing how respected Japanese knives were. Upon his return, he branched out from his family’s general kitchenware store in Tokyo and set about building relationships with blacksmiths near Osaka. Tsubaya, one of Kappabashi’s first knife specialists, is now helmed by Hiroshi’s son Akira and stocks more than 1,500 knives at any time from several dozen Japanese blacksmith brands. Akira, who speaks fairly fluent English, will explain how the different handle shapes – from a small vegetable cleaver with a rounded rosewood handle to a noodle cutter with an ovoid magnolia-wood handle and a traditional paring knife with a hexagonal handle – are intended to trigger muscle memory. “You want to grow used to the feel,” he says, so that you don’t have to think about what to cut with each knife, what that tool is for. Akira walked us through more than a dozen knife models, including some made just for butchering raw beef, others for carving cooked beef, and still more specifically for working with pork. As with the shops below, it’s more than a knife store; it’s a lesson in process and purpose as well.