This summer, a friend brought me to Hitachiya, a Japanese kitchen supply store tucked in a strip mall in Torrance. While browsing the shelves of beautifully designed cookware, I heard a familiar sound — a bright, rhythmic whir. I turned around to see a man in the corner of the shop sharpening a chef’s knife by gliding it back and forth on a whetstone.
The sound took me back to my travels in Japan — I imagined myself walking through the damp pathways of famed fish market Tsukiji, where fishmongers would sharpen knives and call out orders over the early morning flurry. I thought about the outer-market shops, where rows of vendors sold everything from spices to preserved foods to hand-woven fabrics.
Back at Hitachiya, just a half-hour away from my home in L.A., I stood in awe as I watched 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 a chef’s knife of my own, one with a blue handle and 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 large population of Japanese expats. As someone who writes about the influence of Japanese culture in L.A., I’ve visited many shops around the city that make me feel like I’ve briefly been transported back to Japan: a tea shop in downtown L.A., a home goods store in Mar Vista, a sandwich spot in Echo Park. If you are dreaming of your first or next trip to Tokyo, browse these spaces. And pick up some delicious and beautifully designed items while you’re there.