While it is possible to buy metal and plastic needles in Japan, without a doubt the most common needle is bamboo. In the two yarn shops I visit most often, they only sell Clover Takumi bamboo needles and crochet hooks, as straight needles, circular needles, and double-pointed in a number of different lengths. Any size you could ever want is right there at your finger tips; you just have to be happy with bamboo.
I personally love bamboo, but then again I haven’t had a ton of experience with metal until recently. It’s uncommon to find circular needles below size four, so I invested in some metal-plated circs for the smaller sizes. As we all know, I mostly have been knitting with the size 1s for the past few months, haha! I like the smoothness of the metal, but I find that my row count is a lot more scrunched up with metal. The stitch counts are usually the same as on the bamboo, it’s just that I get a shorter swatch when I knit with metal. Interesting, but it also makes it hard to make gauge.
In the top corner you’ll see my interchangeable set – yet again, Clover Takumi needles. I like this set a lot, though the screw at the join is very loose so I have to retighten the needles every round or so. It’s a bit annoying, but they were about half the price as Addi’s or other similar sets (though I think the Clover needles are more expensive outside of Japan). I love the red case that came with it – makes a very handsome traveling companion. Interchangeables aren’t booming like they do outside of Japan though. I think most knitters in the west aim to get a set as soon as they can, while many Japanese knitters don’t seem to be interested. My sister-in-law has been knitting for a few years and didn’t even know how to use them.
Most of the Japanese patterns I see are seamed, so there aren’t many reasons to need circular needles, except to, you know, get most of the weight of a knitted piece into your lap instead of wearing on your wrists. I almost never use straight needles anymore, except for the teeny size ones you see up there. I use them a lot for tubular cast ons for ribbing, because they’re long and sturdy enough to cast on! Tubular cast-ons, which I used for ribbed edges, are a LOT easier when you’re doing them on straight needles and not fidgety circular needles.
I actually have a bunch of metal needles my mom got me when I first started knitting, but I just don’t have an occasion to use them. They’re in some pretty colors, so it’s nice to have them on display, at least.