Amidst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo (東京), there is a town in the eastern part of the city where you can slow down and relax. If you want to experience a “shitamachi” or a traditional downtown Japanese neighborhood, Shibamata (柴又) is a must-visit place for you.
Shibamata is a town located on the east end of Tokyo, in the Katsushika district (葛飾区) and situated on the banks of Edogawa (江戸川). It is a traditional tourist place that is quite similar to Asakusa (浅草), but it is smaller and fewer people visit it. This town is a perfect place to visit if you want to experience Edo-style towns without having to deal with crowds. Shibamata gained popularity after the release of the film series, Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being A Man – 男はつらいよ), during the 1960s.
1. Visit the statue of Tora-san (寅さん)
Just right outside Shibamata Station (柴又駅), one can see a statue of a salesman carrying a briefcase with one hand, and another inside his pocket. If you look closely at the statue, you can see that his left foot is shiny, evidence of how many people have touched it for good luck.
The statue is of Tora-san, the protagonist of the movie, Otoko wa Tsurai yo. The movie was released during the 1960s and is considered as the longest film series because it spanned 48 episodes. The series eventually ended with the death of Atsumi Kiyoshi (渥美清), the actor who portrayed Tora-san. Tora-san is a traveling salesman who goes from town to town carrying his briefcase. Shibamata is Tora-san’s hometown.
2. Learn more about Tora-san at the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Memorial Hall (葛飾柴又寅さん記念館)
This museum is dedicated to the movie Otoko wa Tsurai yo where Atsumi Kiyoshi played Tora-san. Among the exhibited materials are sets and props that were used in the movies and items that help people explore the world of Tora-san. It is also possible to visit the Yamada Yoji Museum (山田洋次ミュージアム). Yamada Yoji (山田洋次) was the person who produced the abovementioned film series.
Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Memorial Hall Website *Automatic translation available
3. Explore Taishakuten Sando (帝釈天参道)
Taishakuten Sando is a traditional Japanese shopping street. This place is perfect for tourists looking for souvenirs and other traditional merchandise. This street is also called “The Approach to Taishakuten” because its path leads to the Shibamata Taishakuten Temple (柴又帝釈天). The whole street measures about 200 meters in length so it’s quite a long walk. Fortunately, Taishakuten Sando is filled with food stalls serving different types of food which you can snack on while on your leisurely walk.
4. Visit Shibamata Taishakuten Temple
Formally known as Kyoei-zan Daikyoji (経栄山 題経寺), Shibamata Taishakuten is a Buddhist temple in Shibamata. The temple is located at the end of Taishakuten Sando. It was founded in 1629 with Taishakuten, a Buddhist divinity equivalent to the Hindi god Indra, as the temple’s main image.
The temple’s prayer wall is very famous because the panels depict scenes from the Lotus Sutra, a central text of Mahayana Buddhism. Aside from the prayer walls, the temple is also known for the “Zuiryu no Matsu” or the “Lucky Dragon’s Pine Tree,” which is almost 500 years old and bears a resemblance to a mythical beast.
5. Pray for happiness at Ryokan-ji Temple (良観寺)
Ryokan-ji Temple is one of the Seven Lucky Gods temples that is located in Shibamata. This temple is dedicated to Hotei, the god of happiness and contentment.
6. Eat Dorayaki “Rakudora” at Ishii (い志い)
Dorayaki is a Japanese dessert which consists of red bean paste sandwiched between pancakes. You can get this delicious confection at Ishii, a Japanese sweets shop that has been in operation for over 150 years.
7. Drink tea at Yamamoto-tei (山本亭)
Yamamoto-tei is a traditional-style home which was the former residence of Einosuke Yamamoto (山元栄之助), a businessman during the Taisho era. With shoji paper panels and tatami mats, the house and its garden are the prime examples of “sukiya-zukuri” or “teahouse style.”
Aside from traditional Japanese style, Western-style architecture can also be seen in this place. Thus, it’s also a good example of the harmony between Japanese and Western styles. Tourists can enter this place and drop by their tea shop where they can take a rest after walking around Shibamata.
8. Enjoy a meal at KAWACHiYA (川千家)
If you’re craving for some eel (unagi), then KAWACHiYA is the place to go. The restaurant specializes in unagi kabayaki or grilled eel and they have been serving this dish for over 200 years, starting from the Ansei days during the Edo period. You can enjoy your meal while viewing the Taishakuten shopping street or you can eat in one of their private rooms.
9. Watch the Katsushika Fireworks Festival
The Katsushika Fireworks Festival is a summer festival held every July, at the end of the month. 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of this festival. Normally, around 13,000 fireworks light up the sky, but for the 50th anniversary, these were increased to about 15,000. This summer festival is a perfect opportunity for tourists to wear yukata and walk along the picturesque streets of Katsushika while enjoying the fireworks display.
To get to Shibamata, you can take the Keisei Kanamachi Line (京成金町線) from Asakusa and get off at Shibamata Station, which is a 30-minute train ride. Once you get off the station, you can start exploring the area.
Shibamata is a relatively small town, but its size does not mean that there are only a few things you can do here. On the contrary, there are a lot of things to do and one day might not be enough! If you find yourself at a loss of where to go, make sure to include Shibamata in your itinerary!