Are you looking for a quieter place with fewer international tourists to feel Tokyo’s history than for example Asakusa? Only a 20-minute train ride away from Asakusa you will find exactly what you are looking for in Shibamata. A still relatively undiscovered piece of Tokyo where you can feel the atmosphere of the old days.
History of Shibamata
The origins of Shibamata date back to the 17th century, when the Buddhist temple that is central to this area, Taishakuten, was established. The town developed around it, and the temple structure that you see today was built in 1929, as the area was spared during the bombings of WW2.
What makes Shibamata so special, is its link to one of Japan’s most popular movie series called ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo‘. It was the longest-running movie series in the world with a cool total of 48 episodes and two specials of which the last one came out in 2019. The last episode was shot in 1995. There is also a TV series and an anime series with the same characters. The movies are about a salesman named Tora-san, who has to travel a lot for work. His home is in Shibamata though, so every time Tora-san goes home, this Tokyo neighborhood takes center stage. The fact that the area was being featured in the series so prominently has definitely helped spur the efforts to preserve Shibamata’s Showa-era atmosphere as much as possible.
What to See in Shibamata
Because the area is not very large, you can leisurely discover the neighborhood on foot and within half a day. Besides just wandering around the backstreets to get a feel of how the locals live, there are a few must-sees in Shibamata. The town’s most famous attraction is the 200-meter long main shopping street that is lined with shops selling all kinds of traditional wares and foods.
If you are looking to buy some typical Japanese souvenirs that are also useful like for example strong brushes in the shape of a turtle that clean everything from your kitchen counter to your feet, this is a great place to buy them. The majority of shops sell food though, so eating your way through Shibamata’s main street is certainly a good way to enjoy the area. Pretty wagashi, dorayaki filled with red beans, all kinds of senbei crackers, unagi, sticky rice dango, and candies from Japan’s grandmothers’ time can all be had here. The street and buildings are very well-kept and beautiful, so you will definitely spend some time taking pictures while shopping here.
If you got thirsty after all that eating, you can have a healthy cup of matcha tea in the beautiful surroundings of the Yamamoto-tei. The building that was built in the 1920s is registered as a Tangible Cultural Property, and you can see a great mixture of Western and Buddhist architecture with a typical Japanese landscape garden. It is a place of tranquility and relaxation, so take your time and sip your tea while you appreciate the environment.
The Taishakuten temple itself is also a beautiful sight. It starts with the entrance gate, which is an impressive wooden structure from the late 19th century that displays intricate carvings depicting protective lions and passages from Buddha’s life. If you want to see more wooden carvings that were made by artists in the early 20th century and depict the lotus sutra, after paying an entrance fee of 400 yen you can enter the inner part and garden of the temple. In the garden outside you will see a spot with many small statues of snakes and… poop. These are supposed to bring you luck because the pronunciation of the Japanese words for poop and luck are the same, and a snake is seen as a messenger of goddess Benzaiten who deals with anything that streams, like money.
Of course, the museum that is dedicated to the main character of ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo’ should not be missed when you are in Shibamata. While the displays are not in English, you can get a brochure at the entrance that explains the main parts of the exhibition in English. Most of the exhibition is visual anyway, so you can go there to get a feel of what the movies looked like even if you haven’t watched them.
Your Japan Tour
As seasoned Japan experts, we can help you create your perfect Japan tour including more local areas like Shibamata. Local private guides can add a whole new dimension to your trip by giving you vivid background stories for places like Shibamata and answer all your Japan-related questions. Contact us to start planning your unforgettable holiday to this fascinating country full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, culture, history, nature, and delicious food!