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Day trips from Tokyo: Exploring Shibamata, home to the iconic Tora-san

Day trips from Tokyo: Exploring Shibamata, home to the iconic Tora-san

Nestled in Tokyo's Katsushika City (葛飾区), Shibamata (柴又) stands as a testament to the city's historical tapestry, offering visitors a glimpse into its rich cultural heritage. Renowned for its well-preserved traditional charm, featuring ancient temples, iconic Japanese architecture, and a unique atmosphere that sets it apart from the urban hustle, Shibamata is also known as the setting of the late 1900s film series "Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (男はつらいよ) or “It's Tough Being a Man”, home to its famous protagonist: Tora-san (寅さん). 

 

On a warm August day, my friend Sue and I had set out to explore this hidden gem tucked in the north east part of Tokyo. Little did we know that our visit to Shibamata would unfold as a captivating journey through time, immersing us in the cultural nuances of Tora-san and Tokyo’s past.

 

Let’s go to Shibamata Station

The train on the Keisei-Kanamachi Line. (Image credit: Sue Lynn)

 

From Nippori Station, we embarked on our journey via the Keisei Line Rapid (京成本線快速 Keisei Honsen Kaisoku) from Nippori Station (日暮里駅 Nippori-eki). We alighted at Keisei Takasago Station (京成高砂駅 Keisei Takasago-eki) and changed to the Keisei-Kanamachi Line (京成金町線 Keisei-Kanamachi sen) bound for Shibamata Station. The trip took us 25 minutes, and we arrived at our destination just slightly before 12:30pm, in time for lunch! 

 

Look out for the station sign and platform decorated with silhouettes of Tora-san and his sister Sakura. (Image credit: Julia Yee & Sue Lynn)

 

Alighting from the train, we were already greeted by the various homages to the movie. Shibamata Station is filled with decorations inspired by the movie. The pillars were decorated with different silhouettes of Tora-san with little movie-related facts stated on the sides. 

 

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

As we exited the station, we noticed several people taking photos with the bronze statue of Tora-san looking back before leaving his hometown, and a statue of his sister Sakura, seeing him off. In the movies, Tora-san travels all over Japan but always returns to Shibamata. Several people adorned the Tora-san hat and posed alongside the statues too! The Shibamata Tourist Information Centre is also easily spotted with a cute caricature of Tora-san for those looking for maps on the local area.

 

Shibamata’s retro streets

We snapped photos with the cute cut-out boards. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Following the path to the main street, we set our eyes on the Shibamata Haikara Yokocho (柴又ハイカラ横丁). It is a captivating shop that is easy to spot with its Showa-era architecture. Stepping into the shop felt as though we had just walked through a portal to the past. Bursting with retro vibes, the shop presents an array of vintage items, dagashi (駄菓子 cheap sweets), and unique memorabilia of Japanese celebrities of the 1960s. We also had a go at the old pinball machines which were a blast! Shibamata Haikara Yokocho captures the essence of a bygone era, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a glimpse into Japan's rich cultural heritage.

 

Shibamata Haikara Yokocho (柴又ハイカラ横丁)
Address: 7-3-12 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo 125-0052
Access: 1-minute walk from Shibamata Station
Opening hours: 10am–6pm
TEL: +81 3-3673-9627

 

Lunchtime at Shibamata’s main street

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having had our fill of the shop, we made our way to the main street Taishakuten-Sando (帝釈天参道). This main street is lined with all sorts of shops selling traditional Japanese snacks such as freshly made senbei (煎餅 Japanese rice crackers) and dango (団子), restaurants, as well as souvenir shops selling all sorts of Tora-san-related knick-knacks. Shibamata's local specialty is yomogi dango (よもぎ団子), little mochi balls made with Japanese mugwort.

 

As it was lunchtime, we had settled in a cosy restaurant along the main street to fill up our hungry bellies. August is the peak of the summer season in Japan, and during this season, restaurants often offer refreshing somen (そうめん) on their menu. There was a variety to choose from, and the set also came with the kuzu mochi (くず餅), which is the shop’s specialty. 

 

Taishakuten

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having had a good lunch and cooled off, we continued strolling along the Taishakuten-Sando. At the end of the main street, we arrived at the temple grounds of Daikyō-ji (題経寺), otherwise known as Shibamata Taishakuten (柴又帝釈天). Walking through the beautiful carved wooden Nitemon Gate (二天門), we were greeted by the main Taishaku-do Hall (帝釈堂). We offered our prayers and I opted to have the Goshuin (御朱印)—red stamps with beautiful calligraphy often handwritten by the monks or priests—which are like a proof of having visited the place. 

 

(Image credit: Sue Lynn & Julia Yee)

 

Adjacent to Taishaku-do Hall, there is the Daikyakuden Hall (大客殿), accessible for ¥400. The pathway showcases national treasure sculptures, an invaluable artistic collection. Additionally, a leisurely stroll from the Guest Hall leads to Suikei-en Garden (邃渓園), offering a serene outdoor retreat. The tranquil and picturesque surroundings provide an ideal sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My friend also bought a special omamori (お守り) in the motif of Tora-san!

 

Shibamata Taishakuten (柴又帝釈天)
Address: 7-10-3 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo 125-0052
Access: 5-minute walk from Shibamata Station
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
TEL: +81 3-3657-2886

 

Tea break at Yamamoto-Tei

(Image credit: Sue Lynn & Julia Yee)

 

Next stop was Yamamoto-Tei (山本亭), the home of Einosuke Yamamoto (山本栄之助), the founder of the Yamamoto Factory (manufacturing camera parts) which had also been semi-converted into a tea house. We opted for the combined ticket which gave us access to both Yamamoto-Tei and the Tora-san Memorial Hall, which was ¥550. We settled in close to a fan, to freshen up from the summer heat while admiring the beautiful Japanese garden. We were soon served our iced matcha and wagashi set which was perfect for the sweltering weather. 

 

(Image credit: Sue Lynn)

 

After our short tea break, we had a look around Yamomoto-Tei. The interior is a fusion of Japanese and Western architecture that incorporates Western architecture into the elegant Shoin-zukuri (書院造) style. Throughout the two-storey wooden tile-roofed building, trends in the architectural styles of the time can be seen from the Taisho to Showa periods. Following along the path, we were led to a garden and out Nagayamon (長屋門), often found in samurai residences.

 

Yamamoto-Tei (山本亭)
Address: 7-19-32 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo 125-0052
Access: 8-minute bus ride from Shibamata Station
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Admission fee: ¥100 (General Admission), ¥550 (Combination Ticket)
TEL: +81 3-3657-8577

*The Matcha Set can be ordered at an additional fee.

 

Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum and Yamada Yoji Museum

(Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

Having seen all the mention and motifs of "Otoko wa Tsurai yo”, the final two stops on our trip were the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Memorial Museum (葛飾柴又寅さん記念館 Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Kinenkan) and Yamada Yoji Museum (山田洋次ミュージアム). These museums are easy to spot as at the entrance, there is a wall featuring all the different locations and prefectures that were featured in all 50 movies of the beloved series. The tiles on the floor were also placed in the shape of Japan, with the featured prefectures having special designs. 

 

The creative entrance to the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

The Yamada Yoji Museum is a museum that pays homage to the renowned Director Yamada, props and film sets used in the movies, and as a tribute to the career of the famous director. Enthusiasts of vintage entertainment will be in for a delight with the plentiful classic movie posters adorning the space. A dignified bust of the acclaimed director stands prominently, surrounded by well-deserved awards. On display are also the scripts, writing, and old recording equipment that were essential tools used.

 

Stepping into the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum, we felt as though we were fully immersed in the world of "Otoko wa Tsurai yo". The recreated set of Kurumaya, a cherished dango shop in the movie, was a sight to behold. As we explored, iconic scenes unfolded before us, recalling humorous tea room exchanges and lively storefront commotions. Beyond the set, props were also on display which was fascinating. Engaging quizzes and touch-panel displays allowed us to reminisce and compete with companions, making this museum a much more engaging experience than we had expected.

 

Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Memorial Museum (葛飾柴又寅さん記念館)
Address: 6-22-19 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo 125-0052
Access: 10-minute walk from Shibamata Station
Opening hours: 9am–5pm (Last entry: 4:30pm) 
Admission fee:  ¥500 (General), ¥300 (Children/Students)
TEL: +81 3-3657-3455

*Tickets include admission to Yamada Yoji Museum

 

See you next time, Tora-san!

We learnt so much about you! See you next time, Tora-san. (Image credit: Julia Yee)

 

As our trip drew to a close, we made our way to the station. One thing to note for anyone planning to visit Shibamata is that most shops close pretty early! As we walked through the main street at 5:30pm, most shops were already closed or closing. So we highly recommend going early. But the silver lining is that most attractions are within walking distance from the station. As we walked past the bronze statue by the station, we were amazed that we had arrived knowing nothing about the film series based in Shibamata, and left with a newfound appreciation for it. 

 

Despite its myriad attractions, Shibamata remains a hidden gem. Being accessible from either Nippori or Ueno Station, both located on the Yamanote Line, we strongly recommend incorporating this charming town into your itinerary for a unique and enriching Tokyo experience!

 

Header image credit: Julia Yee

 

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