July 26, 2019

Old School Shibamata

Found on the eastern outskirts of central Tokyo, Shibamata is an adorable neighborhood that is chock full of all sorts of hidden attractions.

The main approach to the Shibamata Taishakuten temple complex in Tokyo's Shibamata area

I say this quite often on social media but one of the things I like most about living in Tokyo is the fact that the city offers endless opportunities for discovery. You see, you could literally spend an entire lifetime just delving into all of Tokyo’s nooks and crannies and never exhaust the supply. There’s just that much to see and do. The city is very much like an onion or one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls. Every time you strip away the outer layer, there’s always another one waiting beneath it. As you might imagine, I often find myself helplessly overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities for novel adventures. Frankly speaking, not a single day goes by where I don’t stumble upon something new.

Speaking of potential escapades, today we are going to be taking a look at a little known area that recently popped up on my radar while doing research for my bucket list. Known as Shibamata, this rustic town lies on Tokyo’s easternmost periphery. Seeing as the region still holds much of its yesteryear charm, it is the perfect half-day getaway from the hustle and bustle of the world’s most hectic megalopolis. While Shibamata barely has any name recognition overseas, the town is an old time favorite amongst Japanese elders. These reverent souls fondly recall this location as the setting for the highly popular film series Otoko wa Tsurai yo (1969 to 1995) and all throughout Shibamata, you’ll find homages to the series.

In terms of attractions, Shibamata actually has a number of delightful offerings that include an ornately carved temple. Still, with so many other draws across the entire breath of the country, are these alone really sufficient to warrant a visit? Truthfully, the answer is no, not really. As impressed as I was with Shibamata, similar experiences can be had elsewhere in Japan. That said though, the allure of this relatively uncharted region of Tokyo has little to do with its list of things to do. Instead, what makes Shibamata worth visiting is its unique atmosphere and definitively different pace of life.

Getting to the Shibamata Area

The platform of Tokyo’s Shibamata Station

You’ll find Shibamata at the far eastern edge of Tokyo, nestled up against the natural borderline of neighboring Chiba prefecture and the Edogawa River. Simply put, Shibamata isn’t that far away as the crow flies yet it’s a bit of a hassle to reach. As can be seen by digging around in Hyperdia, by far, the fastest way to get there is to take one of the Keisei Line trains bound for Narita International Airport or its neighboring regions. Alternatively, you can also take the Toei Asakusa Line too. Either way, you’ll need to make a short transfer at Keisei-Takasago Station. From there, Shibamata Station is but a short two-minute train ride away.

Once you arrive in Shibamata, you’ll have no further logistical hurdles or challenges to worry about. Just depart the station from the only exit and keep your eyes out for a pair of bronze statues. These effigies are a nod to the aforementioned classic, Otoko wa Tsurai yo.” Right past these two statues, you’ll also find the entrance to the main approach to Shibamata’s most important attraction, the Shibamata Taishakuten complex. Doubling as a shopping arcade, this quaint and meandering street is lined by a number of vendors that hawk all sorts of local specialities such as dango or fresh fish from the nearby Edogawa River. You’ll want to start your adventure here.

Exploring the Shibamata Area

Ornate wooden carvings on the temple buildings of Tokyo’s Shibamata Taishakuten

Those interested in exploring Shibamata should know that there are a number of things to see and do in the vicinity of the area’s main temple complex. That said though, remember that the best part of Shibamata is the savoring of the local vibe. Be sure to dedicate ample time for leisurely meandering about while paying extra attention to the shops that line the previously mentioned temple approach. Some of these shops boast long histories and continue to maintain their traditional storefronts which only helps to highlight Shibamata’s loveable retro vibe.

So, what’s Shibamata got to offer? Well, the following list contains some of the sites I’d recommend you not miss out on…

  • Shibamata Taishakuten
    Located at the end of its long approach, Shibamata Taishakuten is the main temple of the town. The temple’s central buildings are well-known for their beautiful wood carvings (pictured above) which were all painstakingly engraved into the exterior by none other than the legendary Hidari Jingoro. This woodcarver is famed for being responsible for Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine. Unlike Nikko’s infamous attraction though, the etchings at Shibamata Taishakuten remain unpainted.
  • Yamamoto-tei
    Located a mere stone’s throw away from Shibamata Taishakuten, this former merchant’s residence is open to the public for a fee of only a hundred yen. The building dates from the 1920’s and seamlessly blends Japanese and western styles of architecture. Moreover, there’s also a traditional Japanese garden out back to peruse if you so desire. Lastly, for the cost of a mere few additional hundred yen, you can also savor some tea and sweets here as well.
  • Tora-san Museum
    Given that Shibamata was home to the acclaimed movie series Otoko wa Tsurai yo,” it’s only natural that the area have a museum dedicated to the films. Named after the main character from the franchise, you’ll find this facility located at the top of a small hill that’s not too far away from the Yamamoto-tei building. Next door sits another museum honoring Yamada Yoji, the director of all of the “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” movies. Entry fees run around 500 yen for adults.

Attractions Near the Shibamata Area

A boat crosses the Edogawa River in Tokyo’s Shibamata area

This is probably the umpteenth time that I’ve noted this now but Shibamata is a town that is best enjoyed by aimlessly wandering about. A huge part of the allure of this quaint section of Tokyo is its homely vibe. Now, one of the best ways to savor this charming atmosphere is by crossing the Edogawa the old fashioned way. You see, in the days of yesteryear, the locals would need to ford the river by traditional crafts. While the conveniences of modern-day life have largely replaced this antiquated means of transportation, you can still actually experience what transport would have been like here in Shibamata. In fact it’s the only place in Tokyo to still offer the service.

Lastly, before wrapping things up, know that Shibamata also makes a great compliment to another one of my favorite locations within Tokyo. Known as colloquially Yanaka, this area was one of only a few to survive the tragic fire bombings of Tokyo. Therefore, Yanaka maintains an authentic early Showa period (1926–1989) vibe. To get to Yanaka, you’ll want to take a train to Nippori Station from Shibamata’s transfer point of Keisei-Takasago. From there, it’s just a short stroll.