National | MUSEUM MUSINGS

Shibamata serves up postwar nostalgia as vagabond Tora-san comes home

by Tetsushi Kajimoto

Movie-lovers and people who cherish the memory of the good old early postwar days can indulge in nostalgia at the Tora-san Memorial Hall in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward.

Opened in 1997 as part of Shibamata Park, which was developed along the Edogawa River by the ward office, the memorial hall serves to remind visitors of the vagabond Tora-san — the main character in the movie series “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (“It’s Tough Being a Man”).

The place exhibits the life of pathos and warmth in “shitamachi,” the working-class neighborhood of Shibamata, the main setting of the series.

The exhibits range from the decades-old set used at Shochiku Co.’s Ofuna Studios of the Kuruma-ya dumpling store, which Tora-san, played by the late Kiyoshi Atsumi, called home between his travels, to miniatures designed to reproduce the circa-1960s neighborhood.

“The memorial hall is intended for visitors to feel the traditional atmosphere of the working-class district and the warmth of its people,” ward official Chieko Kobayashi said.

The vagabond Tora-san is a simple and tenderhearted bachelor hawker, repeatedly developing a crush on women he meets in his travels, only to suffer a broken heart. Meanwhile, he creates comical disturbances for his family and neighborhood whenever he suddenly comes home from his wanderings.

The hit series started in 1969 and ended with the 48th episode in 1995. Atsumi died in August the following year.

“I earnestly hope that people who visit here from all over the country reminisce about the Tora-san movies and sympathize with Tora-san, who wanted his home to remain the same no matter how rapidly Japanese society changed,” reads a message by director Yoji Yamada on the wall inside.

Audio and visual aids, including touch panels and a multiple screen, let visitors watch highlights of the series and give them a glimpse of the making of the films, offering more insights about Tora-san and Shibamata.

Other exhibits include a giant chronological table tracing the local and national history, movie posters, a dummy of Tora-san and his belongings, and the stuff he hawked on the streets across the country.

Just like the series, the memorial hall is popular with a wide variety of people, young and old, who flock there on weekends and holidays, sharing the laughter and wonder of Tora-san’s world.

Visitors also stroll outside the museum to enjoy the scenes that actually appeared in the movies.

The Yagiri-no-watashi by the Edogawa River remains the only remaining ferry in Tokyo, while Shibamata Taishakuten Temple (formally called Daikyoji) and its front approach attract tourists as a popular sightseeing spot, with dozens of gift shops and eateries lining the approach.