National | AT A GLANCE

Shibamata offers a step back into a Tora-san time warp

by Satoko Kawasaki

Staff Photographer

Tokyo’s Shibamata district has preserved much of its townscape, which is reminiscent of old downtown Tokyo.

The Katsushika Ward district located in the eastern-most part of Tokyo, a 20-minute train ride from Asakusa Station on the Keisei Line, is perhaps best known as the hometown of Torajiro Kuruma, the hero of the “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” (“It’s Tough Being a Man”) film franchise starring the late Kiyoshi Atsumi.

In fact, walking out of Shibamata Station, you are greeted by a bronze statue of the films’ hero, better known as Tora-san, who became the symbol of the district after director Yoji Yamada’s series grew into a long-running hit. After the first installment was released in 1969, 48 episodes of the series were created until 1995.

Each episode of the popular series features a very similar storyline: The goofy hero coming home to the family-run sweets shop after a long time away working as a traveling salesman. He then somehow throws his family into trouble.

The simple yet heartwarming episodes caught the heart of Japanese, and the episodes are occasionally aired on TV even today.

Shibamata, the key setting of the films, is a town that has grown up around Shibamata Taishakuten, a Buddhist temple, and that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868).

The 200-meter-long main approach to the temple is lined with wooden shops selling local specialty kusa dango (rice dumplings flavored with mugwort), good-luck charms and mascots, as well as restaurants offering river fish dishes.

Walking eastward down the street eastward, you reach the splendid Nitenmon Gate. Beyond that lies the temple’s main hall, whose walls are decked out with elaborate carvings.

A short walk farther east from the temple will take you to the western bank of the Edogawa River, which features a bicycle lane and baseball grounds.

There is also a ferry where small wooden rowboats slowly transport people across the 150-meter-wide river — the only place in Tokyo such a service is still available. The ferry used help transport farmers and shoppers in the old days. Today, it operates mostly for tourists.

Once the boat leaves the river bank, all you hear is twittering birds and the creaking of the oars. Time seems to slow down while on the boat, which does not operate based on a schedule but departs once the ferryman decides enough passengers have clambered aboard.

Shibamata definitely stands out amid Tokyo’s constantly evolving cityscape, retaining an old-time feel. As you stroll through the area, it’s not difficult to imagine Tora-san returning home from his long travels.

This section, appearing on the first week of each month, offers a snapshot view of areas that may interest tourists.