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Shibamata: Snacking and Sightseeing in Tokyo’s Old Edo Neighborhood

Shibamata: Snacking and Sightseeing in Tokyo’s Old Edo Neighborhood

Update: 8 December 2017

Among Tokyoites, Shibamata is known as the city’s most nostalgic neighborhood, a place with a warm atmosphere that lets you forget the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a while. It’s a “shitamachi,” one of Tokyo’s old towns that still bear a close resemblance to Edo, one that has a special place in the heart of many a Japanese person. The long-running TV film series “Otoko wa Tsurai Yo,” or it’s tough being a man, was filmed here as the main protagonist’s much-beloved home. The center of the neighborhood is dominated by the magnificent Shibamata Taishakuten, a Buddhist temple founded in 1629. Beautiful sculptures and a calm Japanese garden invite to a leisurely sightseeing stroll.
The approach to the temple is a scenic street – a lot livelier than the tranquil temple - dotted with numerous shops, stalls, and restaurants, selling delicacies typical for the area such as una-ju (eel on rice in a lacquered box), kusa dango (mugwort dumplings), and senbei (rice crackers). Located in Tokyo’s northeast, Shibamata is a mere 30-minute train ride away from popular Asakusa, offering an entirely different taste of Tokyo’s old days.

1) Keisei’s Shibamata Station 2) Tora-san’s statue in front of the station 3) Oritsu Jizo, a historical landmark between the station and Taishakuten temple 4) the temple approach
1) An event called the “Tora-san Summit” (November 25 and 26, 2017) 2) Kawachiya, a nostalgic restaurant specializing in freshwater fish 3) Nitenmon gate at the end of the temple approach 4) the entrance to Yamamoto-tei

Eating Shibamata’s Signature Dish at “Ebisuya”

Eating Shibamata’s Signature Dish at “Ebisuya”
Una-ju for 2,800 yen (including “kimosui,” eel-lover soup)

The street that acts as the approach to Shibamata Taishakuten is home to many well-established restaurants selling the area’s specialty, una-ju. Behind this name hides a delicious eel dish of grilled eel served on rice in a lacquered box.
We especially recommend a shop called Ebisuya. This freshwater fish specialty restaurant boasts a history of over 230 years. It can be found near the entrance of the street, housed in a scenic wooden building that seems like a remnant of a lost century. The slightly raised seats overlook a beautiful garden, providing a unique, authentically Japanese atmosphere.
Of course, you have to order the famous una-ju. The charcoal-grilled eel is of exquisite taste and thinly coated in a secret sauce – one bite and you’ll understand why this dish is so popular. Another warm recommendation is a set called “kawasakana gozen” for 2,250 yen. Literally translating to freshwater fish meal, this set lets you try a variety of dishes, including “koi no arai,” carp sashimi, rice with eel called “unagi-iri gohan,” carps simmered in miso called “koikoku,” and dumplings as dessert. If you don’t want to get too experimental, stick with the “Shibamata gozen” for 1,995 yen, serving you tempura and sashimi.

1) The old building has a retro atmosphere 2) table seats 3) raised seats at the window 4) eel being grilled over charcoal

Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (last order)
Closed: irregularly (four times a month)
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 1 minute on foot

  • Ebisuya
    ゑびす家
    • Address 7-3-7 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-2525

Takagiya Shinise’s Delicious Dumplings

Takagiya Shinise’s Delicious Dumplings
Kusa dango skewer, available for 160 yen.

Shibamata isn’t just famous for eel dishes, it’s also well-known for kusa dango, or mugwort dumplings. A long time ago, Shibamata had a thriving rice cultivation and the farmers mixed the rice with homegrown mugwort to serve kusa dango to visitors and worshipers of Taishakuten temple. Following that, the neighborhood has become famous for the delicious green dumplings.
One store where you get to savor this casual delicacy is Takagiya Shinise, a shop that also served as the set of Otoko wa Tsurai yo. It has served as the model of the dumpling shop that is the home of the main character, Tora-san. The shop is actually two building standing opposite of each other. The Takagiya Shinise on the right side (facing the temple) of the street sells dumplings, while the left-side shop will tickle your taste buds with Japanese-style sweets and meals. Next to the classic kusa dango, topped with plenty of coarse, sweet bean paste, we urge you to try the “yakidango,” or grilled dumpling, available for 160 yen per skewer. For an extravagant combination of flavors, try the “shoyu dango” for the same price, coated in soy sauce and sprinkled with dry seaweed.
Takagiya Shinise also offers Shibamata-style souvenirs, such as the “Shibamata mochi” (rice cakes) in a box of five for 850 yen. They’re also infused with mugwort and will surprise you with a sweet filling of red bean paste on the inside.

1) Takagiya Kinise at the temple approach 2) the dumpling set for 500 yen (also available for take-out for 160 yen per skewer) 3) oden for 600 yen and sahan (rice boiled in tea) for 300 yen 4) the famous kusa dango being prepared at the main store

Hours: 7:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Closed: always open
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 2 minutes on foot

  • Takagiya Shinise
    高木屋老舗
    • Address 7-7-4 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-3136

Yamatoya: Serving Nostalgic Tempura That'll Leave You Craving for More

Yamatoya: Serving Nostalgic Tempura That'll Leave You Craving for More
Ten-don (regular) 998 yen / ten-don (jo) 1,620 yen

Next up: tempura! For that, we head to Yamatoya, a restaurant that the actor who played Tora-san of Otoko wa Tsurai yo is said to have absolutely loved. The homemade tempura served here is all about crunchily fried shrimp and vegetables, topped with plenty of sweet-and-sour sauce! Fans of Yamatoya’s ten-don (tempura bowl) swear by the wonderfully nostalgic taste that hasn’t changed since the 150 years of the restaurant’s opening. Back then, Yamatoya was mainly selling cakes and sweets, and even today, you can get the Shibamata specialty of kusadango as a souvenir, one box for 600 yen. Next to the tempura bowl, also try classic tempura for 1,620 yen (regular) or oden for 540 yen – Yamatoya serves various authentic Japanese dishes, one better than the other!

1) The blue “noren” (curtain) is characteristic of Yamatoya 2) the interior of the restaurant, said to be a favorite of “Otoko wa Tsurai yo”’s crew 3) and 4) tempura, freshly fried

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (food service from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
Closed: irregularly
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 2 minutes on foot

  • Yamatoya
    大和家
    • Address 7-7-4 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-6492

Ishii – The Fluffiest Cake Roll in all of Shibamata!

Ishii – The Fluffiest Cake Roll in all of Shibamata!
The ridiculously popular “Kome Kome Roll Cake” for 1,250 yen per whole cake

The old, wooden building just before Taishakuten will catch your eye immediately – that’s Ishii. This shop is famous for its sweets and pickles, with a delicacy called “Kome Kome Cake Roll” being by far the most popular after it was showcased on Japanese TV. Filled with plenty of cream, the cake is of an unbelievably fluffy texture while maintaining a rather crunchy crust, highlighted with toasted caramel and powdered wasanbon sugar.
Apart from this heavenly cake, look forward to trying a variety of other delights, such as the “Shibamata Éclair,” mellow custard cream inside crunchily baked pie dough and sesame sprinkles for 190 yen. We also love the “Futen no Dorayaki” for 190 yen, as well as the various pickles sold for about 50 yen each.

1) The oldest wooden building in all of Shibamata 2) steamed yokan with waguri chestnuts, available in autumn only 3) the Shibamata Éclair 4) pickles and sweets

Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed: irregularly
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 3 minutes on foot

  • Ishii
    い志い
    • Address 7-6-20 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-1749

The Delicious Crunch of Asanoya Senbeiten’s Rice Crackers

The Delicious Crunch of Asanoya Senbeiten’s Rice Crackers
“Tora-san Senbei,” two for 280 yen

As an area with a thriving rice cultivation, Shibamata has a long history of making excellent senbei (rice crackers). On the approach to Taishakuten, you’ll find numerous shops and stalls offering the crunchy delicacy, but our special recommendation is a store called Asanoya Senbeiten. Even today, Asanoya sticks to the old practice of “robata-yaki,” meaning grilling the rice crackers right at the shop over hot charcoal. For the senbei, the shop uses a rice variety called koshihikari from Ibaraki Prefecture, doing every step of the process in-house, even the milling. Asanoya offers the rare opportunity of watching the staff make a rice cracker from start to finish!
Coated with soy sauce and then grilled, the rice crackers have a wonderfully traditional taste, and we urge you to try the “isomaki” with dried seaweed for 70 yen per cracker, the “zarame” with coarse sugar for 70 yen, and the fragrant “katayaki” for 55 yen - in total, Asanoya offers 10 different kinds of rice crackers! Because they’re sold as single senbei, they’re the perfect snack to nibble on while exploring the area.

1) The retro-style storefront 2) big, round jars full of rice crackers 3) 450 yen for 10 sesame rice crackers, 700 yen for 10 sugar-sesame rice crackers 4) the senbei are freshly grilled in traditional fashion

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed: Mondays (or the following day should Monday be a national holiday)
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 4 minutes on foot

  • Asanoya Senbeiten
    浅野屋煎餅店
    • Address 7-6-18 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-658-7576

Traditional Candy with a Rhythm at Matsuya no Ame

Traditional Candy with a Rhythm at Matsuya no Ame
The “kinako ame” for 300 yen per 100g has a rich fragrance and subtle sweetness.

Matsuya no Ame is a candy shop that dates back to 1868. It was originally founded in Fukagawa but moved its business to Taishakuten’s temple approach in Shibamata in 1934. The store sells a variety of traditional candy specialties, including many Japanese-style flavors and even herbs, such as mugwort, Chinese bellflower, and ginger. Especially popular since many decades is the “sekitome ame,” a candy that promises relief from coughing. For an authentically Japanese taste, opt for “sarashi ame,” a glutinous rice candy that is of a gentle sweetness, “anko ame” with a drop of sweet red bean paste inside, or “kinako ame,” a candy mixed with brown sugar and roasted soy flour. All varieties are packed in 100g bags for 300 – 500 yen.
On Sundays and national holidays, excluding summer, you’ll be able to see the candy masters cut their creations like it has been done since the shop’s founding. The quick knives produce a catchy rhythm. Over a hundred years ago, this rhythm caught the attention of temple visitors and encouraged them to try some candy, a fun strategy that is effective even today! Watching and listening to the harmonious beat of the candy makers and their knives is so mesmerizing, the government of Japan has made this scenery one of the 100 soundscapes of Japan.

1) The store’s characteristic sign 2) the famous “sekitome ame” cough drops, 100g from 300 yen 3) the summer-limited ramune candy, 100g from 300 yen 4) all candy varieties are sold in bags of 100g

Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed: irregularly
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 4 minutes on foot

  • Matsuya no Ame Souhonten
    松屋の飴総本店
    • Address 7-6-17 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-1739

The Secrets of Taishakuten Temple: Pines like Dragons and Beautiful Wood Carvings

The Secrets of Taishakuten Temple: Pines like Dragons and Beautiful Wood Carvings
Nitenmon gate, the entrance to Taishakuten.

Shibamata Taishakuten is an old temple of the Buddhist Nichiren sect, founded in 1629. The temple became a popular destination for worshipers since the end of the 18th century when a Taishakuten-boom swept through Japan – Taishakuten is an important Buddhist deity, also known as Indra or Śakra. Since then, the temple is known as “Shibamata Taishakuten” rather than by its actual name of Daikyoji Temple.
The end of the temple approach is marked by the majestic Nitenmon gate, with a hall enshrining Taishakuten called Taishaku-do just behind. On the right side, you’ll find the main hall of the temple, Soshi-do. The absolute highlight of the temple grounds is the breathtakingly beautiful wooden carvings adorning the walls of the halls. They act as a prayer wall depicting the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important Buddhist texts, in an immersive 3D carving style. While the carvings are protected behind glass, an admission of 400 yen will grant you entry to the sculpture gallery leading all around the walls – that price is well worth the experience. Studying the delicate works from up close will reveal many a hidden secret, such as the filigree tea set at the Buddha’s feet, and grant a glimpse into the beauty of Buddhism, whether you’re a follower or not.
A less obvious must-see is the large pine tree towering right before the main hall. This tree boasts a life of over 500 years and is often compared to a dragon because of its long, strong branches.
Make sure to also step around the main hall – an extraordinarily beautiful and tranquil Japanese garden awaits you there, called Suikeien Garden. Calm both body and mind as you stroll around the garden and experience an atmosphere that is entirely different from the lively Edo-style street we’ve just snacked at.

1) Nitenmon gate and Daishoro, the great bell tower 2) Taishaku-do and the dragon pine 3) fortune-telling paper strips called omikuji, one for 100 yen 4) Jogyo Bosatsu, a Buddha statue said to help cure and ailments you might have in a body part if you wash the same part of the statue
1) Suikeien Garden 2) the garden and reception hall 3) one of the carvings on the walls, showing part of the Lotus Sutra 4) a carved lion

Admission: free worship, garden and gallery: 400 yen
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Closed: always open
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 5 minutes on foot

  • Shibamata Taishakuten Daikyoji Temple
    柴又 帝釈天題経寺
    • Address 7-10-3 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052
    • Phone Number 03-3657-2886

Yamamoto-tei: One of the Most Beautiful Gardens in Japan

Yamamoto-tei: One of the Most Beautiful Gardens in Japan
The main garden.

Yamamoto-tei is an astonishingly beautiful building that has once been the residence of Tokyo entrepreneur Einosuke Yamamoto, founder of a camera parts manufacturer. While he originally lived in Asakusa, he moved to Shibamata after the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that left large parts of Tokyo devastated.
The characteristic of Yamamoto-tei is the extraordinary blend of Western and traditional Japanese architecture, creating a space that seems to exist harmoniously in between two very different cultures. Especially the adjacent garden is of a particular magnificence. Sukiya Living Magazine, a journal specializing in Japanese gardens from the United States, ranked it among the top 7 among 900 gardens in Japan for 15 consecutive years. In 2016, it even managed to snatch the 3rd rank! The teahouse in the garden provides hot tea and seasonal sweets as you gaze upon the tranquil greenery – it’s the perfect place to leave all your cares behind and allow yourself to be entirely immersed by the beauty of Japan.

1和洋折衷の長屋門 2主庭 3「鳳凰の間」は山本亭唯一の洋間 4座敷で味わえる「お抹茶 和菓子付き」600円

1) Nagayamon gate, combining typical Western and Japanese elements 2) the main garden 3) the Drawing Room, the only room in Yamamoto-tei that is entirely inspired by the West 4) enjoy a cup of matcha and Japanese sweets for 600 yen

  • Yamamoto-tei
    山本亭
    • Address 7-19-32 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, 125-0052

The Tora-san Museum: Travel Back in Time and Explore Otoko wa Tsurai yo’s Nostalgic Shibamata

The Tora-san Museum: Travel Back in Time and Explore Otoko wa Tsurai yo’s Nostalgic Shibamata
One of the sets of Otoko wa Tsurai yo, faithfully recreated with original props

If you come to Shibamata, the Tora-san Museum is an absolute must-visit. As explained earlier, it is all about the film series Otoko wa Tsurai yo that revolves around the wandering salesman Tora-san and his sheer eternal story of his unsuccessful love life. Running between 1969 and 1995, it holds the world record for the world’s longest-running movie series starring a single actor. As such, Otoko wa Tsurai yo and its endearing main protagonist, played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, has a large fandom not only in Japan. The museum itself was opened in 1997.
Even if you have never heard of this show up until now, the Tora-san Museum is well-worth the visit. The dumpling store and print shop of the series have been faithfully recreated, offering not only a nostalgic paradise for fans of Otoko wa Tsurai yo but also a very authentic glimpse into Tokyo’s 60s and 70s.
Other parts of the museum take you even further back: beautiful dioramas show how Shibamata has looked back in the 1930s when Tora-san was a child. There even is a life-sized wagon of a man-powered tramway as it was used decades ago!
For fans of Otoko wa Tsurai yo, we highly recommend also visiting the Yoji Yamada Museum, dedicated to the director of the series and many other movie masterpieces – it’s right next to the Tora-san Museum.

1) A diorama faithfully reproducing the Taishakuten approach in the 1930s. 2) the print shop as it appears in the show 3) a diorama of a temple festival 4) the retro wooden station building, recreated with items from the local railway company 5) the life-sized wagon of a man-powered tramway that used to bring visitors to Taishakuten 6) various costumes and other props of the series are exhibited as well

Admission: 500 yen (a combination ticket for Yamamoto-tei and Tora-san Museum is available for 550 yen)
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Closed: every 3rd Tuesday of the month, the 3rd Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in December
Access: Shibamata Station (Keisei Kanamachi Line), 8 minutes on foot

Shibamata - A Place Like No Other

Shibamata might be a small neighborhood, but it authentically conveys the lively feeling of Tokyo’s past like no other place could. From retro shops selling local delights that haven’t changed in taste and production since decades to traditional temples and gardens, Shibamata is a treasure trove of discoveries and adventures. Of course, fans of Otoko wa Tsurai yo will have an especially amazing time as they walk the very streets that the show’s endearing hero has done so many times. But even people who don’t have this nostalgic movie connection will find themselves to fall in love with Shibamata – the unique charm of the neighborhood never fails to conquer people’s hearts.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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