Shibamata (柴又) is a temple town located in Katsushika Ward of Tokyo, a 30-minute train ride from Ueno. Among Japanese, it is known as the setting for the film series otoko wa tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man), 48 instalments of which were made from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s. The premise of all the films was essentially the same: the main character, Kuruma Torajiro (or Tora-san), a man down on his luck returns to his hometown of Shibamata from travels around various regions of Japan selling his wares from a suitcase. At some point, he falls in love with the female lead (his “Madonna”) only to face rejection when she ends up with another man, at which point he heads off on his travels again all the time yearning to return home to Shibamata.
A bronze statue of Tora-san is the first thing visitors to Shibamata will see when they come out of the station ticket gates. Indeed, Shibamata was chosen as Tora-san’s hometown precisely because it evokes a sort of salt-of-the-earth sense of homeliness to which many Japanese—no matter where they are from—can relate.
For visitors, the main attraction is the shopping street—a 200m long pedestrian walkway lined either side with soba and tempura restaurants, gift shops, and stalls selling Japanese sweets and local delicacies, including kushi-dango and yaki-dango—Japanese red bean sweets on a skewer laced with syrup. At the end of the street is Taishakuten Temple—the main Buddhist temple in the area and one of the most delightful in Tokyo.
Hidden down its backstreets are numerous smaller temples, as well as Yamamoto-tei—a former residence of a businessman and superb example of Japanese sukiya-zukuri architecture. There is also Tora-san Museum, a small building dedicated to the film series and its director, Yoji Yamada. And for ¥200 you can cross the nearby Edogawa river at Yagiri-no-watashi into neighbouring Chiba by rowing boat, a service that has continued since the early days of the Edo period, and is the only traditional crossing point remaining in the capital.