Better than Asakusa? Look at Shibamata, a Realistic Japanese Downtown in Old Days
This time I am introducing Shibamata in Tokyo, not a widely known spot that preserves downtown streets in old days.
Tokyo still has many quaint downtowns today that allow you to feel history, in contrast to contemporary sightseeing destinations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku or Harajuku.
But often such old-fashioned downtowns are rarely known abroad.
If you have already been to Asakusa, please take a look at Shibamata too, taking this article as your reference. I am sure you will find another favorite sightseeing spot in Tokyo. Title: photo by flickr
Shibamata, the Stage of Dramas Featuring Tora-san
“Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (It’s tough being a man) is a story loved by many people across Japan as series of TV dramas and movies, and Shibamata is famous for being taken as its stage. The story is a comedy depicting Tora-san, the main character who is a street vendor, encountering his madonnas and creating innocent ruckuses in many places including Shibamata.
The TV dramas were broadcasted as long as 26 years from 1969 to 1995, and it is a super popular series still loved today by Japanese people.
As shown in the first picture of this article, there is even a statue of Tora-san standing in front of the station.
Photo by flickr
The shopping street leading to the temple is packed with long-established shops, preserving nostalgic mood of the Showa period (1926-1989). It’s as if I had slipped into old-day Japan by traveling time.
It is a fact that famous sightseeing destinations such as Asakusa have been evolving to better attract tourists, and I think a good point of Shibamata is that we can experience the old-day Japan more naturally as it just was.
Access: Shibamata Station on the Keisei Kanamachi Line is about 30 minutes from Nippori Station on the Yamanote Line. Map
2 Great Spots to Feel History of Shibamata
Yamamoto-tei is a residential building built in the Taisho period (1912-1926), whose highlight is beautiful combination of western architectural designs with traditional Japanese style. It was fashionable among the wealthy in Japan back then to build such a residence incorporating western styles. If you come here, you might be able to imagine yourself as one of the rich at the time.
When I visited the place, I encountered a couple adorned in traditional Japanese wedding kimono taking a photo together. If you are lucky you too may be able to bump into such a scene.
You can also enjoy beautiful views of a Japanese garden, which is another important feature of this place, and please don’t miss it.
2. Haikara-yokocho Shopping Street
There are so many sweets spread out in front of me and being overwhelmed, I cannot easily decide what to buy!
These are called dagashi, common sweets sold to townspeople since old days in Japan, and a store offering this much of variety is hard to find nowadays.
Their prices are generally reasonable with some at less than 100 yen. And because each sweet is relatively small, you can enjoy many different kinds at a time. Map
3 Fabulous Sweets in Shibamata
1. Matcha Green Tea and Nerikiri
The Yamamoto-tei I introduced earlier offers matcha green tea and nerikiri. Nerikiri is a traditional Japanese sweet primarily made with white bean paste and it is shaped in beautiful seasonal designs such as flowers.
As I visited the place in spring, I lucked out and enjoyed cherry blossom-themed nerikiri.
Nerikiri is gently sweet, and its subtle sweetness goes superbly well with bitterness of matcha green tea.
How about taking a break with them while admiring the beautiful Japanese garden of the Yamamoto-tei?
2. Mitarashi Dango
When you take Taishakuten Sando approach, you find will many dango dumpling shops along the way. My recommendation for you is to try mitarashi dango, no less!
Mitarashi dango is grilled until the surface gets browned after dipping it into sauce made with sugar and soy sauce.
As I call it a sweet you may think it is simply sweet, but it actually tastes a bit salty and that’s just the best part of it!
I don’t feel quite satisfied with just one skewer of 4 dumplings. Please enjoy a taste of Japanese food that may be completely new to you.
Shibamata is also famous for its kusadango (grass-flavored dumplings), and many stores offer them.
There are different varieties and some dango are on skewers while other stores may prepare them fresh on the spot, topping them with anko bean paste.
You may wonder why these dumplings are vividly green, and it is because of yomogi mugwort, a kind of Japanese herb contained in them.
Yomogi is commonly used in Japan when making mochi rice-cake or odango dumplings to the extent that the grass is also called mochi-kusa (mochi grass).
It is a kind of herb, but it doesn’t have strong aroma or bitterness at all.
Kusadango has a taste easy for everyone to enjoy, and I think it is the best kind of combination for yomogi and anko bean paste. It is something you cannot find easily in other countries, and I hope you will give it a try and experience the taste.
Shibamata is the town where “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” was born from, the series of stories enormously popular nationwide in Japan. The town is tightly packed with pieces of Japan in good old days.
If you would like to experience not only contemporary Japan but also the country in old days, please visit Shibamata and take a look.
It is an easy stop to make during your Tokyo sightseeing trip and it will give you a flavor of realistic Japanese people’s lives that is different from what you might see in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku or even in Asakusa.