One of my favourite, but a little hard to get to places in Tokyo is Shibamata Taishakuten. It’s not big, but it is an amazing place for anyone who has an interest in temples, gardens and wall carvings! The carvings are something that is unique to this place. I don’t think you can find them anywhere else in Tokyo. Even Sensoji or Zojoji don’t have them.
The temple is famous for them and the most important ones, with scenes from the Lotus Sutra carved on them, are enclosed in a two-storey high glass enclosure. Each one tells a story and are very beautiful. Just by looking at them you can imagine the amount of time that the craftsmen spent on them.
Shibamata Taishakuten is not only about the wall carvings. Directly in front of the temple is a tree named, “Zui-ryu-no-matsu” (which means “Pine tree of the Lucky Dragon”). One branch is over fourteen meters long and the other over twelve. It kind of looks like a bonsai tree that overdosed on steroids. Most people probably don`t realise it is just one tree. After all, a tree that is measured in meters across, couldn`t be just one tree, right?
And behind the temple is a garden named, “Suikeien”. It is said to be the last great garden of the Edo period, small but exquisite with a guesthouse and pond that has carp and turtles. It is beautifully cared for and even has a few small pagodas. You can even enjoy a free cup of hot or cold tea on the veranda of the house.
Lastly, or firstly since you'll see this as soon as you get off the train is the street that leads up to the temple. It has lots of shops selling traditional sweets and food. Buy some dango to eat as you walk and you'll feel as though you are walking in old Edo! And keep an eye out for Torasan, a character from Japan`s longest running movie series, “Otoko wa tsuraiyo” (or, “It`s tough being a guy”). Many of his movies were based in this area. The actor (Kiyoshi Atsumi) who portrayed Tora passed away years ago, but you might see his double walking the area.
There are only two things about Shibamata Taishakuten that I find ever so slightly disappointing. One is that it is quite far for people coming from the west side of Tokyo, like Shinjuku or Shibuya, about an hour's travel with a few train changes along the way. From Oshiage (Skytree) it is only twenty minutes or so.
The other point being that the temple isn't very old. Yes, it was actually built about 400 years ago, but fell into a dilapidated state and was then rebuilt in the Meiji period. So what is on the current site is only about one hundred years old. Not a huge problem of course, but I can imagine some people might feel slightly miffed by this.
But Shibamata Taishakuten is really good place for a visit and is close to Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa. It might be a little far for some, but there is so much to do and see in the area that you just need to visit it on any Tokyo trip. You can see its website here.
How to get to Shibamata Taishakuten
From Oshiage (the location of Tokyo Skytree) use the Keisei line to go to Keisei Takasago. From Keisei Takasgo use the Keisei Kanamachi to go to Shibamata station. Shibamata Taishakuten is about five minutes from the station. Here is a Google map to give you an idea:
Both the garden and wall carving gallery are open from 9am until 4pm with last admission at 3pm. They are closed over the New Year period (December 31 and January 1).
Entering the temple grounds is free but admission to look at the wall carvings and garden it is 400 yen. The price covers both, so make sure you don`t misplace your ticket as it needs to be shown at both entrances.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:
Edo-Tokyo Museum - learn about the history of this great city
Gotokuji - the temple where you can find Japan's maneki neko (beckoning cats)
Imperial Palace - home to Japan's Emperor
Inokashira Park - one of the most recreational spots in the city
Rikugien - a small but very beautiful park in Bunkyo ward