One of my favourite, but a little hard to get to, temples in Tokyo is Shibamata Taishakuten. It`s not really that big, but it is an amazing place and for anyone who has an interest in temples, Japanese traditions and gardens, it should be high on their list of places to visit in Tokyo. It mightn't be as famous as Sensoji or Zojoji shrines but it has something that even those don't - wall carvings! The outside walls and some of the halls of Shibamata have some amazingly intricate wall carvings.
The temple is famous for them and they are enclosed in a 2 storey high glass wall. In all there are ten panels and they have scenes of the Lotus Sutra carved into them. Each one tells a story. They are very beautiful. Just look at them and you can soon imagine the amount of time that the craftsmen spent in making them. You could spend quite a large amount of time walking around the temple looking at 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”). It is an incredible tree with one branch being over 14 meters long and the other over 12 meters long. It kind of looks like a bonsai tree that overdosed on steroids. Most people probably don`t realise it is just one tree however. After all, a tree that is measured in meters across, couldn`t be just one tree, right?
There is also a garden named, “Suikeien”, behind the temple. It is said to be the last great garden of the Edo period, small but exquisite with a pond that has lots of carp and turtles. The garden is really beautifully cared for and even has a few small pagodas. There is also the old guest house next to it which you can from which you can enjoy a (free) cup of coffee or tea (hot or cold) on its verandah.
Lastly, or firstly since you'll see this as soon as you get off the train is the shopping 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 make sure to keep an eye out for Torasan, a character of Japan`s longest running movie series, “Otoko wa tsuraiyo” (or, “It`s tough being a guy”). Many of his movies were centred around the temple. Actually the actor (Kiyoshi Atsumi) who portrayed Tora passed away a few years ago, but you might see his double there.
There are only two things about Shibamata Taishakuten that I find ever so slightly disappointing. One is that it is pretty far, especially for people coming from the west side of Tokyo, like Shinjuku or Shibuya (but only about 20 minutes from Tokyo Skytree), about an hour's travel with a few train changes along the way. The other being that the temple isn't really that old. It was built about 400 years ago, but it fell into a dilapidated state and was then rebuilt in the Meiji period, so what is there is about one hundred years old.
Shibamata Taishakuten is really good place for a visit and it is quite close to Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa. It might be a little far, but there is so much to do and see in this area that you just need to visit it on any Tokyo trip.
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).
To enter the temple grounds is free but to look at the wall carvings and enter the garden it is 400 yen. The price covers both, but make sure you don`t misplace your ticket as you are required to show it at both entrances.
You can see the temple`s homepage here.
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 popular parks in the city
Rikugien - a small but very beautiful park in Bunkyo ward