Shibamata Taishakuten Temple: 3D wood paintings

Shibamata Taishakuten temple (also called Daikyōji) is a Nichiren school temple in Katsushika-ku established in 1629, famous due to its association to the movie series “It’s Tough Being a Man” (Otoko wa tsurai yo). Together with the Taishakuten Sando, it is the highlight of a visit to Shibamata.

The temple is not that old (all buildings from the Meiji period 1868-1912) and the artwork does not stand out that much. However, the Nitenmon Gate is quite impressive, as well as the wooden walkways connecting the halls (a quite recent edition to the temple). The appeal of the “It’s Tough Being a Man” movies should not be underestimated in attracting people to this temple. The main character of these movies, Tora-san, is often seen visiting this temple and has a specific interest in the wooden carvings that were introduced in this temple in the 1920s. While Tora-san might generate the biggest source of interest into this temple, the temple has also been featured in other popular culture, both before and after the Tora-san movie series. For example, the temple is featured in the popular manga Kochikame (statues of the main character, Ryo-san, are scattered around the area; this series ran from 1976 until 2016 and it is rather the nearby Kameari area that is famous for this character) and the novel Higansugi made (1912) from Natsume Soseki.

The main temple building, viewed through the Nitenmon gate.

The temple, together with the Yagiri-no-Watashi ferryboat (a traditional crossing of the Edogawa river behind the temple), is part of the 100 Landscapes of Japan that represent Japan during the Heisei era (the current era started in 1989). Only 7 in Tokyo made it on this list, which means this is really a place dear to many Japanese.

1. Temple Buildings

Most of the buildings at the temple are 100 years old. The Nitenmon Gate is the main attraction. The wooden 2-storied gate from 1896 features intricate wood carvings. The name Niten originates from the two deities from the Four Heavenly Kings (four Buddhist gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world) that are enshrined in this gate. Ni means 2, ten is used to address the deities. In this gate we have the statues of Virudhaka (Zojōten or Zochōten in Japanese) and Virupaksa (Kōmokuten in Japanese). The statues are thought to originate from the Heian period (794-1185).

Overview of the temple grounds.

There are also the following buildings:

  • Taishakudō: the main building you see when you pass through the Nitenmon gate. The inner shrine (naiden) from 1915, the hall of worship (haiden) from 1929. Open to the public on kōshin days (see at practical info section below).
  • Soshidō/Hondō (Main Hall): this is the building on the right of Taishakudō, built in 1888. It enshrines the founder of the Nichiren school of Buddhism. I went to have a look, but it seems none of the tourists were interested in this one.
  • Daishoro Temple Bell Tower: this is the building on the left with the huge bell, a fairly recent addition to the temple (1950)
  • Shakadō: the small building completely on the right and one of the oldest, built mid 19th century. It holds a Gautama Buddha/Sakyamuni statue (Shaka Nyorai in Japanese) made in the Nara period (710-794). Gautama Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, the original Buddha so to speak.

2. Wood Carvings

Next to the Nitenmon Gate, the wood carvings on the Taishakudō (naiden part) are the reasons why a visit to this temple is worthwile. These wood carvings on the eastern, northern and western side are only accessible if you pay an entrance fee. They were made in the period between 1922 and 1934 and depict the lotus sutra (the main middle part). On the upper part you can see the Chinese Zodiac and on the bottom part cranes, birds and flowers.

Close up of one of the wood carvings.

In order to protect the carvings, a glass structure has been put over them, with a sort of hall in which you can quietly have a look at these beautiful pieces of art. This place has some cooling in summer and heating in winter. It is made into two floors so that you can also see the additional carvings at the bottom (dragons and animals).

All of the carvings have information panels in English in order that you can follow the story. I couldn’t help myself but think about these wood carvings as 3D paintings, I was impressed that if you looked at them sideways, the characters in the carvings really seemed to come alive.

The carvings can be viewed in a sort of hall built around the naiden to protect them from the elements.

3. Suikei-en Garden

Your ticket for the wood carvings also gives you access to the temple’s garden. Follow the wooden walkway the goes to the right of the ticket counter and then go left towards the back of the temple grounds. You will then enter a building that gives you access to the garden. It was not that clear as there were no arrows, so I just followed other people. This building that you enter at first is the Daikyakuden, a large guest house built in 1929. You can also have a look at the tatami rooms in here.

Suikei-en Garden is a circuit garden and has been finished in 1965 by Nagai Rakuzan, one of Kanto’s premier landscapers. I was not expecting much of this garden, but I was wrong. It is indeed a very small garden, but how they developed it with the wooden walkways around it is very beautiful. The small porch where you can have some free tea (with free vending machine, pretty good actually) and have a look at the garden is very relaxing.

After relaxing on the porch, you can circle the garden following the route with the wooden walkways. This way you get to see even more stunning views. During my visit (a weekday in summer) there were not a lot of people, so I was really able to breath. I would definitely recommend a visit to this temple. My visit was in summer and I can imagine that if you come in winter your feet might get cold, as you need to take of your shoes when you enter the building. This means that also when you are circling the garden, no shoes.

The walkways surround the pond in the temple garden

In practice

7-10-3 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo

Closest station:
Shibamata Station – 5 minutes walk (Keisei Line)

Opening hours:
Temple: 09:00-18:00
Garden and wood carvings gallery: 09:00-16:00 (last entry 15:30)
(closed during the new year’s holidays)

Entrance fee:
Temple: free
Garden and wood carvings gallery: JPY 400 (summer 2017)

When to best visit? every 60 days there is a temple festival (kōshin 庚申). The calendar can be accessed from the temple’s website, it is in Japanese, but you can easily see the date list. Every hour (between 11:00 and 15:00) there are Buddhist sermons that you can take part in.
I would recommend to visit when the weather is good (spring, summer or autumn). As you will spend quite some time without shoes, your feet might cool down rather quickly when it’s cold.

Why visit? famous temple in Tokyo due to the popular culture connection, but also just a very pleasant temple to go to

Web: (English page available)

Name in Japanese: 柴又帝釈天