We stumbled on the Taishakuten Temple by night, and were soothed by its majestic and tranquil air.
Taishakuten, a 400-year-old wooden Buddhist shrine, sits in the edge of Shibamata, a small neighborhood we have planned to visit for a long time. The experience has been most fulfilling.
Shibamata is not normally featured in popular guidebooks. It is not a hub of fancy night clubs. You won’t find the latest Sanrio Kitty accessories, nor any high-end fashion or bargain apparel. Shibamata does not display any avant-garde paintings or sculpture; and it is the last place you will find an assembly of lifeless steel-frame architecture as are rampant in Shinjuko or Rippongi.
Yet, this fringe community of metropolitan Tokyo offers a plain and unpretentious profile of Japan — sort of like a natural beauty stripped of all cosmetics. Here, you find faces of ordinary Japanese city dwellers in their ordinary attire, living in ordinary Japanese houses, and commuting, day in day out, from the commonplace Shibamata train station, to work to make this glamorous city tick.
What spices up this rather unobtrusive neighborhood is the Taishakuten Temple and the “Sando” — the path to worship, that leads to it. Old shops line along both sides selling “wagashi”, the traditional Japanese confectionery, and assortment of “Omiyake” (souvenirs), giving the whole precinct a rich nostalgic Showa-Japan (pre-1945) atmosphere.
Due to the tight schedule, we took a brief pilgrim to this long yearned destination by night. At around 10 pm, the Sando was already deserted. Presently, silence was deafening, that a pin drop would reverberate like thunder from among the dreamy houses. The long strip of the Sando was breached pallid by the dim flood lights that stretched sparingly on both sides, adding to the serene mood of the place.
If you are an adventurous type, try taking a more complicated path to Shibamata. Starting from Shinjuku, we first went to the Kanda Station by the Chuo line express train and changed for the north bound Yamanote line train to Ueno. From there, we took the Joban line train towards Kita-senju. We then moved to the local service platform and took the train to Kanamachi. We left the Kanamachi Station and took the Keisei Kanamachi line train south bound to Shibamata. It was a thrilling ride.
Photos Courtesy of Tony Church