Katsushika-Shibamata: Step Into the Retro World of Japanese Movie Series “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo”

The Japan News
A passenger boat slowly crosses the Edogawa River.

Have you ever heard of the movie series “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” (It’s tough to be a man) featuring a main character nicknamed Tora-san? A popular film that spans 50 years of production, from the first theatrical release in 1969 to the 50th in 2019, it is a film that most Japanese would be familiar with. Shibamata in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, is called Katsushika-Shibamata and appears in every movie as Tora-san’s home, where he was born and raised. Even today, it is well worth a visit as you can immerse yourself in the Showa-era atmosphere in which Tora-san lived.

The first thing that surprises visitors is that the rowboat ferry that appeared in the first film is still in operation. From the tiny pier on the banks of the Edogawa River, travelers can cross to Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture, on the other side of the river on this boat that can accommodate up to 28 passengers. A one-way fare for a five-minute ride is a mere ¥200. On Tuesday, a beautiful day, I took a round trip on the Edogawa River on this boat. The boatman started out by saying, “Pure, poor Katsushika Ward,” and made me laugh by telling local jokes about the area constantly, as if he were a rakugo storyteller. It is a Japanese version of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise. The modern boatman cheats a little, saying he is tired, stops rowing and sometimes runs the engine.

From Keisei Shibamata Station, walk through the retro shopping street and you will find Taishakuten, a temple that often appears in the movies. The temple is always crowded with people. A 10-minute walk from there is the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum, where visitors can enjoy the world of “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo.”

In the movie, Tora-san’s family home is a dango shop in the Taishakuten shopping street. The set of the dango shop used in the movies has been relocated to the museum and you can go inside it. The museum has recently undergone renovations, and the elaborate dioramas, including miniatures of the old shopping street, are so well done they are astonishing. Next door is another museum that introduces the diverse creative activities of Yoji Yamada, the director of “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo.”

A ticket for admission to both museums is ¥500, which is also very inexpensive.

Visit Katsushika Shibamata and see the retro world of the Showa period and the world of these movies full of Japanese spirit.