Shibamata Taishakuten and St. Mary’s Cathedral 柴又帝釈天


April. A few days in Tokyo.

Some days in Tokyo not by choice but obligation. Nevertheless, some points of interest.

Nagatoro 長瀞

We took a trip out to Nagatoro for a picnic. This proved something of a disappointment. It is the head waters of the Arakawa, the large river cutting through Tokyo from Saitama. At Nagatoro, it is not very large, but it flows through a gorge and there are boat rides of the traditional kind. There is a rocky scrubland where the river probably flows when in spate or used to flow in the past. Here you can walk and picnic. It is fine as a respite from the city but not particularly stunning or picturesque.



Shibamata 柴又

The following day we took the Keisei train out to Shibamata. This is the home of Tora-san. The hero/anti-hero of the 48 Tora-san series of movies. This series holds the Guinness Record for one actor playing longest film series. These were very popular light comedies of the late Showa years.
The area is now a tourist attraction as the early Showa street that was used as a location is preserved.


Shibamata, Taishakuten-dori

Taishakuten Temple’s Wood Carvings 帝釈天

We have come to the area to visit Taishakuten temple. This also features in the movies, but we want to see the wood carvings. Most visitors to the temple perhaps come to check the film location and do not pay the 400-yen fee to wander around the back of the temple and view the garden. If so, they have missed something extraordinary.

wood carving at Taishakuten

Wood Carving at Taishakuten

The sides and back of the temple are a mass of intricate and extreme 3-D wood carvings. There are a total of ten panels, depicting scenes inspired by the Lotus Sutra. There are 3 or 4 panels covering the whole of each external wall. Each panel is by a different, renown wood carver from the late Taisho or early Showa era.

Taishakuten wooden relief

Taishakuten relief

Many of the panels were lost in the great fire that followed the 1923 earthquake. The work begun again and finally completed and put in position in 1934. In addition to the main panels, above and below are other intricate carvings. Above, are the twelve animals of the yearly cycles, that double as the twelve heavenly generals, and below mainly cranes and turtles.

Taishakuten wooden relief

Wooden relief of mainly cranes.

To preserve this astonishing artwork, the rear of the temple is now protected by a Perspex cover, but your 400 yen puts you inside this.

After admiring these carvings, you can wander the garden. D. found this very good, but I was less impressed. But I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting this neglected treasure.

Taishakuten Garden

Taishakuten Garden

From Shibamata we return to Ikebukuro by streetcar. Slow and crowded at around 5pm but cheap at 170 yen, any distance.

Toden Arakawa Line

Toden Arakawa Line

St. Mary’s Cathedral 東京カテドラル聖マリア大聖堂

For a change of religious emphasis, the next day we visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gokokuji/Otowa. This modern Catholic cathedral built in 1964 designed by Kenzo Tange. Is a wonder to behold. I am amazed each time I visit.

From the outside, it is a towering sweep of aluminum sheeting, forming a cross with a separate slender bell-tower soaring upwards. That is all very well, but step inside and prepare to be awed.

St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary’s Cathedral

This is brutalist architecture as sublime. Huge blocks of towering, curving concrete and light crevasses to enhance the gloom. Furnishing at a minimum, decoration none, astonishing.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside, and the pamphlet photos do not do the place justice. If you have any interest in architecture, which I generally don’t, go and see this building if you get the chance.


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