Home » Shibamata Taishakuten – a photographer’s guide

Shibamata Taishakuten – a photographer’s guide

One of my favorite temples in Tokyo is Shibamata Taishakuten.  While it isn’t enormous, it has a beautiful garden and fantastic carvings!  I don’t think you can find a place like it anywhere else in the city.  

Shibamata Taishakuten wall carvings

The carvings are on large panels around the walls of the temple.  They depict scenes from the Lotus Sutra.  A two-story-high glass enclosure protects them.  And that means, if it rains, you won’t get wet!

You will find carvings on walkways that extend to other buildings too.  Like the ones around the main temple, they depict beautiful Buddhist scenes.  Look at them, and you can imagine the amount of time that artisans spent on them. 

Shibamata Taishakuten is not only about the wall carvings.  In front of the temple is “Zui-Ryu-no-Matsu” (which means “Pine tree of the Lucky Dragon”).  One branch is over fourteen meters long and the other over twelve.  It’s like a bonsai on steroids.  

Pine tree of the Lucky Dragon and Shibamata Taishakuten

Behind the temple is a small but exquisite garden, “Suikeien,” with a carp-filled pond.  There is some Buddhist-themed stonework in it, like pagodas.   It is the last of its type from the Edo period.  Plus, it has a guesthouse with a free drink machine.  When you visit, pour yourself a hot or cold cup of tea and enjoy the view.

Last is the street that leads 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 in old Edo!  

Keep an eye out for Tora-san in the area.  He’s a character from Japan’s longest-running movie series, “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” (or “It’s tough being a guy”).  Many of his stories took place around Shibamata.  The actor (Kiyoshi Atsumi) who played Tora passed away in 1996, so you’ll be seeing his double.

Buddhist wall carvings

There are two things about Shibamata Taishakuten that some people mightn’t appreciate.  One is that it is pretty far for people coming from the west side of Tokyo.  From Shinjuku or Shibuya, it’s about an hour’s travel with some train changes.  From Oshiage (Skytree), it is only twenty minutes or so. 

The other point is that the temple isn’t very old.  True, it is over four hundred years old, but it once fell into a dilapidated state.  In the Meiji period, it was rebuilt.  So what is on the current site is only about one hundred years old.  Not a huge problem, of course, but I can imagine some people might feel slightly miffed by this.

Shibamata Taishakuten

A brief history of Shibamata Taishakuten

Two Nichiren Buddhist monks founded Shibamata Taishakuten in 1629.  They were Nichu Zenchuin and Niei Shikeiin.

In 1779 fire destroyed the main hall.  It was then rebuilt in the 1800s.  The master-builder Ryuichi Sakata built the Nitenmon, the main gate.

In 1996 the Ministry of the Environment designated the temple as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan.  The temple was also on the 2009 100 Landscapes of Japan list.

Shibamata Taishakuten buildings

 Why do photographers like it?

  • The architecture of the guesthouse
  • Temple wall carvings
  • Buddhist-themed Suikeien (garden)
  • Zui-Ryu-no-Matsu (Pine tree of the Lucky Dragon)
  • It isn’t so crowded and has many interesting subjects.  That makes it another excellent place for beginners who enjoy temple photography.

Photography tips

covered hallway in garden
  • Photography is straightforward.  Nothing is complicated.  But, some areas inside the glass wall might get a little dark, depending on the time of day.  
  • Tripods are not allowed.

Where is 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.  The temple is about a five-minute walk away.  Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

The garden and wall carving gallery are open from 9 am until 4 pm, with the last admission at 3 pm.  They are closed over the New Year period (December 31 and January 1).

Admission costs

Entering the temple grounds is free, but the wall carvings and garden is 400 yen. The price covers both, so make sure you don’t misplace your ticket as you need to show them at both entrances.

Other photo spots near Shibamata Taishakuten

And there are two I haven’t visited yet:

  1. Tora-san Museum 
  2. Yamato-Tei (museum with a garden and a traditional wooden boat on the river)

After most visits, people will probably leave the area quickly.  Oshiage and Tokyo Skytree aren’t very far away and have much to offer.

carved dragon heads

Wrapping up

Shibamata Taishakuten might be a little far for some, but I think it is worth the effort to go there.  It is so different from places like Meiji Shrine and Sensoji.  This temple might be small, but it is lovely.  Some great pictures are waiting for photographers.

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