Visit our neighborhood to see the true Tokyo, students say
Tourist attractions are a yen a dozen in Tokyo, but a group of positive-minded students says there is room for another.
Come, they say, to Shibamata, in Katsushika Ward, where the students have written a guidebook describing the neighborhood's bright colors, great food and low prices.
"Our members poured their enthusiasm into this guidebook," said the coordinator, 20-year-old Naoya Sho, a University of Tokyo undergraduate. "We hope people will use it."
The 25 students assessed Katsushika districts for their growth potential. They liked the atmosphere in Shibamata, and decided it had a key asset: it lies on a railway between Tokyo and the city's out-of-town Narita Airport.
The students, from Japan, South Korea and China, met Katsushika officials and proposed writing a guidebook from the point of view of foreigners. The ward thought it a fine idea and agreed to pay.
The book describes cheap "dagashi" candy snacks sold outside a temple in the area. One is kimchi-flavored soda.
"Never seen anything like it even in Korea!" exclaims a South Korean commentator. "The taste is sweet yet hot."
The temple itself, called Shibamata Taishakuten, is beautiful yet is not overrun by foreign visitors. The guidebook helps to unlock some of the fascinating details inside: For example, it explains the wooden "ema" prayer plaques upon which temple-goers write wishes and then leave hanging nearby. The book explains how a first-time visitor may offer prayers.
Shibamata is known to many Japanese because it was once the setting for a popular film series, "Otoko wa tsurai yo" (It's tough being a man).
The free pamphlet for tourists is now available in five versions, including English, Korean and both traditional and simplified Chinese. It can be picked up at Narita and Haneda airports as well as many tourist-oriented hotels in Tokyo.
By Tadahiro Hata
The Asahi Shimbun AJW
04 September 2012
The approach to Shibamata Taishakuten temple (Asahi Shimbun file photo)