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Japanese Soul Lives on in Cinema & Food : Yamato-ya & Tora-ya @ Shibamata

When you get off at SHIBAMATA Station on the Keisei Line, a statue of a gentleman carrying a suitcase welcomes you. His name is TORA-SAN, the main character from the Japanese cinema series "It's tough being a man".

Its first film was released in 1969, then the sequels were released almost constantly twice a year, until the 48th was released in 1995. Actor Kiyoshi Atsumi performed Tora-san throughout the series, and ended up devoting most of his life to these movies.

The dramas took place on a street leading to the Shibamata Taishakuten Temple. The street is still busy with many people, and when you walk along, you see shops and restaurants maintain their traditional decor, keeping the atmosphere of the time.

YAMATO-YA tempura shop is one of them, the nutty smell spilling over from the tempura fryer set right in front. Passers-by to and from the temple can't resist the alluring smell and are drawn into the shop. Among those were Kiyoshi Atsumi, director Yoji Yamada, and so many actors and actresses who performed with them.

The shop has only one dish (actually, it's a bowl) on the menu, Ten-don; Assorted Tempura on rice. Shrimp, fish fillet and some vegetables coated in flour are so large that they can’t fit into the rice bowl. Dark tare sauce is abundantly poured on them until all of the ingredients are coloured mostly brown.

After being open for decades, autobiographies by cinema actors hung on the walls have turned brown and almost unreadable. The hall is filled with the tasty smell from the tempura fryer and the bowl is covered by the sweetness of traditional tare sauce. Every nostalgic sense leads us to feel that we have gone back in time and are eating alongside the famous actors in the Showa period.

After lunch, walk five minutes to the temple, then another ten minutes to Tora-san Museum. When you finish making your wish at the temple and revisiting the emotional stories of these films, you might well find a place to have a break.

Just off the temple's main gate, TORA-YA Japanese cafe is a good place to have a break and a snack. What's on offer is Kusa-Dango, rice dumpling mixed with Yomogi herbs. It's a bit bitter, but sweet azuki beans are added on the side to adequately balance the taste.

Most notably, this dango cafe was staged as the home of Tora-san when the cinema started. Although the building was refurbished, the staircase that appeared in the movie is kept in the hall for visitors to remember the scene. Surrounded by old billboards hung on the wall, you are virtually sitting in the centre of the historical shooting site.

It's been almost 20 years since Atsumi Kiyoshi passed away, but the films are repeatedly played on screen and on TV. It proves that, even after this country has been largely modernised, the Japanese soul remains intact in the spirit of Tora-san and in the taste of foods on the Shibamata street.


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