Shibamata Taishakuten's Sculpture Gallery – Tokyo, Japan - Atlas Obscura

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Shibamata Taishakuten's Sculpture Gallery

A hidden gallery exhibits intricate, decades-old Buddhist reliefs. 


The Nichiren Buddhist temple of Daikyō-ji is the main attraction of Shibamata in Tokyo, commonly referred to as Shibamata Taishakuten and famously associated with the long-running It’s Tough Being a Man film franchise, which is set in the area. Established in 1629 with its current building dating to 1915, the complex is quite popular for its quaint atmosphere and the traditional shopping street that leads up to it, full of food stalls and historic restaurants serving freshwater fish.

The temple’s often-overlooked centerpiece is the sculpture gallery, a hidden gem that can be found at the back of its inner hall. It exhibits wood carvings and reliefs created by ten artisans over the course of twelve years from 1922 to 1934, covering the hall’s eastern, western, and northern walls. For the preservation of the sculptures, the gallery is completely encased within glass walls, making a unique art space—outside and inside at the same time.

The gallery is well-known for the reliefs depicting ten Buddhist scenes taken from the Lotus Sutra scripture, each carved out of a single block of zelkova wood, an Asian tree often used in bonsai. These include the parables of the Burning House, the Dragon King’s Daughter, and the Appearance of the Stupa. There are also numerous carvings of turtles and cranes, considered lucky animals in East Asia, as well as reliefs of the Chinese zodiac and celestial maidens.

If you visit the temple and purchase a ticket to the Sculpture Gallery, don’t forget to check out the Suikei-en gardens, which are included in the admission. Completed in 1965, it is sometimes referred to as the last of the true Edo-style Japanese gardens and is known for its tranquil ambiance, contrasting the lively city outside.

Know Before You Go

Admission to the sculpture gallery, together with the gardens, is 400 yen for adults and 200 yen for children. Visitors are not allowed to set foot inside the garden and may view it from the outer corridors only.

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May 8, 2023

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