To many Japanese people, the Shibamata district of Katsushika City in Tokyo is known as the home of Tora-san, the beloved protagonist of the It’s Tough to Be a Man film franchise. Although it’s relatively obscure outside the country unlike other major works of Japanese popular culture, the franchise has been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the longest-running film series starring the same lead actor, counting 50 movies from 1969 to 2019.
Originating as a 26-episode television drama most of which is now lost media, It’s Tough to Be a Man follows the comedic adventures of a kind-hearted drifter named Torajirō Kuruma across Japan. Each film features a different region and a different “madonna” (love interest). Every time, he comes back to his home in Shibamata, where his family runs a sweet rice dumpling shop typical of the area. The usual havoc ensues, followed by some heartbreak or the other, and Tora-san sets off again on another trip… until the next movie.
The movies were considered the embodiment of the spirit of post-war Japan, especially that of shitamachi, or the old-school downtown of Tokyo. The series also catapulted the lead actor, Kiyoshi Atsumi, to stardom where he was unanimously loved by the general populace.
In 1999, three years after Atsumi’s death from lung cancer, the local store association raised funds from tourists to erect a life-size bronze statue of Tora-san in front of Shibamata station, re-enacting the final scene of the first film. Sometime later, in 2017, another sculpture was added to the scene, this time one of Sakura, half-sister of Tora-san, seeing her big brother off as he starts a new journey.