True to its name, Sakurashinmachi is full of someiyoshino cherry blossom trees. The sakura were planted just as the Meiji Era (1868-1912) passed to the Taisho Era (1912-1926), and the area was developed to become the first "luxury holiday villas area" in the Kanto region.
Well-to-do folk from Nihonbashi and central Tokyo flocked to the area and bought summer homes here. Today, Sakurashinmachi is a 10-minute hop, a mere 6.3 kilometers, on the Denentoshi Line from the hubbub of Shibuya Station. Back in the day, Shibuya and Setagaya were the boondocks!
Fast-forward to the Showa Era (1926-1989), and ordinary folk and artist types started moving to Sakurashinmachi. The main shopping thoroughfare needed workers and invited youngsters en masse mainly from Niigata and Chiba prefectures to help out, and this fueled the "shuudan-shushoku" mass employment boom.
There remains today an active shopping street association that works to preserve and promote their "shotengai," and the area has the perfect agent to do just that. Who? "Chasing a stray cat with a fish in its mouth, running barefoot, happy-go-lucky, loved by all, our Sazae-san!"
Well, OK, I might have taken a bit of liberty with the translation, but the syllables and spirit match the original opening theme song. (Sing it, and you’ll see!)
Machiko Hasegawa (1920-1992), who wrote and illustrated Sazae-san, lived in Sakurashinmachi. Sazae-san is all over town: as statues and monuments, posters and flags, a street and park, and even sweets like Sazae-san-yaki, which looks like an ordinary "oobanyaki" bean-filled bun but upon closer inspection reflects Sazae, Namihei and Tama the cat’s faces.
Sazae-san holds the Guinness world record for the world’s longest-running animated television series, and it’s said that the four-panel comic format for newspapers became mainstream thanks to The Asahi Shimbun’s Sazae-san series that started in the late 1940s. At the museum devoted to Hasegawa, visitors can see the artist’s other works, too, like Ijiwaru Baa-san (Granny Mischief) and Apron Oba-san (Aunt Apron).
There’s a koban police box at one end of Sazae-san Street, and in front is a green (don’t ask) statue of Sazae-san with her left arm outstretched, gesturing toward the museum. When taking a photo of the statue, there happened to be a police officer standing in front of the koban, and looking at my photo, he seems to be balancing on Sazae-san’s hand! Sakurashinmachi’s well-being is in Sazae-san’s hands.
Everyone is smiling. Even the sun is smiling. La, la, la, la, la, la ... What another beautiful day!