The Harajuku district in Tokyo holds the distinction for being Japan’s foremost shopping and fashion destination for the young and fashionable. By contrast, the Sugamo district is regarded as the “Harajuku for Grannies.” The focal point of the area is a half mile shopping street known as Jizo-dori which is lined with over two hundred shops catering to the elderly with everything from clothing to traditional Japanese foods. Among the most popular is the clothing store Maruji, which sells red underwear coveted among older women. These bright red undershirts and underpants are thought to bring luck to the wearer and are sold by the thousands every day. As a matter of fact, the demand for these garments was so high that Maruji now has four stores located on Jizo-dori.
Originally, the Sugamo area became famous among the elderly for something other than its shopping district. The district is home to a small temple named Koganji, where you can find the popular Togenuki Jizo statue, thought to help heal ailments. Visitors line up to wash the statue with hand towels which they later press to which ever area of their body is ailing them in hope of attaining some relief. The 4th, 14th and 24th days of each month are considered auspicious and on these days people descend on the temple in droves to pray for long life.
The temple hosts a series of festivals on the 24th of January, May and September where countless stalls crowd the temple grounds and the streets surrounding it, selling everything from traditional foods to various merchandise that cater to the elderly visitors.
The Sugamo area in general is designed to assist the elderly. The pavements are flat and employ textured bricks to help prevent slipping and falling. The shops and restaurants are barrier-free making it easy for those with canes, walkers and wheel chairs to get around. There are also numerous covered rest areas throughout the neighborhood.
You will find that in Japan, one in five of the country’s 127 million residents is 65 years old or older. Areas like Sugamo which cater specifically to the older generation will likely increase in popularity as that market segment will continue to grow given the current trend in demographics.
However, you do not need to be elderly to visit Sugamo. There are many restaurants which offer good old-fashioned homemade dishes at very reasonable prices and the shio-daifuku (a mochi rice ball with sweet red bean paste inside) for which Sugamo is famous is definitely worth trying.
During the Edo period, Jizo-dori was part of the Nakasendo Highway that connected Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto. You can reach the shopping street via the JR Yamanote line from Tokyo Station. Get off at the Sugamo Station and your destination is merely 5 minutes northwest on foot.