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Visit Sugamo, the Harajuku for Grandmothers

The Yamanote Line, a train line that encircles the very heart of Tokyo, is home to several popular Tokyo destinations. You probably already know a bit about Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Akihabara. But what do you know about Sugamo, Tokyo’s retro paradise of health and prosperity?

Sugamo is regarded as the “Harajuku for grandmothers,” a nod to Tokyo’s district for experimental fashion. Although most of the people there might be a little elderly, Sugamo holds a lot of culture from their era worth visiting.

The most active area of Sugamo is Sugamo Jizo-dori Street, an 800-meter long shopping promenade located 5 minutes from JR Sugamo Station. Take a right at the main exit, and soon you’ll come across the street’s distinctive retro facade.

A crowd on Sugamo Jizo-dori

Shio Daifuku

One of the things you must do in Sugamo is eat shio daifuku, a salty version of a traditional Japanese sweet made from mochi filled with unsweetened adzuki bean paste.

Shio daifuku in Sugamo

There are three major shops selling the salty treat: Iseya, Mizuo, and Sugamo-en. One shio daifuku costs around 120 to 140 yen, so try one from each shop to see what the fuss is about.

In case you’re wondering why each shio daifuku shop is packed to the brim with eager customers, it’s all got to do with the Japanese language.

Part of shio daifuku’s popularity comes from its connection to good luck. The characters for daifuku (大福) literally mean “great fortune.” And the character for salt (塩), while usually pronounced shio, can be alternatively read as en, which is the same as the character 縁, meaning “destiny.”

Red underwear

If you want even more good luck, walk further down Sugamo Jizo-dori and you’ll eventually come across a few shops selling red undergarments. Lots of red undergarments, in fact!

Remember all that wordplay that makes shio daifuku so special? The link between the readings of Chinese characters and auspicious objects is the reason why red underpants are a novelty item here in Sugamo.

Since ancient times, the color red has close ties with good fortune, health, and happiness in Asia. Wear a pair of lucky red underwear on the day of an exam, job interview, or even a date, and you may be rewarded greatly!

Red undergarments in Sugamo

To maximize your chances of harnessing the power of red, save your red undergarments for any “Day of the Monkey” during the Year of the Monkey (2028, to exact). Why? Because the Japanese word for “monkey,” saru, is also the same pronunciation for a verb that means “to leave without any chance of returning”—which is exactly what you want illnesses and calamities to do!

Arai Kannon

After you have picked up a few pairs of lucky underwear, head to Togenuki Jizo Kogan-ji Temple to conduct an auspicious ritual known as Arai Kannon.

Purchase a small towel from a vendor on the temple grounds and line up to cleanse a statue of the goddess Kannon. Make sure to specially clean the areas which correspond to your physical ailments. By doing so, Kannon will relieve you of your physical burden.

The ritual arai Kannon Togenuki Jizo Kogan-ji Temple in Sugamo

Flea Markets

Towards the end of Sugamo Jizo-dori is a flea market where you’ll find locals selling vintage kimono, shoes, handbags, coins, and even antiques.

A flea market in Sugamo

Tokyo Sakura Tram Line

Make your way to Koushinzuka, a station on the Tokyo Sakura Tram line that seems to be frozen in time. The Tokyo Sakura Tram, formerly the Toden Arakawa line, is the sole streetcar system Tokyo and each station is decorated with retro-style posters.

The Tokyo Sakura Tram Street Car near Sugamo

Take the tram to Otsuka to transfer to the Yamanote line to continue your Tokyo adventure. Or ride the entire length of the Tokyo Sakura Tram and reflect on your time in Sugamo, Tokyo’s retro paradise of health and prosperity.

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