Find your lucky red underwear at this Yamanote Line stop - affectionately dubbed "Grandma's Harajuku."
Near Ikebukuro, nestled between Otsuka and Komagome along the Yamanote Line, often-overlooked Sugamo may seem like a place with little to offer tourists. Though affectionately called “Grandmas’ Harajuku” because of its popularity among the elderly, Sugamo is more than just a geriatric playground. It offers unique local culture with a dash of the traditional to all those willing to look for it.
Most of the Sugamo’s attractions are located off the major shopping street, Jizo Dori, visible from the train station. The almost 800-meter shopping street is crammed with shops selling umbrellas, red clothing (for which Sugamo is famous), traditional Japanese sweets, green tea, and more. There, selection is varied enough that you can easily lose a couple of hours strolling along, examining whatever catches your fancy, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. As you walk, snack on a famous Sugamo shio-daifuku, a sweet and slightly salty rice cake filled with red bean paste, from Mizuno, its original creator.
Sugamo is most famous for Koganji, a temple located about halfway down the street (not to be confused with Shozenji at the street’s entrance) and home to one of the six impressively-large Jizo statues remaining from the Edo period.
Koganji is home to the Togenuki Jizo statue, which is believed to help cure ailments. Elderly people line up to experience its relief by washing the statue with hand towels and then rubbing their ailing body parts with them. The temple has a small festival on the 4th, 14th, and 24th of every month that draws a sizable crowd.
Exit the temple by the statue and take the first street to the right to find Atelier Sekka, one of Tokyo’s best kakigori (shaved ice) shops. Or, exit the temple from the front and cross the street to visit Sugamo Kintaroame, a traditional candy maker with over 60 years’ experience and dozens upon dozens of candy to choose from.
A few minutes down the road from there is Maruji, easily recognizable by its sign promising “Japan’s best red underwear.” The red underwear, which blankets this street, is believed to restore health, because it stimulates an energy center associated with blood circulation in Chinese medicine and psychologically has an uplifting effect. Now the trend extends to clothing in general. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir with cultural significance, this is a great place to get one.