Harajuku is a Tokyo neighborhood that is especially known for its vibrant youth culture, teenagers dressed in cosplay in the 90s, and the newest sweet concoctions on the block. But did you know that there is also a ‘Grandma’s Harajuku’ to be found in Tokyo? It is the nickname of Sugamo, in the northwest of Tokyo. It is, however, worth the trek for anyone who is interested in Tokyo neighborhoods with a more local feel to them on their itinerary. This place has really retained its original feel for the last few decades.
Where to Go in Sugamo
The street you will want to go to is called Jizo Dori, named after the stone guardians for lost children you can often see on temple grounds in Japan. Jizo Dori has over 200 shops, most of them geared towards what people over 60 have been buying for most of their lives or started needing recently. The street has quite a long history dating back to the Edo period, as it was once a part of the Nakasendo, the old mountain route between Edo and Kyoto. Sugamo used to be the first place to take a rest after departing from the route’s start point in Nihonbashi.
One of the most iconic souvenirs of Sugamo would be a red piece of underwear. According to the local beliefs, this will bring the wearer good luck, which also makes it a great souvenir for friends at home. The color red is associated with vitality and energy and when it is someone’s 60th birthday, the day you are officially considered ‘old’, he or she will often receive red presents.
You’d also be surprised at the inventiveness of some typical Japanese household or fashion products you can find here. Personally, I found an amazing rainhat that can be used on the bicycle and doesn’t blow off while it creates a space filled with air between the top part and your hair. It may make me look a bit older than I am, I’m always happy to arrive at my destination with dry hair after getting there by bicycle.
If you like Japanese sweets and snacks, you have come to the right place. You can find all the usual suspects like pickles, dango (rice cake on sticks), rice cake filled with red bean paste, and senbei crackers with all kinds of flavors, but you should also look out for real local specialties such as sesame mayonnaise, nostalgic candies, and daikon flavored sweets.
The Koganji temple in the middle of Jizo dori is also at a handy location for the typical visitors of the area. There is a statue on the grounds that you can wash with the water there, and it is said that rubbing the statue’s body part that is bothering you will cure you of any pain.
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