Welcome to the Harajuku for grannies, my favorite place in Tokyo. Have you ever been asked questions like, what are the three most important shrines in Japan? How about the three most important temples in Japan? In Japan they're called the Big 3. But, what about the Big 3 places in Tokyo? The Imperial Palace, Tokyo Skytree, and Harajuku.... ( maybe).
My favorite place is in Toshima city and it's called Sugamo. Also popularly known as "the Harajuku for old ladies." It's called that way because the many shops there cater to elderly folks like the Aka-Pants shop. Or, red pants shop and you can read up more about that here. In short, when Japanese reach their 60s, they are born again and need to wear red to signify their age.
Here in Sugamo you can experience all of the old charms Tokyo used to enjoy. Things like legendary hospitality, clean and well organized street planning, mom & pop shops that forgot to change with the Times, but have never forgotten the good old time recipes, and they still make cakes as fresh as they were decades ago! This is Jizo Dori, the shopping street and main thoroughfare you walk down when you visit Sugamo. Do not expect rickshaws and weirdos peddling their wares services. You will not be hankered by these people, nor will you be forced to buy anything and haggled to death. People here are sane and well mannered, so erase the images.
When I arrived with my Japanese momma the first place we went to was a temple called Kogan-Ji Temple. Another name would be Togenuki Jizoson. This temple, like many others, is very old and has been a fixture in this neighborhood for centuries. Temples and shrines all serve a purpose in this life and the after-life. Temples tend to be quiet popular with the elders, this is probably because the gods, or Buddhas offer healing for physical ailments whereas shrines are usually for life bound blessings, like money, love, and the convocation of newborn babies before a small audience of relatives and a shinto priest.
The statue in this picture is a god called "Arai Kannon" or washing diety. The legend goes that if you wash her in the same area you have your ailment the pain will go away. When you get in line you have to purchase a small white hand towel for 100 yen. You rinse the statue with holy water first and then wipe it down with the hand towel. When finished, place the hand towel you just bought in the basket then leave. Do not take the hand towel with you. I always feel a sense of peace and blessing after doing this. It's weird to me, yet it is so spiritual at the same time.
The atmosphere was solemn, yet hopeful. Like when pouring water down over her head and then listening for the trickling as it flows down her body several times over is soothing to the soul. And then wiping contours of her stone body in between breathes and somehow resonating with it all was so spiritually gratifying for me. It was wholesome. A far cry from the knock-out blows delivered during Binny Hinns sermons (SP?) heyday. These prayers will not go unanswered.
After finishing up, we bowed and headed out to our favorite spot for some Japanese tea and a dessert called "Daifuku" a glutenous rice cake known for being soft and chewy, and for good luck.
On the left side is a dango, another sweet glutenous dessert that is very tasty here. On the right is a daifuku, one of the oldest and most well liked Japanese dessert confectionery. I tend to think these are more regional because in Yokohama they tend to be sweeter whereas here in Sugamo they are a bit more salty, which is the best way to enjoy them. The name of the shop is called Sugamo Park and it should be on your left-hand side walking towards the temple. They serve unlimited amounts of excellent sensha tea, and it's served perfectly. Jizo dori is packed full of shops the sell medicinal herbs and spices. Below is shop that specializes in black garlic. Absolutely horrible to taste.
Every medicine imaginable for longevity can be found here and you get to sample them. This area is a place for older couple to go and just hang out and be treated to really good classical desserts and great teas. It's a place for the spiritually inclined and those seeking a fresh perspective of Tokyo without all the gaudy freaks in the real Harajuku.