Thursday 28 December 2017

The Old Ladies' Harajuku: Red Pants in Sugamo

Everywhere in Tokyo is ridiculously busy at this time of year, with people on a shopping frenzy as if the shops are about to shut forever. When describing a place full of people, Japanese use the term hito-gomi (人込み), a phrase which I misinterpreted as "human rubbish" when I first heard it! One of the busiest and best known places in Tokyo is Harajuku, a fashion mecca and a magnet for youth; less well-known (but equally busy) is Sugamo (巣鴨), known as the Harajuku for Old Ladies (おばあちゃんの原宿), a district for older people centred around the Jizō-dōri (地蔵通り) shōtengai or shopping street (pictured). Given that the Japanese population is rapidly ageing (kōreika =高齢化) Sugamo offers something of a snapshot of what Japan might look like in the years to come. The local MacDonald's for example is famous for its old people friendly menu with traditional Japanese words rather than the usual English loan words: for example, the menu has oimo for poteto (french fries) and toriniku instead of the normal chikin (chicken). 

A very distinctive feature of Sugamo is the number of shops selling red underwear (!), with the flagship store being Maruji (マルジ) pictured. The colour red in Japan, as in much of Asia, symbolises joy, happiness, and good luck as well as long life. For example, anyone turning 60 in Japan (known as kanreki =還暦) is traditionally presented with a red jacket again symbolising longevity. Consequently, senior citizens flock to Sugamo to stock up on red pants with the hope of a long life! Inside Maruji itself, red pants are divided into the 12 animal zodiac signs of the Chinese zodiac (eto =干支) so you can choose a pair that matches your birth year (pictured below)!