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Sugamo's sexy red bloomers for little old ladies

This is sexy! This is sooo sexy that an accompanying pamphlet warns you: "3 cm or 4 cm below your belly button, there is a point called Tan-Den. Even a touch to here may makes your feel warm! Notice: When sleeping, Red Panty may cause you excite and make you sleepless."

This alarmed me so much that I prudently bought red socks for myself rather than red bloomers. Warm excite feet sound manageable.

Sugamo's famous red underwear for men and women

I bet you're asking yourself, "What is Ru gaaning aan about?"

Let me tell you about Sugamo. Sugamo is a neighbourhood in the northeastern curve of the Yamanote Line that runs around Tokyo's centre. It's famous for a shopping street called Jizō-dōri (地蔵通り), also known as the Harajuku for grannies, but if you were to write it off as a geriatric graveyard, you'd be making a grave mistake. It's true that most of the shoppers can probably remember the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945 – heck, even the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 – but the beauty of this area is its history, traditional shops and temples. 

The southern entrance of Jizō-dori near Sugamo Station

Sign pointing towards the Togenuki Jizō temple

Jizō-dōri is named after a nearby temple that enshrines a famous Jizō, but more about that later. The shopping street follows the route of the old Nakasendō, is almost a kilometer long and has over two hundred shops. No Starbucks, no McDonalds, no Comme des Garçons. Plenty of sensible shoes, kampo apothecaries, Japanese sweets, green tea, rice crackers and shio-daifuku shops. The latter is a Sugamo specialty: it's a rice ball with red bean paste and a sprinkle of salt. Delicious.

You'll also find several branches of Maruji, the shop that made red bloomers (赤パンツ akapantsu) famous. I could explain this in my own words, but Maruji does it so much better. Here's their English …

Yes, English. This may be a shopping street for old fogeys, but it's more clued-up when it comes to international marketing than anything in Daikanyama. Better service, too.

Here's their English pamphlet, quoted verbatim:
The power of "The Red Panty"
3 or 4 cm below your belly button, there is a point called "Tan-Den". Even a touch to here may makes your feel warm!
In Oriental medicine, "Tan-Den" is remaked as the generator of invisible flow of energy Called "Q i". It is hard to explain though, without "Q i" our lives can't go on!
When your "Q i" gets weak, you may become sick lose your control or even miss your fortune! It is hard for us, ordinary people to get "Tan-Den" to be strong and also "Q i". But don't worry. "Red Panty" does it! All you have to do is put on it!
The red color accelerates the secretion of adrenalin and boosts your concentration, and works on the autonomic nervous system to rouse yourself to action. Added to these, it is said that the red cloth can warm your body, and fill your energy in Oriental medicine. Please choose brilliant red one and natural material one like silk or cotton.
Notice: When sleeping, "Red Panty" may cause you excite and make you sleepless. So put on ordinary colour underwear when you sleep.
Now do you understand why I love Sugamo?

Maruji's main store in Sugamo

Red explosion inside a smaller Maruji store

Bloomers! Please note size LL. (LL is 97-105 cm. Nope, it doesn't get bigger than that.)

The red bloomers may be a Maruji creation, but there really is a spot called tanden (丹田) or kikai tanden (気海丹田), which happens to be the body's centre of gravity. I'm well aware of my tanden, thanks to yoga as a youngster and zazen (meditation) as an adult. It's situated in front of your third lumbar vertebra, in other words, about 3 or 4 cm below your belly button. It's regarded as the central point of your ki () or life force, and plays an important role in meditation techniques as well as martial arts practice. (If you're into chakras, it's the swadhisthana.)

Tanden means red rice field; kikai means sea of energy. You beginning to see where the red panties come from?

More trivial information for fellowette fundoshi lovers Lina, Sarah and Cecilia: it's said that a fundoshi helps you to focus on your tanden. What it makes your observers focus on is another matter altogether, but let's remain circumspect, shall we?

Sugamo is a very friendly neighbourhood. Although I often grumble about old-timers, I have a huge soft spot for nice guys who don't think a long life justifies rudeness, and I enjoyed my interaction with shopkeepers and shoppers. While I was photographing a Maruji shop, a little old lady approached me. She was at least 97.

"Akapantsu!" she grinned at me.
"Yes, akapantsu! I want to buy a pair," I said.
"You're too young!" she chortled.
"It's for my mother."
"So da na, okaasan." Then the saucy minx continued, "I'm not wearing akapantsu."
I feigned horror. "You're not wearing pantsu?!"

That made us giggle for five minutes. It's the small stuff that counts, says I.

Can't afford a real pet? Here's an alternative. They move, bark and meow.

Sugamo is also famous for a temple called Kōgan-ji (高岩寺), alternatively known as Togenuki Jizō (とげぬき地蔵), but this temple and its thorn-extracting Jizo deserves its own post.

Let me rather tell you about two other places of worship at the two ends of Jizō-dori, Sugamo Kōshin-dō (巣鴨庚申堂) at the north-western entrance and Shinshō-ji (真性寺) at the southern entrance.

Sugamo Kōshin-dō used to stand on a very busy intersection of the Nakasendō on the outskirts of Edo. The crossroads was so famous that it was included in the Guide to Famous Edo Sites (江戸名所図会 Edo Meisho Zue), first published in 1834; and in those days it was guarded by a monkey-faced, six-armed deity called Kōshin (庚申), whose statue was often placed on village borders to protect residents.

The northern entrance to Jizō-dori, on the famous intersection guarded by Kōshin.
Kōshin-dō is to the left in this photo.

The entrance to Kōshin-dō. The lanterns read Sarutahiko Ōkami (猿田彦大神),because the long-nosed wanderer is enshrined here.

Kōshin worship is interesting. It has Taoist origins, and it's based on the belief that three worms called the sanshi (三尸) live in your  body, keeping record of all your good and bad deeds. Every sixtieth night, called kōshin-machi, the three worms leave your body to report to the heavenly gods what you've been up to. If you've been naughty, you'd try to stay up all night, because that would prevent the worms' departure and the gods wouldn't be able to punish you. (Worms? Ick. Why worms?)

Alternatively, the monkey deity Kōshin can protect you. If you're wondering what a monkey has to do with worms, look, it's all about the Chinese zodiac cycle and homonyms and deathbringers and … this is a blog … not an encyclopaedia. You can read more here.

Anyway, the three monkeys that you often see – Mizaru (see no evil), Kikazaru (hear no evil) and Iwazaru (speak no evil) – are also related to Kōshin. Finally, just to make things really interesting, Sarutahiko (猿田彦神), the long-nosed Shintō deity of the crossroads who's often depicted as a weather-worn wanderer, was linked to Kōshin in the Edo era.

A Sarutahiko mask at a festival in Taitō.
Sarutahiko often leads festival parades,
because he's a symbol of strength and guidance.

I include this complicated summary to explain why you can see monkey statues in front of Sugamo Kōshin-dō, and why Sarutahiko is enshrined inside.

This is where you can pray to Sarutahiko.

Monkey guardian at the entrance.
Note the three smaller monkeys: speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil.

His companion

Sarutahiko Ōkami (猿田彦大神)

The nearest station to the northern entrance is Kōshinzuka on the
Toden Arakawa Line (an old streetcar line).

Shinshō-ji (真性寺) is the other temple on the southern end of the shopping street, but I've already written about it: it's one of the sites of the six Jizō of Edo.

Jizō-dori has its own mascot called Sugamon (すがもん), who's described as a 12-year-old boy who comes from the land of ducks. He loves oranges, hates green onions and has his own very cute Twitter account, @Sugamon_dagamo. You can fondle his fluffy butt at the start of the shopping street. I'm not making this up. It feels great!

Sugamo's mascot, Sugamon

Sugamon's fluffy butt. The photo was taken in late December, hence the kadomatsu
(New Year's decorations consisting of pine and bamboo).

This has turned into another epic post. Coming up in my next post: a samurai, a sick wife, a maid who swallowed a broken needle, a thorn-extracting Jizō and a Kannon statue that you scrub to cure any illness.


I took this photo to illustrate that they're really, umm, substantial.
I think they'll be too big for my mum, but never mind, it's part of the fun.
Please observe the title of the carefully selected book.

Socks for a hiker

You see Jizō statues everywhere.

Excellent idea!

I concur.

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