If you haven’t been to the shopping street known as “The Grandma and Grandpa’s Harajuku,” you’re missing out on one of the wackiest excursions in Tokyo.
A five minute walk from Sugamo Station – the most hipster-shunned stop on the Yamanote Line – is the Koshinzuka street market, where on the 4th, 14th and 24th of each month they sell goods from a bygone era. Whether you’re looking for a pair of lucky red underpants or some cure-all tea made from poisonous snakes, the Koshinzuka street market is the place to find them.
On your right as you walk down the street, stop to marvel at the Honorable Duck Butt of Sugamo. A wooden hut enshrines the oversized fake fur hindquarters of the shopping district’s mascot – a duck named Sugamon – and shoppers are urged to pet it and commemorate their visit with a snapshot. If you need a new Facebook profile picture, this would be it.
Now get your wallet out, because market day attracts vendors who sell products you won’t find in any store. Be on the lookout for the classic Kewpie doll stand, the man who mixes custom shichimi spice to your specs, and stalls offering scoops of inago tsukudani (crispy drinking snacks made from grasshoppers).
Halfway down the street, you’ll see a line of Disneyland-like proportions snaking out of the temple where the Togenuki Jizo is believed to cure people of their ailments. Naturally, there are vendors nearby who offer to give o-jizo-san a helping hand, selling everything from handcrafted bamboo earwax picks to tea made from dried poisonous snakes. After assuring you that a cup every day before breakfast will keep your eyes sharp and your legs strong, the snake tea salesman will be happy to grind up one of the dried mamushis on his table for you.
If you’d rather peer into your future first, to see if you really need poisonous snake tea to be cured, consult the Koshinzuka street market fortunetellers. One stall owner enterprisingly brings fortunetelling into the 21st century by reading a Xerox of your palm.
Finally, stop into the Akapants store to experience “The Power Of The Red Panty.” You can’t miss it – all they sell is big red underwear, styled for the over-sixty set who believe that wearing red underwear will bring them good luck.
These legendary skivvies are supposedly so effective at boosting your adrenaline and increasing your powers of concentration that buyers are warned, “When sleeping, ‘Red Panty’ may cause you excite and make you sleepless. So put on ordinary color underwear when you sleep.”
To get to Koshinzuka Street, get off the train at Sugamo station (JR Yamanote and Toei Mita Lines). Cross the big street that runs in front of the station and turn right. Walk for two blocks and you’ll see a small street angling off to your left, with an arch over the entrance.