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Older shoppers flock to Tokyo mall

TOKYO—Small old stores, traditional goods, no parking: It's a lethal combination for many neighborhood shopping streets across Japan as they fall victim to large retailers, which can offer lower prices and convenient parking.

But for Tokyo's Sugamo arcade, it's a recipe for success. Grandma and Grandpa love Sugamo, and as the ranks of the elderly swell, so have Sugamo's crowds. On a busy day, 100,000 shoppers jostle along the street. It even draws people from China and South Korea.

Many visitors head to Kouganji, a Zen Buddhist temple on the shopping street with a Bodhisattva statue said to have the power to alleviate pain and cure illnesses.

Worshippers believe that using a cloth to rub the sections of the statue corresponding to their afflicted areas will alleviate suffering. In Buddhist belief, Bodhisattvas rescue those who can't help themselves.

By 10 a.m. on a recent day, more than 50 washcloth-carrying worshippers were lined up for a chance to pour water over and wash the black stone "jizo," this one a substitute, as the real one has been tucked away for safekeeping, its features worn smooth by years of devoted scrubbing.

"I come here every day with a four in it, as long as the weather is good," said Sumiko, a lively 72-year-old grandmother of five who didn't want to give her last name.

Another visitor, Shigeko Otani, 81, collects good-luck charms sold at the temple.

"I'm rather well known in my neighborhood for coming here every month with this big pack," she said, pointing to a hefty knapsack. She gives the charms to friends she visits in the hospital.

Outside the temple grounds, crowds jostled past dried snakes, green tea, incense, futons, antique kimonos, potted plants and sensible and sensibly priced clothing.

Well, maybe the red underwear isn't sensible. But it's a big hit. Shoppers believe the bright briefs draw power to the "ki," that point just below the navel considered the center of the body.

Red underwear will make its wearer 10 years younger, said Hideji Kudo, the assistant manager of Maruji, a 53-year-old clothing shop that sells a variety of styles of red underwear.

Wearing the underwear makes one warm, energetic and lively, the package claims.

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(Doi is a special correspondent.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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