Postcard: Tokyo

Yuriko Nakao /Reuters

Senior's Secret: A pair of typical Sugamo shoppers sample the merchandise

Sometimes a town moves only as fast as its escalators. From the subway station at Sugamo, a neighborhood in northwestern Tokyo's Toshima ward, riders ascend single file to street level at the speed of treacle on a winter day — a pace that allows for feeble eyes to adjust to the rising step and for a firm grip on both red rubber handrails. Here in "Grannies' Harajuku" (an ironic reference to a nearby district famous for its nubile trendsetters and fashion pranksters), slow is the operative word. Heads in the crowd are gray and silver, not black,...