Kawagoe (川越), also named Ko-Edo, is a nice town only 30 minutes away from Tokyo. If you want to experience how Tokyo may have looked like at the end of the Edo period then head for the cosy old city centre of this town. It is as if Tokyo’s Edo museum came to life.
I took the photo above on a dull and rainy day but it gives a good image of what to expect. It shows the oldest house in Kawagoe and it is as if time stood still. The black and white makes it like a vintage postcard. Yet the photo was taken only 30 minutes away from one of the most modern metropoles of 21 st century.
If you are staying in Tokyo, Kawagoe is an interesting destination for a half day trip. Especially if you are unlucky with the weather and you need an alternative plan then put Kawagoe on your shortlist. It can be reached by the Tobu Tojo line in 30 minutes from Ikebukoro.
Things to visit
There are many things to see, try and experience in Kawagoe. The local Kawagoe tourist association have put online a great website with everything you need to know for your visit. Here below the photos will give you already a fair idea of some of the main attractions.
As soon as they arrive, most tourists go straight to Kawagoe’s old Warehouse District. Many houses date from the end of the Edo period giving the city centre a nice vintage aspect. The buildings are named Kurazukuri which is Japanese for the typical clay-walled façades of the warehouses.
The adjacent neighbourhood, Kashiya Yokocho is also very interesting, surely if you are traveling with kids. It stands for candy shop alley in Japanese. In this part of town you can find in the more than 20 shops Japanese candy in all kinds of tastes and colours, many based on the sweet potato a local product. As shown in the photo below some shops are actually producing the sweets fresh on a daily basis. A great experience for young and old.
Kawagoe was also the base of an old Edo Castle of which some of the remaining buildings are still visible in the Kitain Temple. Kawagoe’s Kitain (喜多院) is the head temple of the Tendai Sect in the Kanto Region. If you visit the temple don’t miss the Gohyaku Rakan statues. In a courtyard of the temple area you will find more than 500 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha all of them with a different facial expression or posture. The setting is very special and offers good photo opportunities.
Photo courtesy of N. Nakamura
Probably the most famous landmark of Kawagoe is is the nice wooden belfry (時の鐘, Toki no Kane) that dates from 1894. It was rebuilt after in 1893 a large part of the city was destroyed by a fire.
If you visit Kawagoe then my tip is to take a ride along all the historical highlights of the city with the rickshaw. Where else could you enjoy better a ride with the jinrikisha, a Japanese invention from 1869 (source Wikipedia), than in this old Edo town. The drivers will also be able to give you some hint where to have lunch or dinner. Try the local specialty charcoal boiled eel lacquered with sweetened soy sauce.