by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
Less than an hour from Tokyo is a whole other world in the township of Kawagoe in the Saitama prefecture. Known as Little Edo, it echoes back to a time in the past, with streets lined with historic buildings, and amazing events year round. Join us as we take a stroll around and step back into history.
Famous for its Edo period feel, that has lasted where many have disappeared, the town of Kawaoge was once home to Kawagoe Castle, which was the headquarters for the Kawagoe Domain and home for many close aids to the Tokugawa shogunate. Although the castle is now gone, like many buildings from that time, many were kept in tact, or moved around the city.
The town is beautiful and tranquil, and can be a nice escape, from the go, go, go of Tokyo. Let’s take a look at some of the best sights and attractions Kawagoe has to offer.
The temple that was once the Tendaishu head temple for the Kanto region, the temple is believed to have been originally founded by a monk in the 7th year of the Tencho Era, 830AD. The temple has a long history with its demise and rebuilding happening several times. The last time it was rebuilt was after the great kanto earthquake of 1923.
The beautiful temple grounds contain many original parts, such as the Reception Hall, Publishing house, Priest's quarters, Bell tower and a unique pagoda, known as a Tahoto - a Japanese style pagoda that was developed during the Heian period.
One of the main sights is just as you enter the grounds; next to the entrance stands the statues of 530 disciples of buddha. These are known as the 500 rakan, and were all carved between the 1780’s and 1820’s. They are all unique and show them in many positions.
The Kitain Temple is located about a 20 minute walk from Honkawagoe station, down the main road, then right at the main intersection (you will find the Kumano Shrine on the right corner of the intersection).
The Temple is open daily from 8:50am to 4:00pm, and costs 400¥ to enter.
Kawagoe Warehouse District
Wanting to step back into the Edo period of Japan? Well, the Kawagoe warehouse district is the best place to start. Back in the Edo period, Kawagoe was a commercial town key to supplying Tokyo (back then known as Edo). It’s success as a major commercial town led to many vendors being able to afford to build stores and warehouses in the style you come to see today, Kurazukuri.
Today most of the buildings house shops, selling traditional wares to tourists, as well as restaurants. The largest area of these buildings can be found along Kurazukuri Street.
Not too far from the main strip is the historic Kawagoe bell tower: you should be able to see it and make your way to it without getting lost. The beautiful structure, in its current state dates back to 1894.
Nestled among the district are some museums that focus on showing parts of Kawaoge from the past and today.
The Museum of Kurazukuri is not far from the Bell tower and housed in what was once a tobacco store. The museum shows what the insides of buildings back in the Edo period looked like, as well as exhibiting machines and other tools that were used daily back then.
Another great museum is the Kawagoe Festival Museum. The festival is on the 3rd weekend in October each year and includes a parade of large beautiful floats, however if you can’t make it to Kawagoe for the festival, the museum houses some of the floats and other items from the festival year-round.
The warehouse district is located about a 10 minute walk from Honkawagoe station down the main road.
The museum of Kurazukuri is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm and costs 100¥ to enter. The Kawagoe Festival museum is open from 9:30am to 6:30pm and 300¥ to enter.
Kashiya Yokocho (Penny Candy Alley)
The Kashiya Yokocho is located just off the warehouse district, and is a great place for unique souvenir shopping and for anyone with a sweet tooth.
This laneway is lined with Edo period buildings and stalls selling Japanese candy and traditional gifts.
Here you will be able to sample traditional Japanese treats like cakes, rice crackers, ice cream and a plethora of snacks filled with the obligatory red bean paste. You also have to splurge and try the delicious Karinto, which is a sugar coated and deep fried cookie. Definitely swing by the alley to pick up some great souvenirs for the people back home.
Kashiya Yokocho openings vary by store, however most open around 10:00am till 5:00pm. The alley is about a 20 minute walk from Honkawagoe Station.
The town of Kawagoe, is a great place to visit year round, not only for its great sights, attractions and food. Also because there is always something going on!
Start out the new year in Kawagoe and enjoy the crisp winter air on January 3rd, with the traditional Hatsudaishi, where dozens of street booths selling delectable treats set up and an amazing market happens to bring in the new year.
From the end of March to early May you have the Kawagoe Spring Festival, which happens all over the city, celebrating the beautiful Sakura season. If you're in town for Sakura, be sure to jump on a Sakura ship, and sail down the river in a traditional boat under the blossoming sakura trees.
In Summer they have the massive Koedo Kawagoe Fireworks display that brings thousands of people from all over japan to witness the magic in the skies above. Also the Kawagoe Million Lights Summer Festival which lights up the nights with streets adorned with beautiful lanterns and other fun activities. (This is a great one for budding night photographers!).
In the third weekend in October you have the massive Kawagoe festival, where large floats, and people dressed up parade the streets, with bustling music and festival food filling the air.
For a full list of events in Kawagoe check out their offical website here.
Getting to Kawagoe couldn’t be easier, just 30 minutes outside Tokyo, it’s just as simple as jumping on a train.
Take the Seibu Shinjuku Line to Honkawagoe Station (43 Minutes)
Take the Tobu Toji Line to Kawagoe-shi Station (30 Minutes)
Kawagoe, is a great day trip, or even just a half day, just outside Tokyo, with a rich history and beauty that still evokes the essence of the Edo Period gone. You’ll be transported back to a different time, and welcomed with open arms by the kind people of the town. If you're looking for a step back in time, and only have a limited time in the Tokyo area, this is the place to detour to.
Have you been to Kawagoe before? What were some of your favourite sights?
Tell us in the comments below!