There is a lot to see and do in Japan, but not everyone has the time to see it all. Whether you’re planning your next itinerary or just daydreaming about visiting the land of the rising sun, Japan Break Time (along with Tokyo Break Time) covers the absolute essentials of Japan and everything in between with short area summaries that are jam-packed with Nihon-knowledge.
What Is It?
Kawagoe is a city located in Saitama, Japan. In the past, it was a castle and merchant town under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It thrived well after the Meiji restoration but was burned down in a fire in 1893. The town was later rebuilt with kura, traditional Japanese warehouses built from stone and clay that were resistant to fire, and today, many original buildings remain. The traditional Japanese aesthetic and architecture have earned Kawagoe status as a Historic Preservation District, as well as the nickname “Little Edo”.
What Can You Do?
Today Kawagoe is most famous for its Kawagoe Warehouse District, where many shops and restaurants line the road affectionally known as Kurazukuri Street with kura architecture and roofs— including the Kawagoe Bell Tower. It was destroyed in the fire of 1893, but rebuilt and turned into a monument and symbol of Kawagoe. Nearby is Taisho-roman Street, another trip back in time, although this time the Taisho period. The scenic path has been featured in many Japanese dramas and movies.
There are dozens of shrines and temples located in Kawagoe, but the most famous Buddhist temple is Kita-in. Founded in 830, the temple was favored by the first three Tokugawa shoguns— Ieyasu, Hidetada, and Iemitsu. It’s also notable for its main hall, which contains parts of the original Edo castle, as well as its 540 statues of disciples of Buddha.
Another historical spot is Hikawa Shrine. The Shinto shrine is said to have a history that stretches back as far as 473 BC. It also has the status of being Emperor Meiji’s most favored shrine in all of Kanto. It’s also known as the shrine of matchmaking due to enshrining “married” deities. It’s notable for letting people “fish” for omikuji (fortunes) inside cute fish charms, as well as its tunnel of ema— wooden plates inscribed with people’s wishes.
Just behind Hikawa Shrine is the Shingashi River, a small but beautiful river lined with many cherry blossom trees. The river is scenic throughout the year, but during sakura season the river becomes a popular spot for locals and tourists wanting to do hanami, or flower viewing. You can even take a short boat ride underneath the trees.
What Can You Eat?
Just make your way down Kawagoe Warehouse District and you’ll stumble upon restaurants serving traditional Japanese food. Not exactly a good meal, but another famous street in the Warehouse District is Kashiya Yokocho, or Candy Alley— where dozens of small mom and pop shops sell traditional Japanese candy. Kita-in will also more than likely have food stalls serving tacoyaki, yakitori, and other Japanese matsuri food, but also nearby is Cafe Anti, a quaint cafe with curries, cakes, and delicious Japanese donuts made with soybean flour.
Where Is It?
Kawagoe is most easily accessible by Kawagoe Station, which is served by the Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro Station, or the JR Saikyo/Kawagoe Line from Shinjuku. The bus schedule for sights like Kawagoe Warehouse District and Kita-in can get confusing, but signs in English should point you in the right direction. It’s also worth mentioning that there are discount passes for traveling in Kawagoe, including the Kawagoe Discount Pass that can be purchased at the Tobu Tojo Line counter in Ikebukuro Station for just 700 yen.