Have you ever found yourself wondering what living in the Edo-period would have been like? Wonder no longer, we present to you: Kawagoe! The small town of Kawagoe, also known as Ko-Edo (which means “Little Edo”), is often described as a place where you can relive history. The town has managed to maintain the ambiance dating back to the Edo-period. Kawagoe can be reached in just under an hour from Tokyo by train, making it a perfect day trip to escape the vibrant city of Tokyo.
Originating from the Edo period, Kawagoe was a bustling commercial supply town. Due to its strategic position the city grew into a strong trade city, supplying Tokyo (previously known as Edo) up until about 100 year ago. Nowadays one of the main attractions of the city is the Kitain Temple, home to the only remaining structures of Edo castle.
The Great Fire
During the 1800s several fires broke out in Kawagoe, destroying many of houses and other buildings. The most destroying fire, known as The Great Fire, took place in 1893 and burnt down large parts of the city. To prevent the damage resulting from the fire, Kawagoe’s building were not reconstructed out of wood. Instead the low-rise buildings were built using grey or white clay walls and black clay roof tiles. These typical houses are known as Kurazukuri.
Highlights of Kawagoe
Kawagoe has a lot to offer, let us introduce a few of the highlights to make your trip even more special.
Ichiban Gai Shopping street
This famous shopping street is about 400m long and is home to many unique buildings dating back to as far as the Meiji period (1868-1912). During the Great Fire in 1893 about one third of this street and its buildings were burnt down. Luckily, nowadays over 200 kurazukuri houses can still be seen in the main street and some nearby side streets. Many have been converted to shops and restaurants. Some shop sell traditional crafts and delicatessen, which make for great souvenirs, and some of those shops even do workshops like pottery classes or kimono dressing.
Lots of people stroll down this street and they eat and drink while doing so. This is know as tabearuki, coming from the two verbs to eat ‘taberu’ and to walk ‘aruku’. So if you find a snack you like, just drop by the shop and then try to tabearuki!
Toki no Kane
Toki no kane is probably the most iconic symbol of Kawagoe. This majestic bell tower was first constructed in the mid-1600s, but tragically burnt down several times. The story goes that the some merchant rebuilt the tower before rebuilding their own shop, because of its importance. The Toki no Kane that we can see today is the fourth bell and is still rung at 6am, 12pm, 3pm and 6 pm to inform the citizens about the time.
In 2018, Starbucks has opened a store in the main shopping street, next to Toki no Kane. Its design perfectly blends in with the many kurazukuri houses that Kawagoe is so famous for. Next to the indoor space, it has a pretty outdoor seating area with a Japanese gardens, complete with bonsai trees, a stone pathway and wind chimes for your peaceful coffee break. If Starbucks has existed already during the Edo period, this is what it would have looked like.
The stone-paved alley Kashiya Yokocho is a nostalgic and famous place in Kawagoe. It is lined with many candy stores that sell traditional Japanese snacks. During the golden days about 70 candy shops, called Dagashiya, sold traditional crafted treats here. Today there are about 20 shops left that specialise in low-priced traditional sweets and snacks. Some shops even learn how to make them! Kawagoe is known for sweet potatoes, a popular snack in the fall and winter months. Another snack widely sold in Kawagoe is hugashi, a fried wheat gluten snack made from Hu. Please try your favourite local snacks and tabearuki!
A great place to start your visit to Kawagoe is the Kitain Temple, a Tendai Buddhist temple founded approximately 1.200 years ago. The peaceful temple houses some of the only remains of the former Edo castle, the residence of the Tokugawa family who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. The Kitain temple is famous for its many buddha statues, over 500 stone buddhas, that express human emotions such as joy and contentment.
For more information about Kitain Temple please go to their website (English).
Honmaru Goten is one of the Japan’s few surviving examples of Edo-period. The Samurai-style building is said to be constructed in 1457 and served as an important defence for north Edo. The present building originates from 1848 but has recently been renovated and reopened to the public in 2011. You can enter parts of the building including spacious tatami rooms and the garden. In the tatami room, you can see models that imitate Samurai. Travel back in time and imagine how they would have a discussion in that room.
Festivals in Kawagoe
Lastly, Kawagoe is home to several seasonal events, the most popular event being the Kawagoe Hikawa Festival, taking place on the third Saturday and Sunday of October. During this festival, better known at Kawagoe Festival, large, elaborate floats are paraded around the town and light up stunningly at night.
When you are visiting Little Edo, give your experience a little extra by wearing traditional clothing. Enjoy the atmosphere of the traditional area of Kawagoe while wearing the traditional Japanese outfit kimono. You will definitely feel a special! Read more about wearing Kimono and exploring Kawagoe.
Getting to and around Kawagoe
Kawagoe is located in Saitama prefecture, about 30 – 60 minutes from Tokyo. Several stations have good connections to Kawagoe station. We recommend the international tourists to purchase the Kawagoe Discount Pass. With this pass the round trip between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe only costs ¥700 yen. The pass is valid on one calendar day and can be purchased at Ikebukuro Station.
The centre of Kawagoe is easy accessible by foot, but you can also rent a bicycle, or use the hop-on-hop-off Koedo loop bus for ¥500.
Kawagoe hotel recommendation
Kawagoe is a great day trip destination from Tokyo, but also caters to overnight travellers. Accommodations we recommend:
If Kawagoe is not yet on your to visit list, it absolutely should be. The town called Little Edo offers a charming, warm glimpse into days of the Edo period, with many nostalgic reminders like the confectionery shops, old warehouses, and an atmosphere like no where else. It will make you fall in love with Japan all over again. If you need any help for your trip to Kawagoe or anywhere else in Japan, Japan Wonder Travel will be more than happy to help you!