Kawagoe city makes for a pleasant day trip back in time – after all, it is known to the locals as “Little Edo”. This is because of the many traditional wooden buildings that still line the streets today. Edo refers to the historical period from 1603 until 1867 under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The bell tower in a sidestreet of the main street is a famous landmark of Kawagoe. It was rebuilt after it was burned down during the great fire of Kawagoe in 1894. The official name for this tower is Toki-no-Kane meaning Bell of Time. It has beautiful chimes that ring four times per day: at 6 am, noon, 3 pm and 6 pm. Be sure to wait for the chimes when you’re in the area as they have been designated on of the “100 best sound sceneries in Japan”.
The old shop houses still sell traditional wares such as wooden toys, tenugui (hand towel), items made from kimono fabric, various good luck charms and amulets, incense, kanzashi (traditional Japanese hair ornament), kimono shops and calligraphy writing tools utensils such as brushes and handmade paper.
This is THE place to go to for traditional Japanese sweets. The origin story of this street is that right after the Great Earthquake of 1923 in Tokyo there was a huge shortage of sweets in the city. Kawagoe had always been a supplier for Tokyo since the Edo period so this high demand made the amount of stores surge in a short time. The street boasts most noticeably with sweet potatoes and matcha.
Also made from sweet potatoes is the famous COEDO craft beer, which has won several awards globally including the European Beer Star and the World Beer Cup. The idea to make beer from sweet potatoes came when locals wanted to limit vegetable wastage. Since the famous Japanese spirit Shōchū can also be made from potatoes, they thought it would be possible to try the same for beer.
Visiting The God Of Marriage
Hikawa Shrine enshrines the god of married couples, so many people hoping for happy marriages or to find true love come here to pray. The shrine harks back to the 6th century when it was part of Omiya Hikawa Shrine, a big shrine in the Omiya district of Saitama. During the July 7th Tanabata festival, similar to Valentine’s Day in the lunar calendar, the shrine has a “Tunnel of Love”, a wooden tunnel decorated with only wind chimes. If you can’t make it for Tanabata, on the eighth day and fourth Saturday of each month a ritual is performed to pray for a good partner match.
Should you draw a bad fortune (like I did), just tie it to a wire rack in the shrine area. This is to attach the bad luck to something else and to keep it away from you.
My favorite spot on the shrine grounds were these trees. They grow in a small area surrounded by an uneven walkway. The rope they are tied with is called Shimenawa (Enclosing Rope) and is used for ritual purification in Shinto rituals. Trees are seen as places where Kami, the gods of Shinto, can reside. So if you see these ropes around a tree, a Kami is living in it.
There are much, much more historical sights in this area, so I will definitely be back to explore them! Stay tuned!
From Ikebukuro : Tobu Tojo Line express, 31 minutes (450 yen)
From Seibu Shinjuku: Seibu Shinjuku Line Limited Express, 43 minutes (890 yen)
From Shinjuku: JR Kawagoe Line Local, 60 minutes (570 yen)