A sweet side trip to ‘Little Edo’ Kawagoe in Saitama
Known as “Little Edo,” Kawagoe is located in neighboring Saitama Prefecture and is only 30 minutes by limited express train from central Tokyo. Kurazukuri Street and neighboring streets are lined with 200 beautifully preserved wooden warehouses from the Edo Period (1603-1867) that have been turned into shops and restaurants. The city’s iconic centerpiece is “Toki no Kane,” (Bell of Time), a wooden bell tower that rings the time several times a day.
My first stop before sightseeing was the Kawagoe Starbucks. Only steps away from the bell tower, the shop’s design blends in seamlessly with the surrounding Edo-style buildings (the exterior is made from local timber). The decorations lining the walls are made from painted sliding panels from traditional Japanese houses and the bench cushions are crafted from traditional Kawagoe kimono fabric. Outside is a beautiful Japanese dry stone garden with bonsai pine trees and plenty of terrace seating. In addition to the standard Starbucks Japan lineup, the café also offers Nitro Cold Brew on tap for 520 yen (tall) or 480 yen (short). Nearby, Kawagoe’s Kashiya Yokocho (“Candy Alley”) offers visitors the chance to try old-fashioned Japanese sweets and snacks. During its heyday in the Showa era, there were over 70 confectionary shops lining the street; today some 22 remain.
Dotted with numerous temples and shrines, one of the more impressive sights in Kawagoe is Kitain, the head temple of the Tendai sect in the Kanto region. Among its buildings are the only remaining palace buildings of Edo Castle as well as the birthplace of one of the Tokugawa shoguns. Don’t miss the Gohyaku Rakan: made between 1782 and 1825, each of these 540 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha has a unique expression. Admission to the temple’s museum (400 yen) includes admission to the Gohyaku Rakan (turn in your ticket at the small souvenir stand in front of the walled courtyard).
I also visited Tsubaki no Kura, a remodeled Edo warehouse that includes a striking camellia mural by renowned Kyoto muralist Ki-Yan, several retail shops, and best of all, a hidden footbath in the back. With the purchase of a drink or snack, you can soak away to your heart’s content.
In addition to excellent local beers by Coedo Brewery (www.coedobrewery.com/en/), Kawagoe is famous for sweet potatoes in every shape and form as well as unagi (grilled eel), Edo-style sushi, and kaiseki (elegant multicourse meals originally served as part of the tea ceremony). Be sure to try one of Kawagoe’s many traditional “ryotei” for a taste of traditional Kawagoe (www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/ryotei/).
- Tobu Tojo Line (from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe)
Express 31 minutes, 450 yen
- Seibu Shinjuku Line (Seibu Shinjuku to Kawagoe)
Limited Express 43 minutes, 890 yen
- JR Kawagoe Line (Shinjuku to Kawagoe)
Local 60 minutes, 760 yen
Kawagoe Kanetsuki-Street Store
Address: 15-18, Saiwaicho, Kawagoeshi, Saitama Prefecture 350-0063
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Number of seats: 77 (inside the store – 56, terrace – 21)
Tsubaki no Kura
Address: 3-2 Kogacho, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama Prefecture 350-0063
Hours: Weekdays 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, holidays 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
URL: tsubaki-kura.jp/ (Japanese)
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