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Have you ever imagined yourself walking through the narrow streets during Edo Japan in traditional clothing? For options other than the Nikko Edo Wonderland in Kanto, pay a visit to Kawagoe that is only an hour away from Tokyo to enjoy an afternoon in Koedo!
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Kawagoe is well known for its well-preserved buildings from the Edo period; it is not only crowded with visitors now but was also crowded with merchants and workers from all over Japan during the Edo period as a commercial supply town. The buildings you see now at Kawagoe are mostly the ones that survived from the Edo period to the Meiji period and you can even find a meal of Unagi (eel) that can be traced back to the Edo period from when people were not being allowed to consume meat.
The Warehouse District of Kawagoe is one of the most famous sightseeing locations in Japan and also was introduced by many overseas travel magazines; it is known for its Edo architectural style described with the word "Kurazukuri" which means traditional Japanese warehouses built from clay for the safety of valuable supplies. These "Kurazukuri" warehouses are fireproof and hard for intruders to break in; perhaps, these are the reasons many buildings within the area survived until today.
Walking through the main street, you’ll see the Bell Tower that is the landmark of the Warehouse District. It is not only a symbol of Kawagoe but also actually works as a chime clock sounds four times a day: 6:00 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 6:00 pm. The tower was burned down after the Great Kawagoe Fire in 1893 and rebuilt in 1894.
A minute away from the main street is the Candy Alley, "Kashiya Yokocho." As the name of the locations speaks for itself, it is an alley full of candies and savory shops. It started to be filled with sweets shops after the Great Earthquake of 1923 with the shortage of sugar in Tokyo; therefore, there were more than 70 stores in the early Showa period in Kashiya Yokocho but it has decreased to less than 20 stores now. Here, you can find Kurazukuri Monaka, ice cream, roasted sweet potatoes, and more traditional sweets like karinto.
Within a 15-minute walk, you can see the famous Hikawa Shrine known for its power of bringing love, good marriages, and having a 15-meter torii. Hikawa Shrine is said to have a history of 1,500 years. Entering the shrine, other than the famous torii, there is a "tunnel of ema" with emas filled with romantic wishes. From the beginning of July to the beginning of September, there is the exhibition of the "corridor of marriage wind chimes" being one of the most famous summer events in Japan. There are about 2,000 colorful wind chimes and they’re lit up at night to build a fantastical atmosphere. The shrine features a special kind of omikuji (fortune) with the shape of a sea bream fish, called tai in Japanese, for a play on words - "aitai" means wanting to meet someone.
During the Edo Period, it was prohibited to consume meat but consuming vegetables only was not rich enough in nutrition. Therefore, instead of red meat, people started to consume eel for its nutritional value and because Kawagoe is surrounded by land, they caught eels from the Irumagawa and Arakawa rivers. Unaju is a cuisine that glazes grilled tender eel with the unique unagi sauce that is sweet and salty.
Because of the background of Kawagoe being a prosperous merchant town in the Edo period, the high-class cuisine known as “Kaiseki Ryori” has been famous from during that time until the present. “Kaiseki Ryori” is served in a tatami setting and usually with the view of a traditional Japanese garden; the meal is served as a course of beautiful seasonal ingredients without a set menu for the whole year.
Kawagoe is a sweet potato production area for over 250 years; there are various usages of sweet potatoes such as roasted sweet potatoes, sweet potato cheesecakes, sweet potato chips, sweet potato soft-serve, and the famous Imokoi manju known for its chewy and not-too-sweet taste for sweet potato lovers.
COEDO beer is brewed by the local COEDO Brewery. It uses barley from local organic farmers and has a variety of craft beers. Other than IPAs, lagers, and porters, since it is from Kawagoe, it also offers a sweet potato lager made with local sweet potatoes. They also offer a brewery tour at the company's brewery. You can also find COEDO beers in the States!
Three railway companies can be used to get to Kawagoe: Tobu, Seibu, and JR.
With Tobu Tojo Line, you can reach Kawagoe station and Kawagoe-shi Station from Ikebukuro station. It takes about 30-minute by the express train. "Kawagoe Discount Pass" is a discount offer for tourists from overseas only; it is 720 yen for a round trip from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe. The pass also offers discounted admission to some locations in Kawagoe.
With the Seibu Shinjuku Line, it takes approximately 50 to 60 minutes between Hon-Kawagoe station and Seibu Shinjuku Station. If you do not have time on the train for almost an hour, there is also an option of limited express trains that costs 1010 yen for 45-minute.
With JR Saikyo/Kawagoe Line, it costs 770 one way between Kawagoe Station and Shinjuku Station which takes 55 minutes. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, this is free!
Are you getting tired of the tall buildings and the modern city view of Tokyo while traveling? We recommend you Kawagoe as a must-go destination when you are in Tokyo! If you have some extra time in hand, we also would suggest renting a yukata or a kimono to have the perfect Little Edo experience with some of the best sweet potato sweets in hand.
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