the kurazukuri street, a street with old houses, Kitain, a famous temple and the October matsuri.
Access by train
- Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe & Kawagoe-shi (30 minutes by express, leaving from track 2 every 15 minutes, 450 yens).
- Seibu Shinjuku line from Seibu Shinjuku & Takadanobaba to Hon-Kawagoe (about 1 hour, every 15-25 minutes, 480 yens - some limited express, more expensive with reserved seats, are also available)
- JR Saikyo Line from Shinjuku & Ikebukuro to Kawagoe & Kawagoe-shi (53 minutes, every 10-20 minutes, 740 yens)
, official web page in Japanese with abstract in English; comprehensive but not very useful for visitors; see below for more links.
- Daruma Matsuri - 3rd of January at Kitain, thousands of people come to pray at the temple... and buy some daruma
- Kawagoe Matsuri - week-end around the 15th of October, one of the biggest matsuri in the Kanto area with more than 1 million visitors
- Koedo Kawagoe Aki Matsuri - first week of May, a smaller festival in the old part of the town
Kawagoe, which is located 40 kilometers by train north-west from Tokyo, has long been called Little Edo
for its resemblance with Edo (the old name for Tokyo). Although many of the old buildings that made this city famous have burned, there still are a couple of them that attract a large number of Japanese tourists during the week-ends...
Certainly, Kawagoe is not as attractive as Nikko or Kamakura, but it still makes an interesting half-day or even day-trip from Tokyo, as all its interesting spots are within walking distance from the stations.
Kawagoe castle, which was completed in 1457, made the city an important military base for the defense of Edo. Unfortunately, the castle has been completely destroyed - there is no ruin even left. However, the residence of the lord of the castle, Honmaru Goten
(marker 4), still remain, and is worth a visit.
The famous kurazukuri street
(marker 1, from "warehouse", kura 倉) hosts a large number of the 30 storehouses still present in Kawagoe. In the 19th century, more than 300 of similar houses were found in Kawagoe. This typical architecture was choosen because it was supposed to be extremely resistant toward fire. Kawagoe, like Edo, was prone to such disasters, and many of these tick clay-walled fire-resistant houses were built after the Great Fire that destroyed a large part of the town in 1894. On the same spot, the tokinokane
bell tower (16 meters high, marker 2) can also be seen.
This street is really nice; unfortunately, it is not a pedestrian one, so it is packed with car most of the time - and there is barely no place for pedestrian...
Very close to the kurazukuri street (and thus the bell), small shops in the famous kashiya-yokocho
(Candy Lane, marker 3) sell traditional sweets, including many products made of sweet potatoes - from ice cream to beer.
Kawagoe is also an important religious center in Japan. In 830, the monk Ennin founded Muryoju Temple for the worship of Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of Unending Life), divided in three parts: Kitain (喜多院, North Temple), Nakain (Middle Temple), and Minamiin (South Temple, now destroyed). Kitain
(marker 5) is today the head of Tendai Sect (one of the two most important buddhist sects) in the Kanto area. It is worth to pay the 400 yens entrance fee to visit the grounds of the temple. A magnificent garden can also be seen - but unfortunately it is not possible to wander in it; this garden was designed by Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), one of the three masters of the tea ceremony at the beginning of Edo era.
Kitain is famous as the the birthplace of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光, 1604 - 1651, third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty); the room were it is though he was born is located next to the garden, and features a ceiling with floral ornaments. The next room was probably that of his nursemaid, Kosuga no Tsubone, who bacame later a powerful woman living in the Edo Casatle. The importance of Kitain is mostly due to its head priest in the 16th and 17th century, Tenkai (天海, 1536-1643), who was a consultant to the three first Tokugawa shogun.
The text of the pamphlet given at the entrance of the temple can be found here
On the ground of the temple - where for an unknown reason bells should never by rang - a tiny place can be found. There, 540 statues of disciples of Buddha can be seen. Those gohyaku-rakan
(marker 6) statues are said to represent every single human emotion. They were carved between 1782 and 1825. It is really amazing to walk around, and watch closely those faces... One of the legend says that if you walk in that place at night and touch the statues, one of them will be warmer; you should mark it by putting a coin next to it, and come the next day to see which statue represents your actual feelings (practically difficult to do, as the place is closed at night...).
The first 3 days of the year, the temple is packed with Japanese who not only come to pray for the new year, but also to buy some daruma
, a kind of popular doll - the tradition is to paint one pupil of the doll and make a wish, and paint the other one after the wish has been granted.
A little apart, but still on the grounds of Kitain, a smaller temple can be found on a hill (仙波東照宮); it was built in the memory of Tokugawa Iemitsu, at its construction decided when the remains of the shogun where brought to Nikko via Kawagoe. That temples is built in the same style as the Nikko one, a style rarely seen in Japan. That building burned down just a couple of years later, to be immediately rebuilt in 1640, date of the present construction.
When leaving Kitain, walk south for a couple of hundred meters and you will find the smaller Nakain
(marker 7) temple, nicely nested in a quiet garden. Nakain used to the the most influential temple, until this role was transfered to Kitain after Tenkai became the head monk in 1599.
Kawagoe is quite famous for its matsuri
(festival) held in October (on Saturday and Sunday, around the 16th). It is considered as one of the three best festivals in the Kanto area. Tens of thousands gather to see about 25 huge portable shrines carried around the oldest part of the city. Those floats are up to 7 meters tall.
There are several interesting museums in Kawagoe, including a bunch of them dedicated to the history of the town. Especially those are worth a visit even if you just visit Kawagoe as a day trip...
Kawagoe City Museum
The Kawagoe City Museum is built on the former site of Ni-no-maru of the Kawagoe Castle, which itself was completely destroyed. With only one floor, this museum focuses on the development of the town and the constructions still found in Kawagoe. In the first exposition room, there is a beautiful, large maquette of the town as it was at the end of the 19th century. A long corridor continues with details of the kurazukuri street, including its development in the late 19th / early 20th century, when the town was connected to Tokyo by train lines. Some artifacts dating form the 6th and 7th century are also displayed. Finally the last room presents a 1:1 model of a kurazukuri building, allowing to take a close look at the construction style, and a short movie on Kawagoe matsuri.
Entrance fee - 200 yen
Address - 2-30-1 Kuruwa-machi Kawagoe
Opening hours - 9:00-17:00, closed on Monday
Kawagoe is also known for two culinary specialties: satsumai imo
(sweet potato) and unagi
(eel): don't miss the opportunity to taste them during your next visit!
Some restaurants we recommend:
- Big (ビッグ - 大) : Relatively cheap izakaya (count 3000-3500 yens per person with drinks); specialized in fish dishes and yakitori; nice selection of nihon-shu. This chain (they have 6 restaurants in Saitama-ken only) is very popular, and their izakaya are full most of the time. Noisy and lively. Phone : 049-225-5519.
- Umiya (うみ屋) : This izakaya on the second floor serves mostly fish. Huge selection of dishes, excellent quality, cheap prices. Often staff is giving free drink tickets in front of the entrance, so just inquire. Phone : 049-225-6299.
- Bacchus (葉花集) : Very close to the station, this small restaurant is quite recent, and very popular (it's full every evening, so come early, reserve or hope for a seat at the long counter). There are about 100 items on the menu, and the pricing is simple 3 dishes for 1000 yen! Not only it is the cheapest place in town, but also the food is really good! Phone : 049-224-2701.
- Tricycle Cafe : In front of Bacchus, a nice place mixture of a bar and restaurant. Food is based on okura, a derivative of beans; it is basically Western food using Japanese ingredients, and the result is really interesting. Note also the great selection of ume-shu, the best I have seen so far in Japan... Phone : 049-224-3115.
- Unakko (うなっ子) : Located close to the kashiya-yokocho (Candy Lane), this restaurant is specialized in unagi food. Excellent place to have affordable unagi-don for lunch. Web : http://www.kawagoe.com/imozen/unakko.html ; phone : 049-228-0567.
- Imozen (いも膳) : Kaizeki food based on imo (sweet potato). Superb settings and food, from 5250 yens for dinner. Reservation needed. This is a nice place to try upscale japanese food. Web : http://www.kawagoe.com/imozen/konnichi.html ; phone : 049-243-8551.
- Hermitage (エルミタージュ) : Underground, but with a beautiful dining room. Creative italian food, with extremely reasonable menus - this is not the usual pizza-pasta restaurant you would expect (or dread !). One of my favorite non-japanese food restaurant in Kawagoe. Web : http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g860200/ ; phone : 049-243-6607.
: small text on Kawagoe, in English. There is also a pdf pamphlet about Saitama-ken here
: another informative text in English.
Details of attractions in Kawagoe
, a very comprehensive site... in Japanese only.
Koedo Kawagoe Tourist Association
, many information on the most famous spots of the town, in English (as well as other languages).