Discover Old Tokyo at Kawagoe
Take a step back in time and discover what life was like in old Tokyo more than a century ago.
Kawagoe is a small town in Saitama Prefecture that makes a great day trip from the hustle and bustle of modern day Tokyo. The town is located only a short 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo.
Kawagoe is a former castle town that has been nicknamed “Little Edo” (小江戸), after the old name for Tokyo (Edo). It certainly lives up to its name with historic kura (warehouse) lined streets and traditional shops.
Kawagoe’s most famous sight is the Toki-no-Kane (Bell of Time). The original clock tower was built in 1624 with the current structure dating from 1894. It was rebuilt after the Great Kawagoe Fire of 1893 destroyed the original. The tower is impressive at three-stories and measuring 16 meter in height. It is a symbol of the city and has been telling time to local residents for more than 350 years now. You can hear the bell ring four times a day (6 am, 12 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm).
After checking out the clock tower take a short stroll over to Kashiya Yokocho, a small stone-paved backstreet alley famous for its traditional sweet shops. Here you will find nostalgic bags and boxes of old-fashioned Japanese sweets. It is usually packed with people trying to enjoy a taste of the early Showa Period (1926-1989). Adults can feel nostalgic with sweets from their childhood, while children will have fun discovering unfamiliar traditional style sweets.
Kawagoe is also famous for its delicious sweet potatoes and you can find many Japanese sweets here made from local sweet potato.
My favourite part of the town is Kurazukuri Street, which is a street lined with traditional Japanese warehouses constructed in a style called kurazukuri (蔵造り). This style features clay-walled warehouse-style buildings with an Edo architecture flavour. This is the part of town where you will really feel like you have taken a step back to the Edo Period of Japan. Many of the warehouses here date from the 18th and 19th century and allow you to see and experience the life of Edo merchants. You can find many artisan shops here specializing in traditional wares. I recommend Machikan, a sword and knife manufacturer who has been in operation here for many generations.
Photo: Yoshizumi Endo on Flickr
While you are walking around Kawagoe enjoying the sights, don’t forget to look under your feet as you might spot one of these beautiful Kawagoe manhole covers. They feature the historic clock tower which is such a big part of the city’s landscape.
One of the best times to visit Kawagoe is during the Kawagoe Festival on the third weekend of October. The festival features huge colourful floats which are paraded through the town. The festival is one of Japan’s most important and has been designated a “National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property”.
Kawagoe is an old town that retains the culture, history and atmosphere of Edo, just a short trip away from modern day Tokyo. It is a town that allows you to taste and see the traditional part of Japan that is getting rarer to find.
Website (in English): http://www.koedo.or.jp/
Kawagoe is only 30 minutes from Tokyo. You can take an express train on the Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe in 31 minutes and costs 450 yen.