As most of you know, I live in the lovely rural community of Hidaka, in Saitama Prefecture, and I am about 1h30 by train away from the bustling and lively capital, Tokyo. Although little is known about my city, there is one popular tourist destination nearby: the city of Kawagoe (roughly 30min by train from Hidaka).
Kawagoe is a bustling city of approx. 350 000 people that is seemingly divided in half: one part of the city is modern and enticing with hundreds of fashionable shops, cafés and restaurants; the other half seems to be trapped in a time capsule of Edo Japan (i.e., from 1603 to 1867). Even though I love a good shopping spree as much as the next fashion-obsessed foreigner, I have a deep love and fascination for all things cultural and ancestral.
Needless to say, I spend most of my free time here, gazing at the same old buildings and walking down the same cobblestone-lined streets. However, something magical pulls you in every time you visit Kawagoe.
「時の鐘」- Bell Tower
My personal favourite, the Bell Tower is a highly popular area to visit in Koedo. You can be sure to see several tourists snapping pictures of the infamous wooden structure.
The bell tower is famous for being an landmark remnant of the Edo period in Kawagoe. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 1800s and has stood proud ever since. The tower stands guard at the entrance to a shrine, nestled between old buildings. The bell’s chime is a real treat, and can be heard a few times during the day. It’s crystal clear sound resounds throughout Koedo and is a nice and subtle reminder of its existence.
This road, which follows straight from the train station and all the way through Koedo, is lined with Edo-style warehouses, now turned into shops specializing in various goods. Some of these buildings are blackened with soot, a reminder of the great fire that destroyed half of Kawagoe in one shot.
Exploring these shops is definitely the highlight of going to the warehouse district. Here you can find traditional pottery makers, tea shops and art galleries specializing in local folk art. The Kawagoe Matsuri Museum can also be found in this part of town and, for 300円, a visit is worthwhile.
You might be surprised to come across huge plastic models of animals engaging in martial arts, or eating with chopsticks. These odd statues can be found scattered around Koedo, and hinting them down is only half as fun as snapping their pictures.
No one can be sure of their meaning, or why they’re even there to begin with, be they are most certainly interesting to see.
Of course, what journey through the Edo period would be complete without a short (or long) stop at a shrine? Luckily, Koedo is home to several shrines, each catering to different crowds of worshippers and admirers alike. Naturally, the Bell Tower houses a small but homely shrine where sweet-potato based goods are sold on cold crisp days.
Another interesting stop is along the warehouse street, in an cobblestone alley way that leads away from the main road and opens up into a wide complex.
Being a fan of temples and shrines myself, I naturally have stopped here several times, and taken hundreds of pictures (of possibly the same thing) for my personal viewing pleasures.
If ever you’re in the neighbourhood, or you have nothing to do on a nice sunny weekend, swing by Kawagoe and visit the old part of town. Come enjoy numerous sweet potato goods, purple ice cream and incredible history and culture!