by Zoe Mackey
About a month into my four month stay in Japan, I was looking for a day escape from Tokyo’s fast paced buzz. I stumbled upon a town called Kawagoe, located in Saitama Prefecture, and within short reach from Tokyo’s central hub. About 30 minutes from Ikebukuro Station on the Tobu Tojo Line or about an hour on the Seibu Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station, Kawagoe has retained the old Edo Period character and aesthetic, as many of the old style merchant storehouses line the street and sell a variety of goods and snacks.
An interesting duality exists in Kawagoe. Strolling down the nostalgic Kurazukuri Street provides a small glimpse into the historical Edo charm, while modern century cars drive by and stop at various traffic lights. Old Japan meets new as you venture in and out of the many clay-walled stores and restaurants, munching on senbei (rice crackers) and soft serve matcha ice cream. Traditional Japanese souvenirs and merchandise can be bought and admired along this street, including ceramics and pottery embroidered with Japanese art, tenugui (cotton hand towel), and embellished lacquered chopsticks.
Kawagoe also has a number of temples and shrines to visit. Along Kurazukuri Street, multiple cobblestone side streets will lead you to different temples. These quiet, spiritual sites are just seconds from the bustling street. I happened to find a small koi pond at a temple’s entrance. You can tell how much attention these fish receive by the way they swarm when you’re close to the water. Various other temples and shrines can be found outside of Kurazukuri Street. Handy maps are spread throughout the town, often in English with pictures for reference, aiding tourists trying to find the many notable spots of Kawagoe.
Another point of interest in Kawagoe’s Warehouse District, near Kurazukuri Street, is Candy Alley, or Kashiya Yokochō. The name alone is sure to attract anyone with a sweet tooth, or anyone looking for dessert after a meal. It’s a great place to stock up on traditional sweets only found in Japan, especially to bring home to friends and relatives. On this small street, stores sell several treats and snacks, including Japanese candies, ice cream, and cakes with different fillings. Looking at all the colorful candies and treats, you will feel like a kid again, only this time no one is stopping you from indulging in every sweet you want (except, maybe, your guilty conscience).
I highly suggest making it a point to visit Kawagoe, even for just a short day or half day trip. The lively Edo seen in movies, paintings, and written about in literature comes to life in this small, quaint town. But be sure to start your day in Kawagoe earlier in the afternoon or around late morning, as most if not all the shops close at 5:00pm.
Access: From Hon-Kawagoe station the walk to Kawagoe’s Warehouse District, or Kurazukuri no Machinami, takes about 10-15 minutes, or alternatively 20-25 minutes from Kawagoe Station. The best route is to take the Seibu Shinjuku Line to Hon-Kawagoe station and walk the short distance from there. I arrived at Kawagoe Station and walked quite a length to the main Warehouse District, as opposed to the shorter walk from Hon-Kawagoe Station.
Zoe Mackey is a native New Yorker and college student currently studying in Tokyo. Her greatest inspirations are street fashion, lazy Sundays, and science fiction. You’ll more than likely find her taking amateur photos and looking for the best food in Tokyo. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.