Kawagoe, Little Edo 川越市
‘Taisho Romance’ street Kawagoe
The souvenir shops Kawagoe, the small Edo.
Nicknamed the Little Edo, Kawagoe playing an important role in trade and economic decisions in Tokyo.
The architecture of Kawagoe, located about thirty minutes from the capital
Credit: Naoto Takai
Little Edo: A Day Trip from Tokyo
Discover buildings through various periods in Japanese history, from the time of the Tokugawa shogun to warehouses from the Meiji period as well as the architecture of the Taisho era. Explore the streets of "Little Edo", the name given to Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture, and experience Japan of yesteryear, only 30 minutes from Tokyo.
KAWAGOE: A CITY OF THE EDO ERA
Founded in 1457, the city, located northwest of the capital, became a strategic location for the defense of Edo (the old name of Tokyo) and Edo Castle. In order to ensure the protection of the Kawagoe stronghold, the powerful Tokugawa shogun installed some of their close advisers in Kawagoe Castle, also built in 1457. Today, only the main house, Honmaru Goten, remains of this building, rebuilt in 1848 and is a museum.
Kawagoe also prospered through the trade of goods transported along the Shingashi river and the Kawagoe-kaidoki road which linked the fortress to the capital.
PLACES TO SEE IN KAWAGOE
The main street, Ichibangai, and the streets of the Kurazukuri no Machinami district (the warehouse district) attest to the city's prosperity. With their concentration of kura, warehouses with thick walls and roofs covered with heavy tiles built to resist fire, that were built during the Meiji era (1868-1912) by wealthy merchants of Kawagoe. There are only around 30 left, seventeen of which have been declared "important cultural property", the rest having perished in a great fire in 1894. They now house cafes, restaurants and even museums.
The "Taisho Romance" street is lined with houses from the Taisho era (1912-1926), inspired the Western style houses. Very picturesque, it often serves as a setting for films or television series.
Emblem of the city, the bell tower, toki no kane ("the bell of time") recalls ancient times by ringing four times a day.
Kawagoe is also famous for its "confectionery street", Kashiya-yokocho, where traditional confectionery stores are concentrated. In some stores, confectioners can be seen making candies and barley sugars as they used to be made. Besides sweets, there are also all kinds of sweet potato treats, the regional specialty.
TEMPLES AND SHRINES TO SEE IN KAWAGOE
Kita-In, the main temple in the city, was founded in 830 by the monk Ennin, of the Tendai Buddhist sect. Kita-In, the main temple in the city, was founded in 830 by the monk Ennin, of the Tendai Buddhist sect. Destroyed by fire in 1205, it was rebuilt in 1298, then took on great importance in the 17th century when it was placed under the protection of the Tokugawa shoguns. The temple also contains part of the remains of Iyeyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).
The temple also contains part of the remains of Iyeyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).
- Read also: The Edo period (1603-1868)
Kita-in temple and its five hundred Gohyaku stone statues of Buddha's disciples
Shinto shrine in Kawagoe
In 1638, the temple was again reduced to ashes. The third shogun, Iemitsu Tokugawa, had some buildings from Edo Castle brought in for reconstruction. The latter having been completely destroyed during the Second World War, these buildings are now the only vestiges of Edo Castle. Connected to the temple by a long covered passage, these buildings house works of art and objects that belonged to the Tokugawa clan. From the passageways, you can contemplate the magnificent temple garden. A belfry and a small pagoda are also part of the estate. North of the compound, the famous Gohyakurakan Garden, the "500 disciples of Buddha", houses 540 statues constructed between 1782 and 1825. Each of these stone sculptures has a unique expression.
- Read more: Buddhism, a religion in Japan
Naka-in is another temple built in 828 by the monk Ennin. Smaller than Kita-in, it is a charming place famous for its magnificent garden tinged with pink when cherry blossoms arrive. The temple is said to be the origin of tea cultivation in Kawagoe and Saitama Prefecture. Ennin is said to have grown tea plants there as medicinal plants. A tea house, Fusentei, hosts tea ceremonies.
The Senba Toshogu Shinto Shrine, located a little further from Kita-In, is one of the three most important Toshogu Shrines, closely linked to the Tokugawa clan. Perched at the top of a hill, you can only admire it through the fence. But it is still worth the trip, to admire its carved pillars and for the serenity of the place.
- Also read: Nikko Toshogu, the shogun mausoleum
North of the city, the main Shinto shrine, Hikawa, welcomes visitors with its 15-meter-high wooden Torii (one of the tallest in Japan). Dedicated to the "god of marriage", it attracts many couples. Many Shinto weddings are celebrated there throughout the year.
Young ladies wearing a kimono in a street of Kawagoe
Each district Kawagoe manufactures its own tank to challenge others in the course of Kawagoe Matsuri.
FESTIVITIES IN KAWAGOE
Each year, on the third Saturday and Sunday in October, the city vibrates to the sound of traditional instruments and giant floats strolled through the city, perpetuating a celebration dating back over three centuries, Kawagoe Matsuri, declared an "Important intangible traditional cultural property " in 2005.