Kawagoe is a small city in Saitama Prefecture situated in central Kanto, Japan. It is known as “Little Edo” because it still has many intact historical buildings & was a supplier of commodities to Tokyo (Ed0) during the Edo Period (1603-1867). In December 1999 the old core of Kawagoe was designated a Historic Preservation District. Walking around Kawagoe’s Warehouse District (Kurazukuri no Machinami) is like going back in time.
Hozenji Temple is a Buddhist temple situated on Saiwaicho in Kawagoe. If you can spare the time, you might want to visit the Semba Toshogu Shrine built in 1633 on the south side of Kita-in Temple. During 1616, a 4-day Buddhist memorial service was held by High priest Tenkai Sojyo at Kita-in Temple, when the remains of the 1st Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu passed through Kawagoe en route from Shizuoka to Nikko Mountain.
Japanese made items like socks, cotton towels, snacks, handkerchiefs & zori make attractive gifts. Japanese sandals (Zori) used to be made of rice straw or other plant fibres, cloth, lacquered wood, leather, rubber & increasingly… synthetic materials. Zori like flip-flops are commonly worn in summer & the choice of what kimono or zori to wear is affected by the formality of the occasion. For formal wear the white tabi socks is worn with the zori.
Prior to the Great Kawagoe Fire of 1893, most buildings were constructed of wood making them vulnerable. The wealthy merchants in Kawagoe could afford it & decided to build fire resistant houses & warehouses in “Kurazukuri-style” with multiple-layered 18cm thick walls & black plaster roofs.
Traditional shop along the main street which sells all kinds of preserved white radish (Daikon) products. It is the most popular vegetable in Japan & both the root & leaves of the daikon are eaten throughout the year in various ways; raw, pickled, as sprouts, dried & simmered…& most commonly grated (daikon oroshi) as a condiment to meat & fish dishes & also as a refreshing addition to tempura sauce & soba noodle soups. This practice started in the Edo Period (1603-1868) as it was thought to aid digestion. It turns out that Daikon is indeed an excellent source of digestive enzymes diatase, amylase & esterase which is best absorbed when the Daikon is grated.
Kawagoe is also known as the City of Sweet Potatoes (Imo) & from a long time ago, they were roasted & eaten as a snack by the common people. During & after the war when food was scarce, the sweet potato became an important staple. Nowadays, the humble sweet potato has undergone an evolution & various potato kaiseki dishes, potato soba noodles, potato udon noodles & potato desserts are available. My cheery model holds up a box of sweet potato confectionery.
If you are going to Candy Alley(Kashiya Yokocho) keep walking down the lane when you see these signboards. You can perhaps guess what businesses the shops down the alley are doing at a glance.
Walking westwards from Koedo Yokocho, we come to this junction where there is a whole row of dignified warehouse-like shops like this one. Candy Alley is very close by.
Many houses in Japan share the same addresses; so to help the postman deliver mail to the correct persons, new house owners would usually have a name plate (Hyousatsu) placed strategically at the gate post or front door. This one here says ‘West’ – Nishi in Kanji & I love the Pieris japonica or Japanese andromeda plant that adorns front of this house.
Penny Candy Alley (Kashiya Yokocho) is a famous alley lined with 22 traditional-style Japanese candy shops & the whiff of sweets in the making is sure to bring nostalgia & delight to both the young & old. Unfortunately, we got there late & they were all closed by 5pm.
Kashiya Yokocho had it’s early beginnings during the Meiji Period when a man named Suzuki Tozaemon started making candy in front of Yojuin Temple. After the Great Kanto Earthquake that damaged Tokyo in 1923, Kawagoe became the main producer & supplier of confectionery.
A sweet arrangement of Violas in 2 shades, Purple Osteospermums & Tulips – floral greetings at the door!
At the Fudano tsuji junction we were greeted by beautiful, clear blue skies which was a welcome change after a week of gloomy weather in Okinawa. The Kurazukuri Zone stretches along Chuo Dori Street from the junction of Nakacho to Fudano tsuji.
Kinbue (Fueki Shoyu Kawagoe) is a historic artisan soy sauce manufacturer in Kawagoe set in a stunning Kurazukuri house. They sell a great variety of soy sauces that are paired with different Japanese cuisine & finding the right sauce for your sashimi can up the gastronomic adventure by leaps & bounds.
The Bell Tower (Toki no Kane) is a landmark & symbol of Kawagoe. It tells time & chimes 4 times daily at 6am, 12pm noon, 3pm & 6pm in the evening. This tower rebuilt in 1894 after the Great Kawagoe Fire of 1893 is now under renovation, so you will not be able to hear the bells ringing for a bit.
Miniature Chirimen (Crepe fabric) crafted rocking toys that enthralled the child in me!
Simplicity, elegance, good craftsmanship & tidy displays high on aesthetics that makes you want to part with some of your moolah!
A range of Chirimen (Crepe fabric) figurines catered for the Children’s Day celebrations (Kodomo no Hi) which is a National holiday on May 5 & also the 5th day of the Golden Week holidays in Japan. It was designed a national holiday by the Japanese government in 1948 to celebrate children’s personalities & their happiness. On this day, families raise carp-shaped Koinobori flags (legend venerates how a carp swimming upstream turned into a dragon). The Black carp (Magoi) represents the father, the Red Carp (Higoi) the mother & the Blue carp typically the son. Additional carps are added for each subsequent child with colours & positions denoting their relative age.
Each Kurazukuri construction is unique in look from the others & is fireproof, theft-proof & apparently earthquake-proof too; as these centuries-old buildings have proven & withstood the test of time & the elements.
Freshly handmade Rice crackers “Okaki” which is made from dried mochi (pounded glutinous rice) which is roasted on a hot flat iron grill to a perfect crunch & seasoned with soy sauce or other flavours like seaweed, chilli etc. I took the challenge & had a fiery, chilli pepper one which was nice & hot (karai) but I would not recommend it for just about anyone unless you consume hot peppers everyday like I do.
We decided on having an early dinner at this little restaurant along the Kurazukuri stretch before continuing on our drive to Nikko where we were spending the next 2 nights.
My Teishoku (set meal) of Smoked Salmon with Sweet Potatoes on the rice, Braised Bamboo shoots, Carrots & Konnyaku (Konjac), Preserved Red Cabbage & Daikon, 2 delicious Matcha Mochi with Red bean (Azuki bean) fillings, a tiny cup of chilled Green tea & Miso soup. They love their sweet potatoes in Kawagoe!
This is a vegan Udon (Thick wheat flour noodle) meal with braised carrots, bamboo shoots & mock pork slices in a tasty Shoyu (Soy based) soup. Our dinner was made more memorable by the friendly staff & we chatted in spite of my limited Japanese proficiency.
My Kawagoe experience was a good one & though there was not sufficient time to do & see more on the “To Do List” in Little Edo; I am sure a repeat visit in future would be highly probable as Kawagoe is only a stone’s throw away from Tokyo & if you are driving it is easily reached within an hour or 30mins by train.