Located in Saitama prefecture, just a half hour north of Tokyo via Tobu Tojo Railway, the city of Kawagoe (pop. 351,000) is a former merchant town whose old quarter's architecture includes a number of centuries-old wooden buildings such as its iconic Toki no Kane bell tower, once used by locals to tell time (though the current version dates from 1893, rebuilding the 400-year-old original after the "Great Kawagoe Fire."
This streetscape is designated by the Japanese government as a "Traditional Architectures Preservation District." Other landmarks/attractions include Kawagoe Castle, from feudal times; temples and shrines such as 1,500-year-old Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine and 1,200-year-old Kitain Temple (head temple of a Buddhist sect called Tendai); and the 540 Gohyaku Rakan Statues of the disciples of Buddha, each with its own unique facial expression.
Festivals are an especially enjoyable way to experience this old quarter. Famous for its colorful, ornate floats, the 370-year-old Kawagoe Festival will be held the weekend of October 20-21. The Kawagoe Festival Museum near the belltower displays the floats during the rest of the year, and it's also equipped with a massive screen for a simulated experience of the live event.
The 1,500 year-old Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine hosts the Matchmaking Festival, this year fromSaturday July 7 through Sunday September 9. With two sets of married deities enshrined, the shrine has been historically worshiped for "matrimonial happiness," "happiness in the family," and for matchmaking. During the festival period, the shrine is further decorated with over 2,000 colorful Edo wind chimes.
A great way to experience both festivals, summer fireworks -- or really, any time for a back-in-time feel, is to dress in yukata - a light cotton kimono! These can be rented at kimono shop Vivian for 2160 yen (tax included) per day (additional cost for overnight use.)
When it comes to cuisine, eels and sweet potatoes are local favorites, an especially popular example of the latter being sweet-potato chips served with salt and dip such as those served at Koedo Osatsu-An (463 yen + tax). There's also Imokoi, a confection containing sweet potato and smooth red bean paste, at Umon (167 yen+ tax). Another local delight is Kawagoe matcha green tea powder, which is used in Kawagoe Matcha Warabi-Mochi. A box set of this traditional firm jelly (250g) is available at Sawawa for 500 yen (+ tax). You can find all of this and more on and near the popular Candy Alley, featuring about some confectionery stores selling traditional Japanese candies.
Furthermore, there's also a Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium which makes getting here from Tokyo's Ikebukuro Station even easier and more affordable. Here's what it covers:
● Round-trip train travel between Tobu Tojo Line's Ikebukuro Station and Kawagoe or Kawagoe-shi Station.
● Unlimited rides on the Koedo Loop "Hop-on, Hop-off" buses that connect tourist sites such as Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine and the Warehouse District to Kawagoe Station.
● Discounts at ten restaurants, confectioneries, and souvenir shops in the Kawagoe area, including: Tsuchikane Folk Arts store; Yamaya, Torokko and Unakko restaurants; Nagamine-en green tea shop; Vivian - a Koedo Kawagoe kimono-rental shop; Inabaya home-made sweet shop; and historic confectionaries Umon (Ichibangai and Toki no Kane locations), Tamariki Seika (still making the same traditional flavors for over 100 years), and Kameya (main store and Motomachi store), this last a 230-year-old shop, confectionery and gallery, selling sweet potato snacks, including purple sweet potato flavored soft-serve ice cream.
For more information on sightseeing spots in Kawagoe via Tobu Railways, visit its website.
For more information about other visitor experiences using Tobu Railways Ltd, click here.
Kawagoe Festival Video: https://youtu.be/WPUTmnBnD9o