Thursday 7 August 2014

Little Edo (Koedo) - Kawagoe

CNN named Kawagoe "The Most Japanese Destination" in 2012, and after today, it's hard for me to disagree.  Kawagoe is actually one of the oldest towns in the Kanto region and the city has preserved areas in the old style.   In the seventeenth century, Kawagoe became more important as a Shogun (Feudal Lord) moved in to the area and built his castle there.  It is only 50 minutes by train from central Tokyo (Shibuya), it is quite easy to get there.

I had been planning to visit Kawagoe for a long time.  I was actually on the train going there in December last year when I saw a message on the train TV saying the train that goes to Kawagoe was suspended (not the one that I was on, but one that I would have to transfer to.....) so I changed my mind and went to Shinatatsu Ramen Street instead.  It had always been my intention to visit and recently a friend, Masae, and her family moved to Kawagoe.  Masae's husband Hiroaki is a Kawagoe native and they offered to show me around when I went there.  I had a three day weekend this weekend and after a few quick messages, it was organised, I would meet them and look around Kawagoe.

I started out from my house early (for me) in the morning and the day was already quite hot.

Japanese summers are quite tropical in that they are hot and humid (I didn't know when I left home, but the temperature was going to hit 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) with almost 80% humidity) and I am not a hot weather guy, but this was Kawagoe, so I was going to endure the conditions and have a great day!

I met Masae, Hiroaki and their beautiful daughter Akari at Kawagoe station.  I jumped into their car and said hello to Akari in Japanese and she started crying (good one Jason!).  I switched to English and she suddenly stopped!  Okay, English it was for the rest of the day with her!

First stop for the day was the historic Kitain Temple to get Masae and Hiroaki's new car purified.

Kitain Temple was built in 830 A.D.  It was burned down during fighting in 1205 and rebuilt in 1298.  Kitain temple also is home to some buildings from Edo Castle (home to the current Imperial Palace).  Due to the damage suffered by Tokyo from the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, these are the only buildings that remain from Edo Castle.  Quite a long history indeed.

I had a quick look around the temple grounds that we were in and it was very spacious compared to the ones back in Tokyo.

The main temple itself,

and a nice little pagoda inside the temple grounds.

Next we had a look at the part of the temple that is comprised of the remains of Edo Castle.  The entry fee is 400 yen, but worth every yen!  These were the last photos I took of this part of the temple as photos inside this building are not allowed.

The garden outside the building,

and an information sign outside.

It is a real shame that I wasn't able to take photos, because the inside was beautiful, and on the other side of the building there was an sensational garden.  Also, just like Ni-jo castle in Kyoto it had a floor that was designed to chirp like a nightingale bird to warn the shogun that someone was approaching.  Walking around on this floor, I had the same silly grin on my face as I had walking around Ni-jo castle last year.  It is incredible the sound that the floorboards make!

At this stage, the purification ceremony for the car was about to take place so Masae, Hiroaki and Akari joined that ceremony, I wandered off to explore the temple grounds some more.  Walking behind the temple I came across the Daimyo graves.  This is the final resting place of five of the Shoguns that ruled Kawagoe in the 18th and 19th century.

Wandering around a little more I came across this.

It required a little more investigation so I walked around closer and discovered a little Japanese garden area with a shrine on an elevated island in the middle with a little bridge to cross to get to it.

Beautiful and something I had not seen before at any other temple I had visited.  A lot of people say that you can only see so many temples before you've seen everything.  I disagree!  Look closely enough and each temple and shrine has it's own unique aspects.

I walked across to the other side of the temple grounds and saw something astonishing behind some gates.

They were behind a locked gate and I walked around the enclosure a couple of times but couldn't find a way in.  I was so disappointed as this looked quite amazing.

I walked back over to where the purification ceremony was taking place and it was still continuing so I bought a beer from the kiosk on the temple grounds and sat back in the shade to enjoy it.

Pretty soon the ceremony was over and Masae and Hiroaki came over and I told them about the statues I had see.  "Don't worry" Masae said, "Our tickets for the castle get us in there".  Great!!!!

We went to a little ticket box and the man explained in English that there are 538 statues in the enclosure that represent the disciples of Buddha.  Of the 538, there are 12 that also have the animal symbols of the signs of the Chinese zodiac.  He explained that if you can find the statue that represents your own sign of the zodiac and rub it, it will bring you great luck.  My sign is the wild boar and just as we were about to enter he said to me quietly "If you can't find it, I can give you a hint.......".  Determined to find it myself we entered and walking around once, we realised the size of the challenge that was ahead of us.  There were statues everywhere!!

We found a few animals, but not my boar or Hiroaki's tiger.  We went back out to have another look at the pictures and re-entered the enclosure and soon found the tiger.  We still couldn't find the boar, and Masae and I were just about to give up when Hiroaki called out to us.  We rushed over, and there it was!

I gave it's head a good rub

and now, let the great luck begin!

Mission accomplished, we got back into the car and drove off toward the old part of Kawagoe.  We arrived and started walking and pretty soon the old buildings started appearing.

I mentioned to Hiroaki how nice they looked and he said "Oh, we're not there yet!".  What, it was going to get better?  You bet it was!

Walking around a couple of corners and we saw this.......

Incredible..........The feeling walking along these streets was completely different, but just as amazing as walking along the preserved streets of Takayama.  Walking the preserved area of Takayama, it felt like I was in a historical museum.  Kawagoe, on the other hand, represented what truly amazes me about Japan.  I always say that I love the contrast of the old, traditional Japan living comfortably next to the new, modern Japan, and here was a perfect example in front of me.  Three hundred year old buildings lined the streets while cars and buses drove past them.  This was the ultimate example that I had seen so far on my travels.

Turning another corner we saw one of the most famous sights of Kawagoe, the Time Bell Tower.

The bell in the tower is rung four times daily (and has been since the early Edo period, in the 1600's) at 6am, 12pm, 3pm and 6pm to inform residents of the time and it's sound has been selected of one of the "one hundred soundscapes of Japan".

After all of that walking, we found ourselves in an area with a few restaurants and selected one to have lunch in.

We were taken to our seats next to a window that overlooked a beautiful waterfall that was cascading into a little pond with some carp swimming around in it.

Lunch came, chicken skin kamameshi (a rice dish cooked in a metal pot), and disappeared pretty quickly too.

Sweet potato is one of the famous products produced in the Kawagoe area along with Unagi (freshwater eel) and coming out of the restaurant we saw desert........sweet potato ice cream!!

Now, I know what you are thinking, but it actually tasted good!!

I tell you, there is one person that I would not have wanted to be on such a hot day like it was.  This guy!

Even he looks like he doesn't want to be him!  I can't imagine having to run around pulling people and being cheerful in 37 degrees!!

Now, I'm not sure, but I think wearing one of these would be pretty hot and tiring too.......

The next place we arrived at was called "Cat House".

On such a hot day, I didn't expect to see a lot of cats, but there was one out enjoying the sun,

but there were a whole lot of spiders......

A little further on there was a big chameleon telling people that if they throw 5 yen into his little pond, their relationship would grow stronger.  I'm single so I kept my wallet in my pocket.

And then there was this.

I'm not sure what he / she was telling people to do.

Next we came to a little street called "Candy Street".  Both sides of the street were lined with candy shops selling all sorts of sweet things.

One final place we went to was the Kawagoe Festival Museum but I'm not going to write too much about that here as I do plan to go back to Kawagoe in October when the festival is on to see it and write about it then.  The festival will be held on the 18th and 19th of October.

Walking back to the car we walked past (and into) a knife shop.  Now Japan is famous for the quality of it's knives and katanas (swords) so I stopped to take a couple of photos as a friend back in Australia loves Japanese knives.

Those two knives by themselves down on the bottom left hand side of the display, can you guess how much they are worth?...........give up?

Over $1,000 each!!!  I just can't understand.......I guess chefs will pay that kind of money for top quality knives.

Almost back to the car, Hiroaki pointed out one last scene that needed to have a photo taken of it.

It just kind of summed up Kawagoe.  Simply beautiful.

Thanks again for reading, and thanks so much to Masae, Hiroaki and Akari for showing me around Kawagoe.  Stay tuned for the October update on the Kawagoe festival.

Until next time, bye.


  1. Hi Jason,once again a very interesting selection of photos and script to back them up.Like you. I enjoy these historic small towns.I am wondering if the town is by a river as 'kawa' indicates it could be.So close to Tokyo!.With such a hot summer in Nihon,have you found a little island to hangout on weekends,with a nice white sandy beach, a cafe and perhaps some walking trails through the forest.Pt.Lincoln is about to enter another stage of development,which will employ 2000 people.Good news for the old home town of yours!No doubt you will be kept well informed.Wallaroo,where I lived for a time is going ahead.Always expected it would one day, as it always had great potential and it's North Beach is a real gem.Saw the Crows last Sat. at the new oval stadium.Well worth a visit.The city was packed around noon,so great for businesses close by.Fletcher missing this Frid. night again.Starting to wonder about this.Is it really a fitness thing?A must win against Richmond.By the way,have you converted any nihon jin tomodachi to Aussie Rules and have you a footy you can kick around the park with your friends.Snow at Mt.Lofty last week and other places in Sth.Aust....but very little.Well Jason,keep up the good work and all the best in Tokyo with work etc.Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      you are right, the kanji in Kawa (川) does mean river so I checked and the Shingashigawa River runs nearby the town.
      It is funny that you mention islands. Not yet, but watch this space (hopefully in a couple of months.....) Most of the beaches around and nearby Tokyo do not have the white sand that we are used to. A good friend here in Tokyo who actually spent 6 months in Adelaide a couple of years ago recently remarked that we Australians are spoiled to have so many good beaches everywhere!
      I hadn't heard about any new development in Lincoln so I checked and saw the news about the new development. That is good news. Another string in Lincoln's bow.
      How is Adelaide Oval? I have only seen photos of it since completion. How is the atmosphere now? I saw the Bomber's score tonight. That doesn't help us. I have introduced Aussie Rules to some students. They all have no idea that it even exists and are amazed when they see videos of it and even more amazed when I tell them that there is an amateur league in Japan! Unfortunately I don't have a ball with me. I also don't know if this aging body could kick it around too much anymore (although I did have a hit of cricket recently. Having said that, I did strain my hammy doing so......)
      Good to hear from you again Noel. Take care.

    2. Jason,one can enter the oval for free during the week and wander around to some extent.Entering from the River Bank End next to the tennis courts,you can still see the spires of the cathedral and the old scoreboard,the hill and trees as before.So,it still feels much like the oval we use to know.The Eastern Gate which most of us would be familiar with,has completely changed.Once you pass through the turnstiles it is a buzz of activity.Stairs,lifts,escalators..etc. etc.I sat in the Gavin Wanganeen stand on the north eastern side,looking over the half forward flank.I was at the lowest level on the highest deck,The view is excellent,but you still need A1 vision to see the River Bank end of the ground.Certainly the noise level is higher than at West Lakes...I suspect it would be higher at the River Bank end behind the goals.The Dons won the stats.but made some silly errors and were at times unfortunate.Heppell and Ryder continue to play well,but Daniher in particular was useless.Needs to go back to the VFL.Things are looking grim now and finals hopes are fading.Dewa mata,noel.