10 Things to Do in Kawagoe, Tokyo’s Little Edo Town

Photo by aki/Pixta

10 Things to Do in Kawagoe, Tokyo’s Little Edo Town

Affectionately known as Koedo, meaning 'Little Edo', the historic area of Kawagoe was once a bustling merchant town. Kawagoe is filled with traditional architecture and heritage homes, ancient temples and castle ruins. With so much to see and do and just a stone's throw from central Tokyo, a visit to this heritage town is the perfect day trip from the city.

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10 Things to Do in Kawagoe, Tokyo’s Little Edo Town

Hear the Toki no Kane 'Bell of Time'

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The historic Toki no Kane bell tower is Kawagoe's most iconic landmark having stood there for almost 400 years. The tower was rebuilt in 1894 after a disastrous fire, but remained faithful to the old architectural style. Toki no Kane chimes four times a day: 6 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and the sound is listed as one of the "100 Soundscapes of Japan" by the Ministry of the Environment.

Penny Candy Lane, Kashiya Yokocho

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This nostalgic shopping street takes visitors back in time to the early Meiji Period, when Kawagoe was a thriving merchant town. Many of the 20 or so shops that line both sides of the street continue to make sweets and snacks with traditional recipes and methods. During the mid-1920's, the candy-makers here became the main suppliers of candy to the capital, and the area thrived until the end of the Showa Period.

Heritage Warehouses in the Kurazukuri Zone

Photo by Yoshizumi Endo/Flickr

A stroll through the Kurazukuri Zone is the highlight of any trip to Kawagoe. This street is lined with old warehouses and shopfronts used by local merchants over 100 years ago, and is responsible for much of the town's trademark Edo-style charms.

Yamazaki House

Yamazaki House was once the regal residence of a highly successful confectionery owner, designed by one of Japan's first modern architects, Katsuya Yasuoka. The villa was built in 1925 in a blend of European and Japanese architectural styles. Outside, the Japanese tea room overlooks the gardens, which were designated a national monument in 2011.

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

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During the Edo Period, Hikawa Shrine was the main place of worship for Shintoists in the area. The 15-meter high torii gates are some of the tallest in the country, and the antique carvings in the main hall were commissioned around 1849 by the local lord. Since Hikawa Shrine is believed to house the deity of successful marriages, the shrine is a hotspot for couples, and traditional Shinto weddings are commonplace here. The shrine is also known for hosting the Kawagoe Hikawa Festival, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Shopping at Koedo Kurari

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Built in a refurbished sake brewery, Koedo Kurari is an enormous commercial complex housing a restaurant, sake shop, souvenir shop, cafe and an exhibition room for rotating art and culture collections. The structures themselves, built during the Meiji, Taisho and Showa Periods, have been declared Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan. The buildings here have been faithfully restored and maintain most of their original features.

Taisho-Roman Street

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Another of Kawagoe's historic neighborhoods is the Taisho-roman Street. The street's Taisho Era atmosphere has been chosen for many local dramas and movie sets. The Taisho Era (1912-1926) was a prosperous time for many people in Japan, and can be considered the turning point between the old and modern eras.

Honmaru Goten of Kawagoe Castle

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Rebuilt in 1848 by the local daimyo (feudal lord), Matsudaira Naritsune, the Honmaru Goten is the oldest structure in Kawagoe. During the Edo Period, it was part of Kawagoe Castle's innermost defenses, and served as a sort of waiting area for visiting lords. The castle itself and most of the Honmaru Goten were torn down during the Meiji Restoration, but what remains is a treasured part of Kawagoe's feudal history.

Kimono Rental and Jinrickshaw

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The nostalgic atmosphere of Tokyo's Little Edo make traditional cultural activities like kimono rental and jinrickshaw rides popular among visitors. Kawagoe is filled with heritage landmarks like the Kurazukuri Zone and Kashiya Yokocho, where a traditional Japanese kimono seems like the perfect attire.

Kita-in Temple

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Kita-in Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple in all of Saitama. It was historically close to the leaders of the Tokugawa Shogunate, thriving under their protection, and now possesses many precious artifacts which were originally part of Edo Castle in Tokyo (now the Imperial Palace). Its collection of 538 moss-covered statues depicting Buddhist disciples or 'rakan' are a memorable feature.

In Conclusion

Kawagoe is a piece of Japan's history, frozen in time for all to enjoy. Just a stone's throw away from central Tokyo, a trip to this charming heritage town can easily be squeezed into any traveler's itinerary.