When I think of the countries I want to go back to when Japan is safe again, Japan is at the top of my list. I spent a wonderful week there in 2016, was in Kyoto and Tokyo and visited Nara and Nikko on day trips. One target that wasn’t even on my radar at the time was Kawagoe. But after talking to travel blogger Noel Cabacungan about why he loves this ancient city, I’m sure that a day trip from Tokyo to Kawagoe will be on my next Japan itinerary.
Noel, a travel blogger at Soldier tripshas a sister who lives in Kawagoe, Japan. He has been visiting the city since 2004. Kawagoe is a small town with beautifully preserved 400 year old architecture. Kawagoe is located in Saitama Prefecture and is only 30-45 minutes by train from Tokyo.
Thank you for coming to me, Noel! What do you love about Kawagoe, Japan? What makes it special for you?
Kawagoe is one of the many places in Japan where the architectural features of the old times are preserved, especially the traditional elements of the Edo period (1603-1868). As a traveler who is particularly interested in unique architecture and history, Kawagoe easily became my favorite city in the country.
But one of the main aspects that make Kawagoe so special is that the main tourist locations are within walking distance. Being near Tokyo would make visiting Kawagoe very easy when you arrive in the capital.
I love the sound of it! What is your absolute favorite place in Kawagoe?
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is my favorite place in the city. The temple itself can easily be outshone by any other building or landmark in the city, but the fact that the place hosts five great Shinto deities, two of whom are considered couples, makes this place special.
A few deities that give love spells and spiritual blessings? Sign me up for it!
If a traveler had only 24 hours in Kawagoe, what places would you tell him that he absolutely must not miss?
There are four main areas of interest in Kawagoe: Kurazukuri no Machinami (old warehouse district), Kawagoe Hikawa Sanctuary, Kawagoe Castle Ruins and Kitain Temple. However, if you are really pressed for time, you should definitely visit the Old Warehouse District.
As CNN Travel has described, this is the most authentic historical site in all of Japan. It houses several historical landmarks such as the Toki no Kane (bell of the time tower), the symbol of Kawagoe, and the mud-walled warehouses where the traditional elements of service and architectural style are still preserved. It is also considered one of the 100 historical sites of beautiful Japan.
That sounds incredible! What should visitors know about the history of Kawagoe?
Because of its proximity to Tokyo, Kawagoe was the center of trade in the region. Merchants built the mud-walled warehouses for their flame resistance, which proved to be very helpful when the Kawagoe Great Fire devoured the whole city in 1638.
What is your favorite off-the-beaten-path activity that you wouldn’t find in a typical travel guide?
The Shingashi River, which flows around the city of Kawagoe, runs at the northwestern end of the Old Warehouse District. This is a cute place where I keep resting to rest after hours of walking around town or just to relax and watch the wild ducks bath.
I think this place embodies the Japanese culture of cleanliness. This is just a very narrow river (almost just a creek) that runs through the city, but the water is so clean that no garbage or plastic covers stick to the crevices.
Are there any foods, dishes, or dishes that you absolutely must try when you are in Kawagoe? Where is the best place to try it?
Sweet potato is a very popular crop in Kawagoe. This root plant has dominated the local street food scene – sweet potato soft cream, sweet potato gyoza and onigiri, sweet potato pasta, sweet potato chips and sticks, which are sold throughout the city, among others.
This happened because sweet potatoes became a staple after the war due to their easy cultivation in Kawagoe. Today Kawagoe is still known for its sweet potatoes. Sweet potato tours are carried out during the harvest season.
Of course, don’t forget to try another popular dish in Kawagoe, the unagi (eel). Eating pork and other meats was forbidden during the Edo period, and for this reason eel dishes became a local specialty.
There are several Unagiya (restaurants specializing in eel dishes) around the old camp district and throughout the city.
Where would you recommend tourists when you visit us?
You don’t really have to stay in Kawagoe. You can explore the city all day and return to Tokyo to end the night. Tokyo is only 30-45 minutes away by train to Kawagoe. It fits perfectly with the itinerary for every day trip from Tokyo.
That’s great! Given the simplicity of the Japanese train system, I was looking for other day trips from Tokyo when I was there. What are the most photogenic places in Kawagoe?
There are many photo-worthy places, sights, and structures all over Kawagoe, but if we want to be seasonal, the Shingashi River in the back of the river is the best place to catch the colors in spring and autumn at the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. I haven’t been to this place in high season, but when I see the cherry trees on either side of the river, this is a truly magical place to visit in both of these seasons.
What tips do you have for travelers who want to avoid the crowds?
To avoid the crowds, visit Kawagoe on a weekday (and if possible during the fall season). Kawagoe is not yet a tourist hotspot, but due to its proximity to Tokyo, the city can get quite crowded on weekends.
What should visitors know about transportation in the city?
There are four train stations in Kawagoe, but the closest one to the Old Warehouse District is Hon-Kawagoe station. It is only 30 minutes by train from Ikebukero (via the Tobu Tojo line) and only 10-12 minutes on foot from the main road.
Although I would always recommend visiting the sights on foot, there are tourist buses (COEDO) that take tourists from place to place, or you can use the day pass and take the regular Kawagoe Loop Bus from Kawagoe Station.
Sounds easy to get around! What else should travelers know about Kawagoe?
As CNN Travel describes, Kawagoe is one of the most authentic historical cities in Japan. Not even Kyoto or Nara can beat Kawagoe in this regard.
I wrote a very detailed instructions for visiting Kawagoe, which you find very helpful, even if this is your first time traveling alone in Japan.
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