Kawagoe City lies only 45 minutes from Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. The city has a distinctly old flair to it, to the point of feeling antique. Kawagoe City is also known as “Little Edo,” a reference to the old name for Tokyo, “Edo,” it also refers to the retained historic feeling of the town, which reminds people of what Edo must have looked like long ago.
The reason it feels so old is that much of it is, in the center of Kawagoe you will find a well-preserved collection of century-old warehouses, that still used as stores, workshops and homes that immediately bring up thoughts of “the way things used to be;” specifically the way they were during the early Showa period, sometimes a bit earlier.
The warehouses are centered in one part of town, clustered near the “Bell of Time,” a three-story tower tower originally built between 1624 and 1644. The original structure is long gone, but the current tower was built in 1894, after the city suffered a great fire. The tower has announced to the city’s residents the time for 350 years, and has become a symbol of the city.
Kawagoe is famous for sweet potatoes, and the sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato coffee, and even sweet potato beer sold locally are a favorite of visitors. If you are really interested, you can actually pick sweet potatoes if you come during their growing season.
Kawagoe Castle is the closest castle to Tokyo still accessible to visitors. Edo Castle, while much closer, is now known as the Imperial palace. While you can stroll the grounds of the Palace a bit, it is largely all off limits to the public; making Kawagoe Castle sort of the only game in town.
The castle was deeply involved in the wars of the 15th-16th centuries, where the castle’s position on the road to Echigo province to the west, on the Sumida River and near the Edo River were instrumental in defending Kantō from attack. Notable among these battles was the The Siege of Kawagoe Castle; a failed attempt by a clan to regain Kawagoe Castle from the Late Hōjō clan in 1545-1546.
Unfortunately, the castle was largely dismantled starting from 1870, and its various components were either moved or built over by the growing city. Small portions of the castle have been retained, and these portions are worth a visit if you are in the area. These locations, including a mound where a tower on the wall once stood, and the primary hall , Honmaru Goten, remain on the original site, which was designated a “Tangible Cultural Property of Japan” in 1967.
The Kawagoe Festival happens annually on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of October in Kawagoe City. The highlight of the city’s festival is called “hikkawase,” which is sort of a traditional battle of the bands… After dark, the floats are lit up by lanterns and begin to parade around the streets with their bands perched up on top. When two floats meet or catch up to one another, the bands on the floats will play music competitively, each trying to outperform the other.
Amongst the floats, lanterns, music, people, and food, it is easy to see why this festival has grown over its 350 year history to be one of the biggest on offer in the Tokyo area, in fact it was designated a “National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property” of Japan.
Kawagoe Festival 2014
October,18 and 19 2014
(the Sunday portion of the event is generally considered the most interesting).
KawagoeTowerCommons" by user:Fg2 - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons (modified) Alley in Kawagoe" by Collin Grady - http://www.flickr.com/photos/collingrady/3262169/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (modified) Kawagoe Festival - from www.kawagoematsuri.jp (modified)