Welcome to Kawagoe in the Saitama prefecture. The prefecture, most famous for the large city sharing it’s name, neighbors Tokyo and is surprisingly home to this remnant of classical Edo culture. A quick 30 minute train ride along the Tobu-Tojo line from Ikebukuro or 45 minutes from Shinjuku along the Seibu Shinjuku line, Kawagoe is a perfect excursion for people wanting to experience Japanese history in a more immersive form. Certainly Tokyo is filled with relics and reminders of this ancestry but is overpowered by incredibly modern buildings and its global cultural influences.
Edo was the capital city of the Tokugawa Shogunate and was one of the most powerful cities in the world during this time. Reigning from 1603-1868, the city was an impenetrable castle town and has since transformed into modern day Tokyo. The city has certainly moved on from the times of Samurai duels and Hokusai, but the essence and atmosphere of that time can still be enjoyed just 30 minutes outside of Tokyo.
The Edo period saw Japan isolate itself from the world and therefore, develop and refine its national identity largely into what it is today, it was also the final era of the Shogun before the fall of the Samurai in the 19th century. Resulting in the Edo period having one of the strongest influences on modern Japanese culture. Anyone wanting to explore or learn about Japan will surely enjoy the time wandering the streets of this Edo period town!
Things to Do
#1. Senba Toshogu Shrine in Kitain Temple
The Senba Toshogu Shrine is a Shinto shrine in which Tokugawa Ieyasu himself is enshrined, and the site at Kawagoe is one of three major shrines honoring the founder of the Edo period. This shrine was built in 1633 and stands in great condition even today at the southern side of Kitain Temple. After being damaged by a fire in 1638, Senba Toshogu Shrine had to be rebuilt and repairs were completed in 1640, since then, it has remained in its original form until now.
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Senba Toshogu Shrine
Address: 1-21-1 Kosembamachi, Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 10 minute walk from Hon-Kawagoe Station
March 1 – November 23
8:50 AM – 4:30 PM (Weekdays)
8:50 AM – 4:50 PM (Sundays and holidays)
November 24 – February 28
8:50 AM – 4:00 PM (Weekdays )
8:50 AM – 4:20 PM (Sundays and holidays)
Website: Senba Toshogu Shrine
#2. Hikawa Shrine
The Torii gate at the Hikawa Shrine welcoming visitors to this Shinto shrine is one of the most beautiful in Japan. It stands at 15 meters tall and acts as the entrance to this 1400 year old religious site. The grounds are filled with various trees and plants (over 500 years old), including the beautiful and sacred Keyaki tree. Enshrined in Hikawa is Okuninushi, the God of married couples, making it a popular wedding destination. The site became a designated Cultural Property of Japan and before that, Emperor Meiji himself claimed Hikawa Shrine was the finest in the Kanto region of Japan, giving the surrounding area the name Omiya (lit. Great Shrine).
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Address: 1-407 Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama-shi, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 20 minute walk from Omiya Station
5:30 AM – 5:30 PM (April, May, September, October)
5:00 AM – 6:00 PM (May, June, July, August)
6:00 AM – 5:00 PM (January, February, November, December)
Website: Hikawa Shrine (Japanese)
#3. Renkeiji Temple
Renkeiji Temple was a Buddhist university during the Edo period and is believed to enshrine many important Buddhist figures. The temple was built in 1554, just 50 years before the Ashikaga shogunate handed power over to Tokugawa Ieyasu and is a lasting legacy of Buddhism during this time. At the front of the temple is a statue of Binzuru-sama, a disciple of Buddha, and it is thought that it can cure the illness of those who touch it. On the 8th of every month the temple holds a fair with many events, such as storytelling, exhibitions and stalls to buy charms and souvenirs.
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Address: 7−1 Soka-cho, Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture,
Access: 7 minute walk from Hon-Kawagoe Station
Website: Renkeiji Temple (Japanese)
Kawagoe is filled with shops and restaurants where traditional Japanese items and cuisine can be sampled or bought as well as hosting seasonal festivals.
During the Edo period the consumption of meats such as pork and beef was forbidden, as a result fish dishes became very common. In Kawagoe, Eel (Unagi) dishes became a staple food as the land-locked city needed to rely on freshwater fish to get their daily protein. This habit continues to this day, as the city continues to have many popular fish restaurants. The usual style of the area was to cook the eel with a sweetened soy sauce under a charcoal flame. Today this method of cooking is still very popular and each restaurant cooks their meals in this way, but using their own secret soy sauce.
#2. Sweet Potato
Sweet Potato is also a delicacy of Kawagoe. During the Edo period it was often enjoyed as a snack. Since there were wars with rival Daimyo (clan leaders) for many years leading up to and after Ieyasu Tokugawa became shogun at the start of the 17th century, food was scarce and the sweet potato was very important to many people. This legacy has given Kawagoe the nickname of “The city of Sweet Potatoes”.
With Edo so close, the tradition and culture of the two cities overlaps a great deal, making Kawagoe a great place to try Edo style sushi! With many restaurants serving sushi in this traditional way. There are also many kitchens opening their doors to visitors for sushi making classes too!
Food during the Edo period was often served as “Kaiseki”, where many small dishes are served in a particular order to evoke a specific atmosphere or feeling for the meal. Modern Kaiseki draws from many aspects of Japanese history and tradition, although influences mainly stem from; the Imperial courts of Kyoto in the 9th century, the Buddhist cuisine from the temples of the Kamakura shogunate in the 12th century and the samurai cuisine of the Ashikaga period during the 14th Century.
In Kawagoe, there are many restaurants that use this particular Japanese style of serving food, creating a soothing atmosphere that allows diners to observe the beauty of nature as they enjoy their meal overlooking natural gardens. Imozen uses the freshest and seasonal ingredients to create their Kaiseki. Since everything is in small proportions, you will get to try all of the different flavors.
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Address: 15-1 Komuro, Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 18 minute walk from Kawagoeshi Station
Hours: 11:30 AM – 9:00 PM
Website: Imozen (Japanese)