Kawagoe, Saitama - so near, yet so far away…in time

"Walk the streets as the samurai once did"

Many people, whether visiting Japan or residing here, long to experience the traditional side of this fascinating culture. They want to walk the streets as the samurai once did.

But whether due to time or other factors, the prospect of a trip to Kyoto may be difficult. Even a visit to Nikko - three hours from Tokyo - may be daunting. Well fortunately there is an alternative, less than an hour from Tokyo.

The city of Kawagoe is in Saitama prefecture. It is accessible via the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro station. The trip takes about 30 minutes.

Kawagoe has many attractions and activities for those seeking a taste of old Japan in the form of temples and shrines, some of them designated as `cultural assets` and literally, in the form of traditional foods and snacks.

Kawagoe is nicknamed `Koedo` or `Little Edo`, the old name for Tokyo. The two cities had close trade relations and in addition to the similar architectural style of the old buildings, the Kita-in temple houses structures which were relocated from & are thought to be all that remain of, Edo castle (now the site of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo). As well as its link to old Japan & Edo Castle the temple has 540 stone status representing disciples of Buddha, with no two statues alike.

The oldest building in Kawagoe is Honmaru Goten, which was reconstructed in 1848 but was originally an extension of Kawagoe Castle, built in 1639. Figures have been built for the rooms to illustrate the daily life of the time.

Of course, details about many of these activities can be found on the city`s website. http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/

An additional bonus - and one which is not mentioned - is that the area around the station also has some trendy stores with international goods found at similar shops in Tokyo - and prices are a bit cheaper too. Shhh…..

Traditional Japanese Candy, Kimono Day & Matsuri!

In addition to seeing the sights, there are many activities which visitors can participate in. There is a narrow alleyway which has makers of `Wagashi` (Japanese candy). It is called `Kashiya Yokocho` (Candy Shop Alley), and there are opportunities for visitors to tour the areas where candy is being made and observe the process. Throughout the city there are chances to participate in everything from tea ceremony to glass blowing.

The 18th of each month is set aside as `Kimono Day`, those wearing kimono or yukata - the lighter summer version - can receive special services from many shops.

If possible, the time to visit is in the Fall/Autumn when the city Matsuri (festival) takes place. There are huge floats which are pulled through the streets, dancers in beautiful costumes and music on old-style instruments. It can get crowded and noisy but if there is time to have only one festival experience, this one is a great choice.

“Held for two days on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of October, the Kawagoe Festival is Koedo-Kawagoe ’s liveliest event of the year.”

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