A visit to the Little Edo in Kawagoe is like a travel through time sans distortions in the space-time continuum. Think about having leisurely walks in the sets of “Rurouni Kenshin” (Keishi Ootomo) or “The Twilight Samurai” (Hiroyuki Sanada) without the ronins and assassins, though the occasional passing of modern cars and women in stilettos are unavoidable.
Also known as “Koedo,” this small district in Kawagoe has managed to preserve both cultural and architectural features of the Edo Period (1603-1868). Edo is the capital’s name before it became known as Tokyo.
For the maximum experience, ride one of the jinrikisha (pulled rickshaw) around the area. It will tour you around Little Edo for an hour for ¥6,000. Or get overboard — dress in kimonos or bring your samurai swords.
Kurazukuri no Machinami (Warehouse District)
Kurazukuri refers to the clay-walled warehouses that line the main street. These warehouses were used to hold rice and other supplies when Kawagoe was the center of product trades back in the old day. The warehouses are now converted to souvenir shops, restaurant, and cafes, but the traditional elements in terms of service and architectural style are still being maintained.
While walking the main street of Little Edo, we passed by a kiosk selling sweet potato onigiri. We tried a few pieces and they’re interestingly good.
Here’s a fun fact. Due to its ease of cultivation, the sweet potato became a staple in Japanese cuisine and Kawagoe was the biggest source of food after the war. Nowadays, Kawagoe remains famous for its sweet potatoes that sweet potato tours are being conducted during the harvest season (mid-September to early November).
Check out Kawagoe Station Tourist Information Office (049 222-5556) if you’re interested. Arahata Noen (Kawagoe-shi, Saitama) and Musashi No Mura (Kazo, Saitama) are two of the popular sweet potato farms that offer digging tours in Saitama.
Toki no Kane (Bell of Time Tower)
The original bell tower was located northeast of its current location and was later rebuilt where it is now after the Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1638. The bell was rung every hour to inform the people of the time, and it was controlled by two persons living right next to it.
Nowadays, the bell is being rung electro-mechanically by a metal hammer which swings and bangs the bell in four designated time each day – 6:00 AM, 12:00 NN, 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM. In 1996, the Ministry of the Environment has chosen Toki no Kane bell tower to be one of the “100 Soundscapes of Japan“.
The photo above shows the Toki no Kane as overseen from a nearby alley. It was taken just a few minutes before the bell was rung at 3:00 in the afternoon.
Yakushi Shrine, Little Edo
Right past the bell tower is the Yakushi Shrine. People come here to pray for good harvests, money, and recovery from various illnesses.
In the photos, my sister can be seen teaching our niece Jonah how to pray in the shrine – “ring the bell once, drop a coin in the saisenbako (wooden box), bow your head twice, clap your hands twice followed by another bow.” But I’m not sure whether her prayer was granted because she skipped the purification part from the chouzubachi (water basin) nearby. The ritual purification is as essential as the prayer itself.
Perhaps she just had to take another chance by hanging an ema in front of the shrine.
Building No. 85 (Saitama Resona Bank, Saitama Branch)
At the start of the Meiji Era, a certain millionaire called Yokota Gorobei of Saitama donated a land and, together with his fellow affluents, ordered the construction of a building that would function as a National bank in Saitama. The building was designed by Tasuoka Katsuka and was completed during the Taisho Period. The bank was named No. 85 National Bank and later renamed to Saitama bank, to Asahi Bank, and finally to Saitama Resona Bank.
The building was designated as one of Japan’s registered tangible cultural properties in 1996.
I was busy looking for good quality Inari kitsune masks in this souvenir shop in front of the Resona Bank building that I forgot to take a photo of this New-Renaissance architectural piece.
From the souvenir shops, to the cafes, to the mail boxes, vending machines and the drinking fountains, everything is in character in Little Edo.
I used to regret having not pursued architecture during my college days but upon seeing the magnificent architectural styles from these forgotten eras, I suddenly had a change of heart. I, for sure, could not cough out intricate designs such as these.
Perhaps now I’d start regretting not having pursued a master in letters for I am surely not worthy of describing these works of art with my very limited command in language.
Getting around Little Edo
- Tobu Tojo Line: From Ikebukuro station to Kawagoe-shi station; approximately 30 minutes by Express.
- Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line: From Shibuya station to Kawagoe-shi atation; approximately 60 minutes.
- Seibu Shinjuku Line: From Seibu Shinjuku station to Hon-Kawagoe station; Approximately 60 minutes by Express.
It is best to take the train going to Hon-Kawagoe station as it is the one nearest to Little Edo.
Last updated: December 01, 2016