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After an onslaught of springtime visitors this year, I was keen to find a new day trip to add to my “excursions from Tokyo” portfolio. Having been to (and thoroughly enjoyed) trips to Hakone, Nikko, Yokohama and Kamakura, it was time to check out a new destination. After reading a little snippet in one of my guidebooks about one of the few cities in Japan that rightly calls itself “Little Edo,” my interest in Kawagoe was piqued.

Although it’s only about a 30-minute train ride from Ikebukero, when we got to Kawagoe, we felt like we were days away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The city is small enough to be walkable, but there’s no need to wear yourself out. There’s a great bus system called the “Co-Edo Loop Bus,” that stops at all of the main tourist sites in Kawagoe. For ¥500 you can buy a Daily Pass that allows you unlimited access to all Co-Edo buses for 1 day. You can purchase your ticket from a handy automated machine, and just scratch off the corresponding month and day on your ticket to use the pass. Take the West Exit out of Kawagoe Station to find the Co-Edo bus stop. The buses and bus stops are well marked, and signage and announcements are in both Japanese and English.

Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t until late in the day that we discovered the handy bus system, so we traversed a good part of the city on foot. Kawagoe is best known for its architecture, so our plan to start with a walk down a street well known for its kura buildings. Kura buildings were built as fireproof storehouses in the 19th-century, and looking at them you can get a good idea of what Tokyo must have looked like more than a century ago. Easily recognizable with their distinctive dark grey clay walls, double doors and heavy shutters, there are many of these buildings remaining in Kawagoe, most of them clustered on Kurazukuri street. Stop by the Tourist Information Office on the left hand side to pick up English brochures and information. Right off of the main street on the right is the “toki-no-kane,” a wooden bell tower built in 1624 to warn residents of fires. (For some reason, there is a swing set with two small swings in the back garden of the bell tower - a discovery that my kids were very happy to stumble upon.)

On the opposite side of the main street, a few blocks down, you will find the reason why your kids will become fans of Kawagoe… the “candy street.” Kashiya Yokocho is a small lane of candy shops, offering an impressive array of traditional confections with incredible designs and colors - multi- colored swirls, candies with faces, flower-shaped candies, and also, all forms of sweet potatoes - the local specialty. In addition to sampling some of the lovely hard candies, we tried candied sweet potatoes, sweet potato chips, and fried sweet potatoes. All very tasty!

Once everyone’s sweet tooth was satisfied, we moved onto more cultural pursuits… Kawagoe has several notable shrines and temples. Hikawa Shrine was built in 514, and boasts the tallest wooden torii in Japan. Wander down the path to the left of the main shrine to see some incredible wood carving on the original building. You have to peer through the gates to get a view, but the carving is amazing. Also in Kawagoe is the Kitain Temple, the regional head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Originally built in 830, and rebuilt in 1638 after a devastating fire, Katain Temple is home to the last existing rooms from the original Edo Castle, donated by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu after the 1638 fire. Also on the temple grounds are the gohyaku-rakan - 538 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha. Each statue features a different pose or expression - really good fun for adults and kids to wander around and explore.

Somewhere in our reading, we had seen mention of a castle in Kawagoe. A little further investigating revealed that Honmaru Goten is actually the home of a Lord who lived on the castle grounds of Kawagoe Castle, and the castle itself is no longer in existence. However, the wooden building, built in 1848, was interesting to walk through. (It reminded me of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, but without the squeaky floors.) Walking through the wooden corridors, peering into the tatami mat rooms, it rounded out our “old Edo step back in time” tour quite nicely.

While there are several museums (including one that features really elaborate festival floats and looks like a definite must on my next visit), temples, flea markets, and much more too see in Kawagoe, by this point in our day, we were tired and ready to head home. We hopped on the Co-Edo bus and headed back to the station. A little over and hour later, we were back in modern-day Tokyo, in our neighborhood, walking home from the subway station.

Special note: Each October, Kawagoe hosts their annual festival, with elaborate floats, costumes, music and general good fun. This year, the festival will take place on October 15th & 16th.

How to get there: Take the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukero Station to Kawagoe Station. The fare is Y450. Look carefully at the signage in Ikebukero for the Tobu Tojo line. There are several different express trains - take one of those instead of the local train. The express trains take about 30 minutes, while the local can take quite a bit longer.

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