There are many day trips to take from Tokyo, the most popular of which, in my opinion, is a visit to one of the nearby prefectures to view Mount Fuji (e.g. day trips to Hakone, or Kawaguchiko). And for good reason – it’s a sight to behold, especially on a crisp, sunny day.
But this post is dedicated to Kawagoe, one of the ‘roads less taken’, so to speak, when visiting Tokyo.
This was my second time around in this lovely, lovely country. I had gone about planning my five days centered around Tokyo because I couldn’t efficiently head to Kyoto in such a short amount of time. While I wanted to show my mom how pretty Kyoto was, it wasn’t the most practical/cost-saving idea to take a shinkansen to Kyoto and back. That, and there are so many things to do in Kyoto and a day wasn’t going to cut it.
So with a heavy heart and the intent of properly ‘introducing’ her to what traditional Japan supposedly felt and looked like, I combed the net for good ideas for day trips outside of the city. Suffice it to say that Kawagoe kept cropping up in my search and I was sold to the idea of the 700 yen round trip rapid/express train fare, good food and ‘Little Edo’ feels.
Japan Guide says this of this lovely little district:
Kawagoe (川越) is located about 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo and is suitable as a day trip destination. Its main street, lined with Kurazukuri (clay-walled warehouse-styled) buildings, retains an ambience reminiscent of an old town from the Edo Period (1603-1867) and allows us to imagine the streets from past centuries. Thereby, Kawagoe became known as “Little Edo”.
During the Edo Period, Kawagoe prospered as a supplier of commodities to Tokyo (then named Edo). As Kawagoe was an important city to the capital for trade and strategic purposes, the shoguninstalled some of their most loyal men as lords of Kawagoe Castle. Close ties ensued between the two cities and over the years, Kawagoe inherited many aspects of the Edo culture and architecture.
There are three ways via train going to Kawagoe. For us, I thought it would be the easiest to do it via the Tobu Tojo Line, so this is the only route I’m able to talk about. Other routes include the JR line and Seiba line (read more about it here).
Get yourself to Ikebukuro Station. At the station, you’ll need to look for the signs pointing to the Tobu Tojo line; follow the signs, and you’ll eventually be led to the Tobu fare gates. There’ll be ticketing machines nearby, but because you’re a foreigner (and most likely not a resident of Japan if you’re reading this), you’re eligible for the discounted pass they call the Kawagoe Discount Pass.
It’s a pass that allows you to do one round trip to Kawagoe for only 700 yen. For you to get this pass, approach the station office adjacent to the fare gates/ticketing machine and purchase the ticket from the personnel manning the office. He’ll even give you a free Kawagoe guide! Don’t dilly-dally with the ticketing machine like I’d originally done; there’s no other way than buying it from a person and not a machine.
Take the local, rapid or the express train. It didn’t matter which one we were going to take, because we didn’t really have to rush. The main point is that you must get down either Kawagoe Station or Kawagoe-shi Station. (Of course, if you can, don’t take the local – it’ll take far longer than the rapid or the express as it stops at each station along the way!) For us, we went down at Kawagoe Station and walked all the way to the interesting bits of Kawagoe (that is, the Warehouse District). It’s fairly navigable by foot and all you’ll need to do is follow the guide you received from the train station.
By foot’s the best way, but from what I read there is a hop-on, hop-off bus around the more popular tourist spots of this place.
The map you receive will recommend you go straight down the path via Crea Mall, which isn’t too bad of an idea since you may as well look around the more ‘modern’ stores and eat something on the way. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself on a tiled path where classical music is blasted quite nicely the whole route through which will eventually lead you to your first taste of what you went to Kawagoe for – the old-style houses with dark roofs and timber fronts, most of which have been transformed to stores selling local sweets, coffee, crafts, etc.
Having done research beforehand, I was all set to spend a little bit more on lunch in a ryoutei (a luxurious traditional restaurant), so we went and looked for this one called Yamaya. It’s on one of the smaller streets in the warehouse district, and it does feel like you’ve intruded into a traditional Japanese home, especially since you’ll need to remove your shoes before stepping inside. It’s exactly what I would have thought those houses in Rurouni Kenshin must have felt like. Food-wise, though, I wasn’t too impressed. Their lunch sets were big and filling and not at all bad; it’s just that it felt like I could have been waaaaaay more satisfied with a simple 700-800 yen curry don instead of a 3000 yen fancy lunch set that felt lacking. In any case, the ambience was lovely!
Mostly what we did after lunch was to eat even more, as there are so many things to taste in this place! Don’t forget to visit Candy Alley as well, where on the way you’ll find the most charming little cafe stall that sells – well – coffee and coffee mugs, among other things, and beside it another charming stall owned by an elderly couple selling cute trinkets like postcards and furoshiki.
You can spend one whole afternoon just eating, really, because to be honest there isn’t much else to do here. Still, it was a pretty nice afternoon well spent in Kawagoe. What I really liked about this place, though, was that the tourists who were there were mostly locals too enjoying the afternoon, and the hustle and bustle of Tokyo was further away than it actually was.
Photos were taken with an iPhone and a Fujifilm x100s | post-processed in Photoshop and/or VSCO