From the glittering lights of Akihabara to the vibrant storefronts in Shinjuku, all the cities in the greater Tokyo area dazzle people near and far. This fast-paced atmosphere offers endless entertainment options, unique restaurant choices, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can only be found in Japan. Tourists from all over the globe travel thousands of miles for the opportunity to be a part of the culture that brought the world things such as sushi, anime, and manga. But this modern wonderland isn’t the only marvel that this gorgeous country has to offer. Japan also boasts an incredibly rich history which they have taken great lengths to preserve. No matter what prefecture you go to in your travels here, you will always be able to find some piece of their past either nestled in the middle of a concrete jungle or standing on its own for the world to see and admire.
One such place is the town of Kawagoe, a beautiful historical gem located a mere fifty minutes from Shibuya. Locally known as “Little Edo”, Kawagoe is a mecca for culture buffs, sporting numerous shrines, temples, and Edo-period buildings, the oldest of which is a merchant warehouse built back in 1792. It is currently owned by the Osawake family who offer tours of the building for approximately $2 US and sell souvenirs that can only be obtained in Kawagoe. While here, you can also see the ruins of Kawagoe Castle, the home of the Tokugawa clan who ruled Japan for over 200 years. Though most of the buildings no longer exists due to being burnt down multiple times throughout the centuries, you can still see Kitain Temple, the only remaining structure of the castle, which sports 533 stone statues that represent Buddha’s disciples.
Toki-no-kani, a large wooden bell tower, is another of Kawagoe’s famous sites and was originally built between 1624-1644. The original purpose of the tower was to alert the town when a fire occurred as well as being used to the tell the time of day, a task it has performed for the past 350 years. Sadly, the tower we witness today is not the original but a replica. In 1893, a fire struck the city of Kawagoe, destroying nearly a third of its buildings including the bell tower. However, this was rebuilt a year later and stands today as the official symbol of the town, silently standing watch over the historical area as well as a more modern addition to the city; a Starbucks coffee shop.
Despite the fact that this mega coffee shop can be found on almost every corner in western countries and large cities, Kawagoe decided to embrace it while adapting it to fit their own unique style. Unlike the cookie-cutter stores that many are accustomed to, this modern café had been built into an Edo period building, only revealing its twentieth century colors through the sign tacked above the door. Once you enter the building, you will find that the store grants a very open feeling, with no barriers or obstructions except the barista counter and a back wall entirely made of windows, allowing an excellent view into the Zen garden that acts as the outside sitting area. The calm and friendly atmosphere takes the enjoyment in drinking a cup of coffee to a whole new level, turning it from a simple action to an experience. Another experience that is necessary for anyone who visits Kawagoe is Kashiya yokocho, or Candy Alley.
Candy Alley, is a street entirely dedicated to old-fashioned Japanese candy and snacks, all of which are sold at fairly inexpensive prices. Starting with kakigori, Japan’s version of a snow cone, the street continues on, adding various delights such as sembei (Japanese rice cracker), konpeito (rock candy), and sugar candy art (amezaiku). Sugar candy art is a form of taffy candy that is shaped into various objects such as animals, cartoon characters, or blown into small orbs. The artist will use tweezers, small scissors, as well as other tools to shape the taffy and point it before giving it to the customer. One of the great things about this is that you are able to make requests and watch the sculpture come to life, making its way from a blob of white melted taffy to a green dragon in your hand. And, like everything else in Candy Alley, the price is well worth the product, averaging at $5 US per item. And this is only one of the many things that Kawagoe has to offer.
Just like the glittering lights of modern Tokyo, Kawagoe dazzles all who encounter it with its beauty, its history, and our ability to witness both the traditional and modern aspects of Japan in one place. Whether you are in love with Japan for its modern flare or for its historical grace, Kawagoe is a must see for all as it proudly shows that the past can remain even as the present moves on. And after all, they have an entire street dedicated to candy and who wouldn’t want to experience that!