Day trips out of Tokyo are usually down south to Kamakura for hiking, out west to Hakone for the hot springs, or — for the ambitious — the shrines and temples of Nikko to the north.

One advantage of not being raised up or surrounded by a moat is you get a closeup view of the gorgeous gardens that surround it. As we slid in our socks over the wooden floors inside the palace I was delighted to witness many simple, Zenlike views. "I feel like I am in Kyoto," I whispered to Yumi.

While sliding through the palace we heard the enthusiastic cheers from outside of what sounded like a sports team practicing. Asking a groundskeeper where the noise was coming from, he pointed to beyond the garden and said it was a high-school baseball team. Apparently, Kawagoe is famous for its strong team.