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Kawagoe: From Edo standout to tourist draw

by Satoko Kawasaki

Staff Writer

Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, is less than an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. But in this city full of history, one would feel a sense of nostalgia in the streets thanks to a number of traditional Japanese kura warehouse buildings from the Edo Period (1603-1868).

A 15-minute walk to the north from JR Kawagoe Station will take visitors to the city’s main street lined with kura warehouses, which feature giant tiled roofs and black plastered walls. These warehouses have been turned into shops and restaurants catering to a steady stream of visitors.

In the middle of the main street, the 16-meter tall Toki no Kane (Bell of Time) wooden tower stands out among other structures. The landmark of Kawagoe, the tower’s bell rings four times a day (at 6 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.), helping the local residents keep time for as long as 390 years.

During the Edo Period, Kawagoe thrived as a town of merchants and craftsmen. Called “Little Edo,” the townspeople shipped crops and merchandise to Edo (present-day Tokyo) by the Shingashi River, and absorbed new culture and technology from Edo in return.

In the 1960s, however, Kawagoe faced a crisis as shops moved to more convenient locations around the Station. Some of the historical buildings were on the verge of being torn down.

However, thanks to the tireless efforts by local shop owners and residents, the city managed to stay alive, and gradually regained its vigor.

In 2016, the Kawagoe Matsuri festival, which features huge traditional floats, was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

With other festivals and events, along with well-preserved architecture, Kawagoe has now turned itself into a popular sightseeing spot that draws around 7 million visitors a year.

This 16-meter tall wooden tower, called Toki no Kane (Bell of Time), rings four times a day and has done so for 390 years.
This 16-meter tall wooden tower, called Toki no Kane (Bell of Time), rings four times a day and has done so for 390 years. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Tourists in kimono walk down the main street of Kawagoe on July 8. The 8th, 18th, and 28th of every month are designated as kimono days, with some shops offering special discounts visitors taking part.
Tourists in kimono walk down the main street of Kawagoe on July 8. The 8th, 18th, and 28th of every month are designated as kimono days, with some shops offering special discounts visitors taking part. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Colorful wind chimes are seen during the Enmusubi Furin Fetival (wind chimes festival for prayers of love) at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine.
Colorful wind chimes are seen during the Enmusubi Furin Fetival (wind chimes festival for prayers of love) at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Kitain Temple is one of the popular sightseeing spots in Kawagoe.
Kitain Temple is one of the popular sightseeing spots in Kawagoe. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Kitain Temple has 540 statues, attracting visitors as a popular photo spot.
Kitain Temple has 540 statues, attracting visitors as a popular photo spot. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

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