Have you ever wondered what it’d feel like to stroll around town in Edo-period Japan (17th-19th century)? Well, wonder no more, because the town of Kawagoe, affectionately known as “Ko-Edo” (which translates to “Little Edo”), has preserved the Edo-period ambiance quite well, with its main street and several houses looking as they did back then.
For a seemingly small town, Kawagoe has a lot to see, but it can all be worked into a handy day trip. As cheapos are wont to do, we’ll assume you’re arriving by train and will be heading home that day as well. The sights do align themselves into a handy loop and while you can see them all, consider prioritising what takes your fancy so you aren’t rushing from one to the next! We’ve gone counter-clockwise for a quieter temple-led start, but you do whatever suits you best.
Temple Run: Heading East to Kita-in Temple and its neighbours
A 20-minute walk from Kawagoe Station, or 10-minutes from Hon-Kawagoe, Kita-in Temple is the most famous in Kawagoe, but there are a few impressive stops along the way.
Stop off at Kawagoe Hachimangu Shrine
If taking the longer route, you can drop into Kawagoe Hachimangu Shrine along the way if you’re taking the longer route, and visit the Sacred Gingko Tree. The shrine was founded just shy of 1,000 years ago and is known for weddings, but the towering tree looks particularly incredible in Autumn.
Pop into Nakain: A Buddhist Temple and Gardens
Nakain is a couple of streets away from Kita-in and is one of a three-temple complex with beautiful gardens. It has a history as the birthplace of Sayama Tea after seeds were planted in the grounds by Priest Jikaku, with a stone monument marking this. A spring highlight, the gardens of Nakain are known for their weeping cherry trees and rare Kanhizakura (Taiwan cherry trees) with evening illuminations during peak blossom season in mid-March.
Kita-in Temple: HQ of Tendai Buddhists
Kita In’s grounds have several Important Cultural Properties, notable examples being the 540 Rakan (Buddha’s disciples) statues, all with different emotions on their faces, and Semba Toshogu Shrine, which honors Ieyasu Tokugawa. Hikawa Shrine is Kawagoe’s most popular shrine, which enshrines the god of marriages and has a 15-meter torii (Shinto shrine gate).
Heading North to Kawagoe Castle Honmaru Palace
If you’re interested in Kawagoe’s ancient history, be sure to visit Honmaru Goten, the only remnant of Kawagoe Castle. The name translates roughly to the palace of the inner-most circle of defense’ and is a large and impressive building. It used to be a hall for receiving feudal lords, and now, dolls recreate scenes of feudal lords discussing important matters.
The castle itself was originally built in 1457, but the current building is from 1848 when it was added to the castle complex. Nearby there are some grassy moats and turret remains, but there’s not a whole castle to see.
Going West for Edo-Era Streets and Alleys
Kawagoe’s main draw is its links to the past, and and while the Ko-edo nickname gives a lot away, there are some other time periods to explore. The biggest, busiest street is Kurazukuri, which is close to candy alley and the festival museum, so if you head west from the castle grounds, you’ll land on one of them in about 10-15 minutes.
Kurazukuri Street: Edo at its best
Kurazukuri refers to a type of architecture for warehouses that is characterized by steep tiles and fire-resistant clay walls, which merchants sorely needed after a great fire destroyed the area in 1893. Kurazukuri Street and some nearby side streets have more than 200 kurazukuri houses, many of which have been converted to shops and restaurants. Some shops sell traditional crafts and handicrafts, which make for nice souvenirs, and some of those shops even have pottery and glass-blowing workshops.
Kurazukuri’s Museums: Daily life, festivals and art
The oldest kurazukuri in town is the Osawa House, built in 1792 and registered as an Important Cultural Property. There’s also the small Yamazaki Art Museum also inside a kurazukuri house. One of the highlights is the Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan, a museum dedicated to the impressive annual festival. If you’re not lucky enough to witness it in person, this small museum offers an the chance to see the towering floats and feel the atmosphere of the October event. Please note, the Kawagoe Kurazukuri Museum is permanently closed.
Toki no Kane: The landmark bell tower
Kurazukuri Street’s most famous symbol—also a symbol of Kawagoe—is a bell tower called Toki no Kane, which translates to “Bell of Time.”
Standing at 16 meters high, it was used to tell time back in the day, and still now it rings four times a day: at 6:00 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 6:00 pm. It’s been reconstructed four times, the last reconstruction happening after the great fire of 1893.
Kashiya-Yokocho: Hitting the sweet spot
Just to the west of Kurazukuri Street is Kashiya Yokocho, an alley that specializes in low-priced sweets and snacks, many of which are reminiscent of the post-war Showa era.
You can buy some traditionally crafted sweets there (and even learn how to make them!), as well as sweet potato treats such as ice cream and chips. The city is known for sweet potatoes, which are a popular treat in the fall and winter months. Zaumon sells a kurazukuri-shaped manju, there’s the local speciality of Fugashi bread to try and Yoshiokaya is the place to go for old-fashioned sweets. Who said sweets are just for kids?
For more Edo history, read A Day in Edo Tokyo: Top 5 Edo Period Sightseeing Spots in the Capital.
South to Taisho Roman-dori and Renkeiji Temple
Heading south and back towards the stations, you’ll come across Taisho Roman Yume Street and a final stunning temple. They’re right across from eachother so it’s a pretty quick stop.
Taisho Roman-dori: Returning to modernity
The Roman in this street’s name is actually short for “romantic,” and “yume” means “dream.” Just like the rest of the popular streets, this one is a blast from the past, albeit from a different era—the Taisho Era (1912-1926). It has some shops and Western-style buildings and is the perfect way to walk yourself back from Edo-times to the present day without too much of a time-shock.
Renkeiji Temple: Cherry Blossom and Statues Galore
Founded in 1549 to provide a sanctaury for common people, Renkeiji is fittingly one of the quieter temples in the area. This is unless you visit in spring, however, when cherry trees bring swathes of pink to the complex grounds. The temple is one of the city’s Seven Lucky Gods, enshrining Fukurokuju, god of fortune, longevity and happiness. There’s also a statue that heals illness and injury, so you’ve got all bases covered.
Bonus Day Trip Activity: The Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage
If you’ve been here before or just really like temples, the Lucky Gods pilgriage is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in Kawagoe. The route is 6km long and will leave you with a great step count, plus all the wealth, longevity and courage you could need.
You can start from any of the main stations and it keeps you firmly within walking distance of all the main sights too. You’ll be visiting Bishamonten, famed for courage and wealth at Myozenji Temple, then Jurojin at Tennenji for longevity. Daikokuten at Kitain Temple grants food and wealth, while the fish-holding Ebisuten at the nearby Naritasan Temple brings fortune, profit and prosperity, making him a lone-time favorite with fishermen and farmers alike. Fukurokujin can be found at the major Renkeiji, where he offers happiness, protection from disaster and prosperity too. At Kenryuji, the big-bellied Hoteison gives family harmony, household prosperity and fertility, before Benzaiten gives happiness and good fortune from the final spot of Myoshoji.
Getting to Kawagoe from Tokyo
With options ranging from 30-minutes to an hour, getting from Tokyo to Kawagoe depends on which station combination you pick. Kawagoe has three to choose from: Kawagoe (JR and Tobu) Kawagoe-shi (Tobu) and Hon-Kawagoe (Seibu). All three are pretty central, but Kawagoe Station is about 10-minutes further out compared to Hon-Kawagoe, if that impacts any decision-making.
Visiting Kawagoe from Ikebukuro is the more practical option, especially since Seibu Railways has a discount pass for foreign passport holders at ¥700, which covers round-trip travel between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe, and discounts at some shops in Kawagoe.
- From Ikebukuro: visitors can catch the Tobu Tojo Line to Kawagoe Station costing ¥480 and taking exactly 30 minutes one way.
- From Shinjuku: If you don’t mind the short walk from Shinjuku Staton to Shinjuku-Sanchome, you can get to Kawagoe Station or Kawagoe-Shi Station direct in 35 minutes if you catch the Fukutoshin Express Metro Line, (which becomes the Tobu-Tojo Line) for ¥650. Another direct option is to catch the Seibu Shinjuku Line Express from Seibu-Shinjuku Station, however this takes an hour and costs ¥510. Or from Shinjuku proper it’s 5 minutes and ¥160 to get to Ikebukuro on the Saikyo Line for the route outlined above.
- From Shibuya: You can also catch the Fukutoshin Express Metro Line to Kawagoe or Kawagoe-Shi Stations, taking 35 minutes and costing ¥610 for both. Otherwise, it’s 15 minutes to Ikebukuro on the Yamanote Line, costing ¥170.
- From Tokyo Station: The best option is to get yourself to Ikebukuro on the Marunouchi Metro Line and transfer to the Tobu Tojo Line, taking an hour in total and costing ¥680.
Getting Lunch in Kawagoe
For lunch or dinner, try dining at a ryotei, a traditional, high-class restaurant. You’d be surprised at how some ryotei have relatively inexpensive lunch sets. For high-quality food, less than 2,000 yen is already not bad. You can check out a list of some ryotei in Kawagoe here.