Kawagoe is one of Tokyo’s go-to day-trips — and for good reason. Not only does the city nicknamed ‘Ko-Edo’ take you back in time, it brings sweets, lucky temple pilgrimages and some castle remains along for the ride too.
Where is Kawagoe?
Kawagoe is a city in Saitama Prefecture, to the northwest of Tokyo. It’s only about 30km from the capital and 30-minutes by train (See below on how to make that happen) but it feels like you’ve travelled much, much further thanks to the historic streets and ancient ruins. The main sights are all within walking distance, so once you’re off the train, you can see it all in one go.
What’s Kawagoe like?
Kawagoe was an Edo-period Castle town, and while it’s fought hard to protect the aged streets and buildings, it’s by no means a museum. Its rich, historic past is respected, but it’s moved with the times and has plenty to offer. Why not get lunch at one of the converted storehouses or get a coffe from what just might be the prettiest Starbucks in the world. Vendors line Candy Alley and there are plenty of festivals that fill the streets throughout the year. Kawagoe manages to blend an impressive array of preserved streets with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, plus some quiet temple walks if you want to get away from the main attractions.
What is Kawagoe known for?
Kawagoe is known for its links to the past, and they are some very well-preserved links at that. It’s Edo-themed nickname means ‘little Edo’ and it harkens back to the era of Tokugawa rule, when Japan was peaceful, united and under Daimyo Rule (from 1603 to 1868). While Tokyo is the real Edo (and you can read all about how that came to be here), people flock to Kawagoe for the classic Edo-feel. It’s actually a pretty popular spot for a day-trip date, with candy alley, cafes and walk-able sightseeing meaning it’s an easy day to meander through.
If you’re looking for even more Edo-themed inspiration, we have some of the best spots in and around Tokyo.
What to see and do in Kawagoe
There’s just the right amount to see in Kawagoe for a day-trip, and even an overnight if you’re really feeling the Edo-period life. We have a full day-trip guide to take you through the sights, but here’s a imple run down.
Historic Streets and Significant Sites
Streets are this city’s thing, and Kurazukuri street is the hub of the historic district. With around 200 kurazukuri houses complete with their iconic clay walls and steep tiles, it’s the best spot for the Edo-period feel. Nearby is the popular landmark belltower Toki no Kane, as well as a great little museum dedicated to the local annual festival and the preserved Osawa House, dating back to 1792.
Just around the corner is Kashiya Yokocho, aka Candy Alley. Selling cheap sweets that mainy hail from the Showa-era, this is a fun spot to try hand-crafted sweets, sweet-potato treats and the local baguette-like specialty of Fugashi bread which is part food, part styrofoam. For yet another historical era, Taisho Roma-dori is a step in the early 20th century, showcasing some Westernized store designs and providing a helpful transition to modern-day life.
The Castle is a key marker in the city, but be warned that not much of it actually exists any more. The Honmaru Goten, however, is pretty impressive and has fedual lord dolls recreating serious meetings every which way you look. Nearby, Kita-in Temple is the HQ of Tendai Buddhists and has a few unusual highlights including a collection of 500 Rakan statues and a 15m tori gate to walk through.
Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage
A lesser-known perk of the city, the Shichifukujin route allows you to visit seven lucky gods all in one day. The course is around 6km long and would take a couple of hours if you’re stopping off at each temple. Finish it off though and you’ll have good fortune, longevity and household peace, and who doesn’t need those at the moment?
Events not to be missed in Kawagoe
Kawagoe’s main event is the annual Kawagoe Matsuri, a festival held since 1648 (the Keian period) and known for its impressive floats. The ‘Tenka Matsuri’ is an Edo tradition, with two-storied floats carried through the streets topped with intricately decorated dolls and decorations. If you can’t visit on the fetsival dates (the third weekend of October), the local museum has floats on view for the remained of the year.
Another popular event in Kawagoe is the Kawagoe International Exchange Festival. Held every November, this small festival takes place at Renkei-ji Temple and is a celebration of international food, visitors and entertainement.
Seasonal Highlights in Kawagoe
Kawagoe’s seasonal events add a bonus to the city whichever time of year you choose to visit. In spring, the town holds sakura boat tours as part of the Koedo Kawagoe Spring Festival, and, towards the end of July, it holds the Kawagoe Million Lights Summer Festival, a time when houses bring out several lanterns to hang, lighting up the night as the town celebrates with processions and dances. On the third Saturday and Sunday of October, it celebrates its major festival, the Kawagoe Hikawa Festival, more popularly known as the Kawagoe Festival, when large, elaborate floats are paraded around the town. The floats light up quite beautifully at night. If you can’t attend the Kawagoe Festival, despair not—the Kawagoe Festival on Kurazukuri Street is where the floats are kept when they’re not in use.
Is Kawagoe a good place to stay?
Most people choose to visit Kawagoe for a day from the capital, thanks to the 30-minute travel time. Staying here, however, offers a chance to enjoy an evening in the streets once the visitors have headed home. There are some great accommodation options like the stylish (and affordable) Ryokan Matsumaraya which has baths and tatami rooms, or the simple and modern Hatago Coedoya, which has western-style rooms and a shared kitchen, giving it a half-hostel, half-hotel feel.
Where and what to eat in Kawagoe?
While many people known about the current nickname for Kawagoe, fewer know that back in the day it was know as the ‘Kitchen of Edo’. While the sweets and treats of Candy Alley will keep you going for a while, at some point you’re going to need something a little more substantial. A popular option is Waryori Hanajin, a Japanese restaurant serving shabu-shabu, sushi and course menus all prepared by hand by chef Tachibana.
For another hotpot option, Sukitei Yoshitora has been warming visitors since 1877 with thier special sukiyaki, shabushabu and beef stew recipes. The menu also has some French options, meaning there’s a real variety of ways to enjoy the skills and ingredients on offer at Yoshitora.
If a good sit down sounds like your kind of deal, why not add a cheeky foot-bath into the mix? At Tsubakiya Foot Spa Tearoom, the outdoor tea area has options for footbaths looking out into the garden, or ones facing eachother for groups. Enjoy drink options including Hojicha Lattes and and sweets like roasted sweet potato and warabi mochi plus the foot bath and towel from ¥1,650.
How to get to and from Kawagoe
Kawagoe has three train stations to choose from, is 30km from Tokyo and can take as little as 30 minutes to get to from the capital — it’s just about the route you choose. The three stations have different train lines: Kawagoe (JR and Tobu) Kawagoe-shi (Tobu) and Hon-Kawagoe (Seibu). They’re all quite central, but Hon-Kawagoe is about 10-minutes closer to town than the other two.
From Tokyo, Ikebukuro is the best station to get you to Kawagoe, as it has the direct Tobu Tojo Line which takes exactly half an hour and costs ¥480. From most other stations in the city, your best bet is to take another line to Ikebukuro, and go from there.
- From the Shinjuku area, Shinjuku-Sanchome has direct trains to Kawagoe or Kawagoe-Shi Stations on the Fukutoshin Express Metro Line (converting to the Tobu Tojo Line en route), taking about 35 minutes and costing ¥650. You can also get the Seibu Line direct from Seibu Shinjuku Station, but this takes an hour and costs ¥510. From the behemoth that is Shinjuku Station, it’s best to walk to the above or to catch the Saikyo Line to Ikebukuro and go from there (5 minutes and ¥160).
- From Shibuya, you can also catch the Fukutoshin Express Metro Line to Kawagoe or Kawagoe-Shi Stations, taking 35 minutes and costing ¥610. Alternatively, Ikebukuro is 15 minutes and ¥170 away on the Yamanote Line.
Top Tip: Seibu Railways has a discount pass for foreign passport holders at ¥700. It covers round-trip travel between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe as well as discounts at some shops in Kawagoe.
Getting to Kawagoe from Narita
While coming into Tokyo to go back out again is annoying, if you’re keen to go straight from Narita to Kawagoe, that’s what you have to do. The smooth Keisei Skyliner will get you to Nippori where you can change to the Yamanote for Ikebukuro and pick up the Tobu Tojo Line from there. In total it’ll take about an hour and forty minutes and cost ¥3,220.
Getting to Kawagoe from Tokyo Station
From Tokyo Station, the best option is to hop onto the Marunouchi Metro Line to Ikebukuro and transfer there to the Tobu Tojo Line. This will take an hour overall and cost ¥680.