A Day in “Coedo” Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

Just half an hour from Ikebukuro is Kawagoe, a town in Saitama that is affectionately nicknamed “Coedo” or “Little Edo” for its resemblance to the Edo era. Many old buildings and landmarks untouched by war and fire still stand, and it’s a lovely place to visit for a day trip.

Unlike other hotspots like Senso-ji Temple and Kyoto, Kawagoe didn’t have many foreign tourists at all. Saitama, the prefecture just north of Tokyo, is often overlooked by visitors, but I recommend Kawagoe for its peaceful atmosphere.

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Though a bit of a trek from the station, the attractive part of town is worth the walk. The cute buildings and the shouts of stall staff hard at work gave the streets a nostalgic atmosphere.

The Time Bell is a must-see; its chime is one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan.

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On every street, there was something to do or see, whether it was coffee, ice cream, or traditional toys to take home.

Walking around was thirsty work, so we stopped for a Coedo beer. Right opposite is a unique-looking Starbucks if you prefer coffee.

After exploring, we stopped for some food. My husband managed to bypass all the expensive touristy places and found a charming hole-in-the-wall ramen shop run by a little old lady. She had money all over the wall from visitors from various countries, and she only served one dish: shoyu (soy sauce)-based ramen, a signature type of noodles for this region.

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This delicious and hearty bowl of ramen, plus a small bowl of rice with a little umeboshi plum, came to just 500 yen!

We also went to visit some temples, though I didn’t take any pictures aside from the enormous torii gate.

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If you ever get the chance to visit Kawagoe, please do! It involves some walking, but it’s a really beautiful and peaceful area without the crowds you get at some other places.

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A Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Tamagawa Daishi Temple

Back in my tour guide days, I used to dread hearing the words “hidden gem.” Tourists claim to want to see unknown places that no one knows about, but if tourists went there, they wouldn’t be hidden. I know some of the popular places in Tokyo, but I wasn’t aware of many places that “no one knows about.”

However, today a friend took me to a temple in Futago-Tamagawa. Futago-Tamagawa, much like other places in Kanagawa Prefecture, has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Young people often visit for shopping and dining. But there is more to the area than department stores and restaurants.

After walking for around fifteen minutes after a delicious Korean lunch near the station, we reached a small temple called Tamagawa Daishi. Now, it didn’t look like much from the outside…

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But what made this very old temple special was that it was much, much bigger once you ventured underground.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but here is an account of what we found.

After offering a five-yen coin, ringing the gong, and saying a quick prayer, we ventured inside. The temple was stuffed full of old treasures: ancient gongs, statues of various Buddhist gods blackened by time, and solid gold bells and things I didn’t recognise. Incense burned and the smell of wood filled the air.

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It cost 100 yen to go down into the underground. We signed our names, put on the provided slippers, and headed down there.

“Last time I was here, we got into trouble for screaming,” my friend told me. “The monk had to tell us off.”

Apparently, it was so dark down there they got freaked out and started shrieking. She wasn’t kidding; it was pitch-black and we had to walk slowly, hands sliding along the wall. I’m not sure what the point of a dark tunnel in a Japanese temple is, but it might give you the feeling of walking into another world.

After several minutes of feeling our way along in the dark, we reached this amazing underground room. Again, taking photographs was prohibited and I wasn’t about to disrespect the rules, but there was a long corridor full of the 88 monks of the temple from back then. Some of them had unlit candles or other treasures placed before them.

There were also statues of angels, one enormous stone statue of the monk who built the temple, and various models of the gods of fire. At one point, we came across a god who helped take unborn deceased children to the afterlife. A month ago I had a miscarriage, but instead of being upsetting, the statue of a god with smaller cherubs clinging to his robes filled me with wonder (though I did feel my eyes burning.)

My friend said later that she had forgotten about my misfortune when she had invited me, and apologised profusely. I told her it was fine; I had wanted to visit a temple with these statues anyway, so in a way, it was beautiful, if a little heartbreaking.

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Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures outside.

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Then we headed to Musashi-Nakahara to see a small farm of pansies. The pansy is the symbol of Nakahara Ward and is popular to buy around December. Some of the arrangements in the picture below were being sold for 30,000 yen (About £206 GBP or $265 USD)!

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All in all, it was a great day and very different from what I usually do. If you’re in the area, Tamagawa Daishi is worth a visit for the vast array of authentic treasures that are hundreds of years old. It’s a little surreal to be in an underground temple surrounded by priceless artifacts from temple worship.

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