In a quaint town within Saitama Prefecture lies the city of Kawagoe. Walking into this town feels like stepping foot in a classic Japanese literature set during the time of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In fact, a lot of the structures that currently stand within the city proper originate back from the Edo Period.
Upon establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate back in the Edo Period, Kawagoe was considered to be the capital of the region – with the regional leader assigned by the head shogun taking quarters at Kawagoe Castle. Much of the city's structure was modeled after Tokyo's own structures at the time, serving as a smaller Edo for the region, which was Tokyo's official name back then. A lot of the town elements that were erected during that time are still very much present within modern day Kawagoe – earning it the nickname "Little Edo" or "Koedo".
However, there are several factors why the structures in Kawagoe managed to survive through time. It is important to note that while the design and elements have been retained from Edo period, the structures were actually rebuilt during 1893 when a big portion of the city was engulfed in a large fire. This incident allowed a majority of the structures to be rebuilt within the city.
During the next century, the city of Kawagoe was lucky enough to miss two major disasters that shook most of Japan. The Great Kanto Earthquake, which devastated the whole Kanto Region during 1923. However, despite being in the central area of Kanto, Kawagoe was lucky enough to survive the quake.
During the 1940's, Japan also participated in the World War II, which led to a series of bombings that occurred all over Japan. Naturally, a lot of places experienced substantial damage – with Hiroshima and Nagasaki receiving the worst blow of all. Kawagoe, on the other hand, was lucky enough to experience very minimal damage.
The land area is relatively small compared to other major towns in Japan, with the size spanning to approximately 109 square kilometers only. This size was not even the original scope of Kawagoe City since it has undergone plenty of mergers, most especially during and after the Meiji Restoration. The latest merger occurred in 1955 when a couple of neighboring towns were annexed into the core area of Kawagoe.
When going around Kawagoe, the best way to travel is through trains. There are three major operators in the city: JR East, Tobu, and Seibu. If traveling through JR East, this has the most number of stations throughout Kawagoe having five stopover stations. On the other hand, Tobu has only four: Kasumigaseki, Kawagoeshi, Kawagoe, and Shingashi stations; meanwhile, Seibu has only two: Hon-Kawagoe, and Minami-Otsuka.
Individuals with relatives or friends within Kawagoe may easily opt to send a parcel to Kawagoe, given that they know the exact postal code for the area covering his or her address. Since Japan's postal code zoning is very complex; even a small town like Kawagoe has hundreds of postal codes for each of its area. A quick tip is to ensure first that the first three digits of the postal code contain the numbers "350" since that is the official prefix of postal codes for Kawagoe city.
Understanding Kawagoe, Japan's Weather
Both tourists and locals alike will find that Kawagoe's weather is extremely agreeable. Among the different areas of Honshu Island, the eastern region closest to the coast of the Pacific Ocean all share a Pacific-Coast climate. This means that the area experiences warm and temperate weather almost all year long. The humid subtropical climate means that summer days are hot, and winter days are cold, though at a level that is not too extreme.
Those who are visiting during the months of July and August will find Kawagoe at it's hottest period, with an average temperate rising to 25-26 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, January may be too cold for some as the temperature falls down to as much as -1 degrees Celsius. January is also a tad colder compared to the months of December, February and March, however, those months still experience cold weather.
One thing worth noting is that it rains quite a lot in Kawagoe, most especially during July and August. While the town usually experiences mild rain showers all year round, the heaviest rainfall happens during summer season wherein the town experiences thunderstorms at certain occasions.
If possible, the best time to schedule a trip to Kawagoe would be during Spring and Fall seasons, when the weather is drier and much more predictable. Taking a stroll around Kawagoe City's historic features is much more pleasant when the weather is comfortable; not too hot, but also not too cold.
Regardless of the season, it is best to come to Kawagoe prepared with the proper type of clothing, and equipped with umbrellas to combat any rainfall during the period of visit.
How To Travel From The Nearest Airports to Kawagoe, Japan
An interesting fact about the town of Kawagoe is that it was actually named from the means of transportation used to travel to the city during the ancient days. Back in the older days when infrastructure was non-existent, different bodies of water surrounded the city of Kawagoe. The only way to get through is to take a boat and pass through the river. Thus, it earned its name "Kawagoe", which literally translates to "go over the river".
Luckily, present day Japan is now filled with modern infrastructure, and state of the art transportation systems that have made the requirement of traveling through a boat obsolete, Those who have decided to include Kawagoe as part of their travel itinerary would be delighted to know that it is accessible through two different airports; either through Haneda or Narita.
Since Narita is much farther at an 114 km distance from Kawagoe, the direct shuttle service offered from the airport is more expensive and would take up to 150 minutes travel time. The more economical and efficient way to travel to Kawagoe by air is through Haneda airport, which is much nearer at only 60 km distance from the city. Reaching Kawagoe through the direct shuttle service from the airport takes much less time and money.
However, knowing Japan and its way advanced transportation system, it comes to no surprise that the best way to get around from one place to another is by train. Even a significantly smaller city such as Kawagoe has three major railway operators present within its confines: JR East, Tobu Railway and Seibu Railway. Since the trains operate at a lightning speed, moving at a very fast mph, moving from one location to another would take only minutes.
The best place to come from, heading to Kawagoe is actually Tokyo. Located only 30 km from Kawagoe, it is also directly connected through the three major lines. However, those who are coming from anywhere else would still find it easy to travel to Kawagoe as long as their point of origin falls within a railway line.
The secret to successfully navigating to and from one location is to do extended research on the most economical ways to travel point to point. This applies to most of Japan, which is overflowing with public transportation options.
A Tourist's Guide to Kawagoe's Attractions and Festivals
Of course, the best way to enjoy Kawagoe is to go through the core city wherein most of the old town vibe has been preserved. Below are some well-recommended spots within Kawagoe's core city that have been popular among tourists.
One of the main attractions while in Kawagoe is an ancient bell tower that has been present since the 1600's, though it has been rebuilt like most of the town during the 1890's. Aside from its towering height of 16 meters, it also plays a culturally significant part of the city's day-to-day life for nearly four hundred years as it rang every 6 P.M., 12 P.M., 3 P.M., and 6 P.M.
Another site full of old-world charm is Kurazukuri Street, which houses several "kurazukiri" or traditional warehouses coming from the 18th and 19th century. Of course, some portions of Kurazikiri Street were damaged badly from the fire is 1893, however, some lucky few were able to survive which is the reason why several 1700's and 1800's style elements can still be seen among the warehouses. Otherwise, the general style of the Kurazukiri's follow a standard Edo period warehouse design. The street also houses Kawagoe Kurazukiri Museum, which is worth visiting to gain more knowledge regarding the history of the place.
The next location is literally Little Edo outside of Edo: Kitain Temple. It is an ancient temple that was believed to have been built 20,000 years ago. However, during the year of 1683, most of the ancient temple burned to the ground. With the city of Kawagoe close to the central Tokugawa shogunate in Edo, Tokugawa Iemetsu himself ordered several structures within Edo castle to be moved to Kitain temple to replace the burned down structures.
As fate would have it, the palace buildings that have been transported from Tokyo to Edo Castle are actually the only surviving structures left from the original castle. Since Kawagoe was lucky enough to survive the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the transported buildings were unharmed – however, its original location in present-day Tokyo suffered immense damages.
Other notable attractions in Kawagoe would include visiting the local Koedo Brewery to take a sip of sweet potato beer. Sweet potato happens to be a popular delicacy in the area, as it is also served in different forms such as ice cream, potato chips, coffee and the like. Those who are interested in trying different variants of sweet potato may want to visit Candy Street as well.
Of course, one simply can't pay a visit to Kawagoe without seeing the "Honmaru Goten" or the Kawagoe Castle. As mentioned earlier, this building was used to house all of the lords who allied with the shogunate. In fact, tourists who will opt to visit the castle will be welcomed with wax figures of warlords sitting inside a tatami room. This gives anyone who walks into the room a feel of how the castle used to operate back in the time.
Most of the attractions in town are accessible by foot, with Kawagoe Castle, Kitain Temple, Kurazukiri, and the City Museum all at walking distance from one another. The best thing about Kawagoe is that the whole core of the town is a tourist attraction by itself, having plenty of well-preserved buildings from the past.
Every year, there is an annual Kawagoe City Festival held in order to celebrate the rich culture of Kawagoe.
A Good News for Travelers: Kawagoe, Japan is (Almost) Free from Deadly Earthquakes
If the various tourist attractions aren't enough to convince anyone to take time and travel to Kawagoe, here is a reassuring fact that everyone can keep in mind: Kawagoe is relatively free from high-magnitude Earthquakes.
It is quite a known fact that the geographical location of Japan makes it the unfortunate recipient of earthquakes caused by volcanic and tectonic movement. A quick Google search on Kawagoe's history of earthquakes, however, would not yield any results, unlike other locations such as Shizuoka, Miyagi, and other prefectures of Japan that have been hit with a devastating earthquake at least once in the past.
Does this assure that Kawagoe city is entirely free from earthquakes? The answer is: not quite. Advanced earthquake tracking systems have indicated that as of writing this article, Kawagoe has, in fact, experienced more than ninety earthquakes in the past three hundred sixty-five days. This seems like a very large number, however, it is a pretty normal number by Japanese standards.
The whole Saitama Prefecture also occasionally experiences magnitude five earthquakes that are much more noticeable. However, the epicenter is usually far from Kawagoe itself as usually, it is in a different area within the prefecture.
The important thing to remember is that most of the earthquakes experienced by Kawagoe are of a minor classification. The range usually falls within four magnitudes in the Richter scale, with a depth of only 40 kilometers. Hence, it is safe to assume that the area of Kawagoe is not prone to massive earthquakes, or even fatal tsunamigenic earthquakes that have struck Japan in the past. Travelers can head to Kawagoe with an extra bit of piece of mind.