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Old Edo streetscape survives in Kawagoe

Kawagoe promotes itself as “Little Edo”, with a streetscape that lets us imagine what a town in the Edo period might have looked like.  One key stretch of the main street even comes without power lines, which are so often a blight on the Japanese cityscape.  This might sound like only a small attention to detail, but it is noticeable way of making the streetscape so much more enjoyable.  If only cars were removed from the main historical street as well!

On a beautiful late summer’s Sunday afternoon, I headed out to Kawagoe, a city in neighbouring Saitama Prefecture, with some friends to see what the old town had in store.  Although we only had a few hours, we found that the Kita-in temple and the old streetscape definitely warranted our time.  Some of the old town has survived progress, the 1923 Kanto earthquake and WW2 bombings, and has now been preserved (including power lines being submerged), with the humble mountain potato (yama-imo) selected to be its souvenir of choice.

Kita-in temple

First stop was Kita-in temple (喜多院) (perhaps translated as “temple of great happiness”), about 1km from Hon-Kawagoe Station, which dates back as far as the 9th century, although the present buildings are not nearly that old, being rebuilt after a fire in 1638.  It is a complex of temple buildings, as well as an old residence, where the one of the Tokugawa shoguns, Iemitsu, is said to have been born.  There are nice gardens inside.

Kita-in temple

Kita-in temple

Within the Kita-in complex are the “Go-hyaku Rakan” (500 disciples of Buddha) statues.  There are over 500 statues of men, all with individual emotions or expressions.  Some are more weathered than others, but some are remarkably well preserved for statues carved between the late 1700s and early 1800s.

500 Rakan statues (500 disciples of Buddha)

Our favourite disciple of Buddha was this one picking his nose.  Perhaps fittingly, even part of his nose was weathered away.

500 Rakan statues (500 disciples of Buddha).   This one's picking his nose.

Wandering back to the main commercial part of the old town, the old streetscape revealed itself to be a mixture of 1930s stone structures, similar to the the style seen in Mojiko, and old Edo-style storehouses.  If only motorised traffic was diverted off this street, as it would be a great pedestrian thoroughfare without the vehicular traffic jam.  However, the style of buildings otherwise gives the street a charming feel from older times.

The Tokino Kane (bell tower) is a symbol of Kawagoe, if only 17 metres high.

Streetscape - Kawagoe (Bell Tower, 1624)

Streetscape - Kawagoe

Streetscape - Kawagoe

Streetscape - Kawagoe

Streetscape - Kawagoe

Our last stop before returning to Tokyo was a street called “Kashiya-yokocho”, which is a street containing nothing but candy shops.  It also has cultural significance as a significant streetscape, and a sign explains that after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, it once was about the only place to supply candy to the whole country.  Makes you realise how little sugary morsels people must have eaten back then if this small area was the chief supplier!

Streetscape - Kawagoe (kashiya-yokocho - street full of candy shops)

We came across a small Shinto shrine (Kumonojinja, I think) near the main street with some gimmicks for visitors.  Firstly, it had a quoits-type game set up, linked to your fortune.  Try throw a quoit onto the right peg – mind & soul, money, health, work/study, love – and see how your fortune might be.  My soul is intact, but I couldn’t hook the peg to improve my love life…

Kumanojinja - a fortune telling quoits game.  My soul is intact, but my love life is shot.

This shrine also had a foot massage set up – take your shoes off and walk along a strip of small stones laid into the concrete.  They are in patterns that are guaranteed to sharply stick into your soles.  Ouch!!  A good test of the fortitude of your soles and possibly your soul.  (Good to see that I chose socks that don’t have any holes in them this morning.)

Kumonojinja - a foot massage walkway with small rocks to test the strenth of the fortitude of your soles (and therefore maybe your soul)

 

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