Take a glimpse of old Japan just a short journey from the base. Here you can see a street of Edo-era storehouses and merchant houses, the Kitain Temple, and a castle converted into a museum. For a small entrance fee at the Temple you can see some remains from Edo Castle that were moved here, a beautiful garden, and 540 statues of Rakan with no two Buddhas alike. Download a tourist map of the area here and walk to the castle and to the historic commercial street. We enjoyed seeing the many kimono clad Japanese ladies out for a stroll and the interesting buildings.
The history of “Little Edo”
Kawagoe was a castle town, protecting the northern flank of Edo Castle, which is now the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo. The Matsudaira family ruled Kawagoe for 100 years, boosting rice production to sell downriver in Edo. Much of Tokugawa-era Kawagoe (1700-1800s) remains for you to rediscover.
Be sure to make at least one trip to Kawagoe timed so that you can browse the shrine sale held on the 28th of each month at Naritasan Temple. The shrine sale antiques reflect the old buildings of Little Edo, remainders of an older community that was not bombed during World War II. After shopping, visit Kitain Temple around the corner from the shrine sale. Kitain became the main temple of a three-temple complex that prospered due to a friendship in the 1600s beween the head monk and the first shogun. The Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, had the place rebuilt in 1638 and arranged for part of Edo Castle to be relocated in Kitain. One ornate room with a floral ceiling is thought to be the room where he was born. Diagonal to Kitain is the place of Gohyaku Rakan or Five Hundred Buddhas (with its entrance next to a small shop). Made from 1781 to 1825, each two- or three-feet tall Buddha is different.
After looking around Kitain, head toward the streets of old town where the kurazukuri buildings are located. The kurazukuri are icons of old Kawagoe. These combination store/residence buildings are fireproof, having been constructed from a wood frame packed with clay and plaster. The 30 or so remaining buildings were mostly built after the Great Fire of 1893.
The Osawa family owns Kawagoe’s oldest kurazukuri, built in 1793. This building is now an “Important Cultural Property” and shop specializing in folk art. It is located in Saiwai-cho, along with the city-run Kurazukuri Museum and other kurazukuri protected by the city. Two tourist information office in the old warehouse district can supply you with maps, but the town has lots of tourist-oriented maps posted and directional signs in English. Be sure to visit the quaint Penny Candy Lane.
Teresa Negley & Catherine L. Sadler. Updates & lead photo by Sarah Straus, 2012.
DIRECTIONS: Drive or take the train from Higashi-Fussa station, per the directions below. The parking for the shrine sale (GPS: 35.9186,139.4902) is right by the Kitain Temple.
Kawagoe Shrine Sale
Kawagoe is filled with treasures. We’ve found rice buckets, pottery, wooden items, brocade obi, shoji screens, baskets and lacquerware, among other booty. Held on the 28th of every month from dawn to dusk, rain or shrine, Kawagoe flea market is on a circuit of many flea market vendors.
DIRECTIONS: Set the odometer to zero as you turn right out the Terminal Gate. Go north via the underpass onto Route 16 where you will stay most of your trip. At 10.9km, the road splits with Route 16 to the left. The road also narrows to two lanes temporarily. Follow the blue signs for Kawagoe and stay on Route 16 as it bears left again. You will pass the SATY store on your right at 15.2km. Route 16 turns right around a bend at 23.4km with more blue signs to direct you . At 26.6km (with the round “Hotel 10” ahead), bear left onto Route 254 toward Higashi Matsuyama. Stay in the left lane, go under the arched pedestrian bridge at 27km, then make a left turn immediately afterward (not before the bridge). At the second light, 27.9km, make a left and then park in the lot on your right (¥500/three hours) before the Kitain Temple complex. (The parking lot entrance is slightly tricky. They’ve set it up so that you first come across the exit. Drive a bit further to find the entrance.) The monthly sale is held at Narita-san Shrine, a couple blocks to the right down the street on the other side of the parking lot. GPS for parking lot: 35.9186,139.4902. – Shrine Sale photos by Kelly Cash, July 2013
View Kawagoe in a larger map
DIRECTIONS HOME: Backtrack to Routes 254 and 16, turning into the first right two lanes, and head towards Hachioji (not up the ramp). Then, move over to the far left lane before Route 16 curves left. Barbara Kirkwood 2001. Liz Ruskin verified directions and parking lot info in 2011.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS:You can get to Kawagoe in less than an hour from the Higashi-Fussa station. This station is even closer to the base than the main Fussa station. You don’t even have to transfer if you chose the right train, so check Hyperdia before you go. Take the JR Hachiko line toward Kawagoe (not toward Hachioji). On trains bound for Kawagoe, the name of the line changes at Komagawa, but the same train continues on to Kawagoe station. When you get out of the train station you’ll be on an elevated plaza. Go just to the left of the Atre store and descend on the stairs that will put you behind the Atre and across the streets. You’ll be on a pedestrian street called Crea Mall. (Look for the “Crea Mall” banner over the walkway. There’s a red “New Crown” sign on the corner.) Stay on the Crea Mall for a kilometer, past where it becomes a real street. Continue on it until you reach a 4-way intersection with a big road, labeled 15 on maps. Beyond this road, the pavement color changes to grey as it goes into the historic district. Instead, turn right on 15 and walk until you see a blue pedestrian overpass. The entrance to the shrine sale is right there, on your right. Total distance from Kawagoe train station: 1.7km. Liz Ruskin, 2011.
Kawagoe RISM Outlet Mall
This is a collection of shops in a modern setting, southeast of Kawagoe and about 30km northeast of Yokota. On the second level there is an Eddie Bauer outlet and an outdoor/sports shop with goods by Patagonia, Columbia, and Coleman in addition to an Italian diner, and a carpet shop at the opposite end. There is also a shoe store with Cole Haan, Dr. Maartens and other famous brands; a large drugstore; a shop selling kitchen goods alongside lingerie; and several clothing shops. Kids will like the arcade of snack shops and game machines on the first level. www.rism-city.com.
DIRECTIONS: Turn right out the Terminal Gate onto Route 16, heading for Kawagoe via the underpass. Route 16 will narrow from four lanes to two lanes and widen again. As you enter Kawagoe, the Route 16 signs will change to show Kasukabe and Omiya (at about 20km, stay on Route 16 in the right lane). You’ll pass a blue sign for The Old Spaghetti Factory on the right. Stay in the right lane as Route 16 takes a sharp right turn (at 23.4 km). As the road curves to the left, you’ll see 3 large blue signs (Kawagoe Station, Higashi-Matsuyama, and Tokyo). Stay in the right lane and turn right onto Route 254 for Tokyo, and later Ikebukuro. The road will cross Route 56 with a Royal Host on the right. Stay on Route 254, going straight. At about 30km, there will be an Esso station on the right and a Toyota auto dealer on the left. Turn left at the light where Jonathan’s Restaurant and Men’s Plaza Aoki are on the far left corner. You’ll pass a park on the right. Turn right at the second light (there’s a fire station on the left, and a Mos Burger opposite it on the far left – look for the “M” sign). Follow the “P” (for parking) signs around the mall to the left into an underground garage. Push the green button on the machine to get a parking ticket. The first two hours are free, then it’s ¥100/half hour. For the return, back track via Routes 254 and 16 toward Hachioji. Stay in the left lane as you approach Route 16. The drive is 1-1.5 hours, 32km away. Hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm; closed on the third Wednesday of the month. Telephone: 0492-69-3939. Address: Ureshino 2-10-87, Fujimino-shi, Saitama-Ken. GPS: 35.8580, 139.5253. Chieko Brumley, Wendy Matheny, Teresa Negley, 1996. Opening hours and GPS added 2011.