Blast from the Past: Ichibangai

By on March 3, 2013

It’s easy to get swept away by the glitz and glamour of present-day Japan with its blinding neon lights and trendy fashion quirks; so easy, that many tend to overlook the allure of Japan from simpler times. But for all the dedication Japan puts into its evolution as a futuristic utopia, it is also steadfast in maintaining its roots: a shimmering example of which is the historical town of Kawagoe.

Tucked away in southern Saitama, a trip to Kawagoe feels like time traveling. Famed for its Ichibangai Street, a collective of well-preserved Edo-era architecture and shopping alleys, the town has been dubbed “Koedo” (“Little Edo”) with how vividly it evokes the zeitgeist of yesteryear.

Ichibangai is adorned with charming buildings, castles, and warehouses – many of which visitors can freely explore – topped with black fireproof roofs (implemented by wealthy villagers after a great fire nearly burned the street down in 1893), as well as the Toki no Kane, a majestic bell tower that has been announcing the time since the early days of Edo, and has become the street’s main landmark.

The historically inclined can satiate their curiosity at the Yamazaki Museum of Art, located at the top of the street, which displays lithographs and charcoal drawings from noted Kawagoe artists; further down, the Kurazukuri Museum explores the secrets to the street’s iconic architecture style; and the Kawagoe Festival Museum next door features photographs, videos, and floats from the historical annual Kawagoe Festival.

Sweet-toothed? Head over to Kashiya Yokocho on the northwestern corner of Ichibangai. This side-street is redolent with the scent of sugar as old-fashioned confectioneries line up the alleys where ojiichan (grandfathers) and obaachan (grandmothers) greet passers-by. The stalls are filled to the brim with colorful candies of every variety, encapsulating a taste of Japanese nostalgia. (If you’re lucky, you may even get handed some samples!) And of course, children will regale in the selection of classical toys that rival modern gadgetry in fun.
If you’d like some souvenirs for the home, trek down to Naritasan Betsuin Temple on the 28th of every month for the Antique Market, where you’re sure to find unique and rare gems.

Feeling like traveling through time? Forgo the Delorean and head for the station: Kawagoe beckons.

How to get there:
From Shinjuku: JR Saikyo Line to Kawagoe Station (about 30 minutes by rapid)
From Seibu Shinjuku: Seibu-Shinjuku Line to Hon-Kawagoe Station (about 1 hour by
From Ikebukuro: Tobu Tojo Line to Kawagoe Station (about 30 minutes by express)
From Shibuya: Fukutoshin Line to Kawagoe Station (about 1 hour)

About Martin Leroux