Less than an hour by train from Tokyo, the city of Kawagoe in Saitama has plenty to offer. The historical center is lined with traditional kurazukuri buildings, clay-walled warehouses dating back to the end of the 19th century, and the area has many cultural assets and an attractive riverside. Moreover, the main attractions are all well within walking distance of each other.
Kawagoe has been nicknamed Koedo (literally, “Little Edo”) due to its status as one of the major merchant towns surrounding Edo, the old name for Tokyo.
Although I don’t own a kimono, let alone know how to put one on by myself, I’ve always loved wearing them. In recent years, kimono shops offering reasonably priced rentals for visitors have been springing up in Japan’s traditional tourist areas. A few years ago I would have felt too self-conscious to rent one and walk around by myself. However, it really adds to the experience when visiting a traditional town and now I can’t wait to dress up.
I took the Seibu Red Arrow limited express train from Shinjuku and got off at Hon-Kawagoe Station, which is about a 15-minute-walk from the historic district and major tourist attractions. My first stop was Vivian, a kimono rental store tucked in a little side street off the main thoroughfare (Kurazukuri Dori). The owner, Sonoe Funabashi, is also a professional actress and nihon buyo dancer.
“When I opened the shop about 10 years ago there weren’t so many foreign tourists coming, but Kawagoe has grown very popular recently. I haven’t raised my prices in all that time because I want to provide an inexpensive kimono experience for as many people as possible,” she says.
At just ¥2,160 for your choice of kimono, bag, zori slippers and hair ornaments, plus dressing and simple hairstyling, I found the price to be very reasonable. (¥3,240 for men; ¥2,160 for children.) I chose a lovely pink-purple kimono which seemed perfect for spring, and I was dressed and ready to go in less than 30 minutes. (Reservations are recommended, especially if you’re coming on a weekend or during school holiday periods.)
Just a minute’s walk from Vivian, I made a quick stop at the Toki no Kane (Bell of Time), a wooden bell tower which is one of Kawagoe’s most famous landmarks. The original tower was built over 400 years ago, but it has burned down several times since. The current tower dates back to 1893.
My next destination was Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, about 15 minutes away on foot. Walking in a