11 May 2015

Japan 2014 - Day 5 - Kawagoe

The next day we took the train north of Tokyo to the town of Kawagoe, a town that retains many features of the Edo period, with old storehouse merchant houses lined up along the main street. The Kura-zukuri zone (the old storehouse zone) is the key attraction along with the bell tower, Toki-no-Kane and the Kawagoe Festival Museum. 

Our first stop was at the Kita-In Temple which is a key Buddhist temple in the area. Parts of the temple are part of the original Edo Castle from Tokyo. Many of the buildings were built in the 15th and 16th centuries, including the reception hall, the priest's quarters and the temple gate.

Parts of the old Edo Castle.

As it was the middle of November and chrysanthemum season there was the obligatory display of these amazing flowers. 

It is also famous for the 540 statues of Buddha's disciples carved between 1782 and 1825, of which no to are alike. The symbols of the Chinese horoscope can also be found amongst the statues and the staff of the temple were very keen to speak English with us and to show us the statues that represented the  year of our birth. 

After visiting the temple we headed towards the old storehouse area. In ancient Japan the houses were built of wood and there were many fires. So in order to safeguard their most precious belongings storehouses were built, covered in fireproof clay, but they were also used by merchants to store their wares. Kawagoe was an important commercial town supplying goods to Edo Tokyo and this enabled many of the merchants in the city to become rich enough to build not only their storehouses but also their shops in the Kurazukuri style. The storehouses were expensive to build and many of the merchants of Kawagoe built elaborate buildings to show off their wealth. Many of the buildings survive on the main street and attract tourists (mostly Japanese) to the town. 

 A family celebrating Shichi-Go-San festival in Kawagoe.

Another key visitor attraction in Kawagoe is the bell tower, Toki-no-Kane which along with telling the time was used to warn citizens of fires in the town. The original tower was built between 1624 and 1644 whilst the current tower dates back to 1894, a year after the Great Fire of Kawagoe which destroyed the previous tower. 

Kawagoe is famous for its sweet potatoes so we grabbed some for lunch on the go.

There were many Japanese girls enjoying wearing kimonos amongst the old buildings of the city. 

We also visited the Kawagoe Festival Museum. The Kawagoe Festival takes place on the 3rd weekend of October and the highlight is the parade of spectacular floats. The wheeled floats are 2 storeys tall and carry exquisitely carved dolls, and musicians and dancers perform on them as they are wheeled through the city. If 2 floats meet in the street there is a face off between the floats, with the musicians playing against each other - this is called Hikkawase.  The museum allows you to see 2 of the massive floats and to learn about the festival. We were amazed that we could even have a guided tour of the museum in English.

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