My final adventure of the weekend was Kawagoe in nearby Saitama Prefecture; known as “Little Edo,” Kawagoe (川越) is located about 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo. Its main street is lined with buildings from the Edo Period (1603-1867).
My first stop was the Kawagoe Starbucks; I had seen it written up in several architecture magazines, and it was every bit as impressive in person. The store had only opened recently in March 2018; only steps away from the iconic bell tower, the shop's design blends seamlessly with the surrounding Edo-style scenery (the exterior is made from Saitama-produced timber).
The decorations lining the walls are made from the fusuma (sliding panels) of traditional Japanese houses, repurposed into tasteful framed works of art. Inside, the cafe's bench cushions are made using Kawagoe Tozan, the fabric used in the production of traditional Kawagoe Kimono. Outside, a beautifully manicured Japanese dry stone garden with bonsai pine trees and plenty of seating (no outlets for charging phones or camera batteries, though; and I found this to be true at multiple locations in Kawagoe, so be sure to bring your backup chargers!!)
One of the most important sights in Kawagoe is Kitain (喜多院), the head temple of the Tendai Sect in the Kanto Region. Among its halls are the only remaining palace buildings of the former Edo Castle. In 1638, a fire destroyed most of Kitain. To help rebuilding it, the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, ordered several palace buildings to be moved from Edo Castle to Kawagoe. These are today the only surviving buildings of Edo Castle because of the damage Tokyo suffered during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War II. One of the temple’s main draws sights are the Gohyaku Rakan statues, 540 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha, each with a unique expression. The statues were made between 1782 and 1825.
On my way to Kitain, I was in time to attend morning prayers at Shingon-sect Kawagoe Naritasan Betsuin (成田山川越別院本行院), which included the fire ritual known as “ogoma” that I had first witnessed at Koyasan. It was a magical (if devilishly HOT) experience and I ended up with my fifth (or sixth?) temple seal book and new seals.
I found the temple complex at Kitain extraordinarily beautiful and leisurely wandered the grounds; I even meditated overlooking the beautiful temple gardens and largely had the complex to myself.
After my newfound bliss, I visited the Tsubaki no Kura my friend had told me about. This remodeled kura (warehouse) features three stores on two floors, including a mural by renowned Kyoto artist Ki-Yan (you’ll remember my friend and I visited a Kyoto café painted by Ki-Yan), and best of all, a hidden footbath in the back. With the purchase of an overpriced local Coedo dark lager, I soaked to my heart’s content and had the entire foot spa to myself!
On my way out of town, I stopped to by sweet potato pastries as souvenirs along with some fortifying roasted green tea and sweet potato gelato, then it was back to the ordinary…