Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Northwest of Tokyo, in the Saitama Prefecture, lies the city of Kawagoe. An Edo-period castle town, it’s known for its old clay warehouses and merchant homes, called kurazukuri. It's a delightful blend of new and historic, and even on a rainy day you can't escape it's charm nor the magnetic pull to stay just a bit longer. It's a strange thing to say, but being there felt...right. It felt good. The sounds of New Orleans jazz playing from a local merchant's store may have had something to do with it, because of all the things to hear, how funny was it that it was the siren call from home?
I'd been fortunate enough to score an invite to join two friends on this adventure, and I'm so grateful for it. Thanks again! Kawagoe is an easy day trip-a straight shot from Harajuku Station. This meant we could leave at a very reasonable hour, enjoy the better part of the day outside of the city, then return in time for dinner. 10 am departure? Sign me up!
We did have some goals. With carefully annotated map in hand we were shown the major Shinto shrine, Hikawa, and the various other must-see's for a first time visit. Frances's prior trip proved to be invaluable. She was an excellent guide! With umbrellas in hand it was a nice 20 minute walk from station to shrine (with a few shopping stops). The rain didn't bother us anyway. We would pause form time to time to check out a smaller shrine, appreciating their current celebration (yesterday happened to be Sea Day), then walk a bit more and stop inside a shop that curated local pottery, glass, or other wares.
The further we moved from the station the less modern it felt, and slowly, the more traditional, Edo-inspired architecture took its place.
It's amazing how harmonious a blend it was, the new and the old, but it melded seamlessly. There was nothing jarring about it. We finished up a little shopping before heading down Kanetsuki Dori Street, a road that is home to the 400 year old bell tower. Also known as toki no kane, or bell of time, it's a hallmark to how much the town has a endured. At 16 meters tall the current structure was a rebuilding after the great fire of Kawagoe in the late 1800's. It does still ring, but only mechanically, and is the entrance to the Yakushi Shrine. If you have any illness, particularly eye disease, it's believed that visiting this particular shrine will help and protect you.
There are numerous shops and food vendors along this more traditional road. Meg, Frances, and I each thought the thinly sliced and fried sweet potatoes looked yummy (a much celebrated root veggie) and a sweet ice cream with a heart on top looked delightful as well. But what really caught our attention was the Edo-inspired Starbucks. We didn't go in, but it was probably one of the prettiest I've ever seen and would certainly go back to the next time I visit.
Image courtesy of Google
I feel like this next part requires its own post. Our walks along the back streets to Hikawa Shrine provided some lovely moments, but the shrine itself...there's so much to go into.
I'll touch on it here, but write up my thoughts later on this shrine that is not only considered a "power spot", but is the actual enshrinement of the God of Marriage. Those who wish to find their perfect match or ensure a lasting one come here since it offers blessings for "family satisfaction, perfect couples, and marriage”. That is one heck of a trifecta! We actually witnessed a wedding procession while there, and if nothing else made the moment more beautiful, the romance of the ceremony certainly did.
At every shrine there are small, simple practices you can enjoy as you seek or offer a blessing. There were three moments that really made this visit especially precious, though. Walking reverently through the tunnel of ema (small wooden placards with prayers/blessings/well wishes) was one, carefully maneuvering atop the slippery infinity-shaped stones to ensure a life-long marriage and love was another, and getting my first goshuin stamp in my goshuincho book was the third.
A goshuincho is an “honorable stamp/seal book” used by people visiting shrines or temples. The book is handed over to an attendant and in return for a modest fee, usually about 300 yen ($3 USD), will be stamped with the shrine or temple’s name along with the day’s date. This serves as proof of pilgrimage to that location. A completed goshuincho, especially one that goes to certain specific shrines or temples, is said to offer some sort of spiritual fulfillment.
I was so thankful to experience this with the sweetest ladies and I cannot wait to share more about Hikawa Shrine. I think y'all will love it as much as I did catching my blue snapper omikuji (luck diving paper). This tickled me to bits and Meg captured it beautifully.
We enjoyed a suspiciously good lunch after (sorry, inside joke), popped into Candy Alley for some silly sweet treats for the children in our families, then did a little more shopping before hopping on the train to head back into Tokyo. It was a super fun, very fulfilling day.
I thank you all for coming along and cannot wait to share more excursions from our current port. Y'all enjoy your weekend ahead and enjoy a safe holiday weekend friends in Japan!