The second season of cherry blossoms has almost passed since I’ve been living in Japan, and yet again, it felt like a fleeting dream. I took a few days off work to enjoy the floral views all over Tokyo and beyond. There are many places outside the metropolis that make for a perfect escape from the city clamor, like Kamakura, Hakone, and Lake Kawaguchiko to name a few. Now, I have one more spot to add to the list. Last week I headed to Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, which is only 45-minute away from Tokyo and provides one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots close to the city.
During the Edo Period, Kawagoe was an important commercial town prospering as a supplier of commodities to Tokyo. Close ties with the capital inevitably cast influence over Kawagoe’s culture and architecture. Thanks to the thriving trade, the prosperous merchants were able to build their warehouses and stores in the Kurazukuri style. Many of these buildings are still preserved adding atmospheric charm to the city and earning it the name of “Little Edo.”
My trip to Kawagoe can hardly be classified as uneventful. Google Maps took me to a totally different direction and I ended up walking two hours instead of 30 minutes to the shrine I wanted to see. The countryside views I saw that day made it all worth it. I stumbled upon a deserted old shrine surrounded by nothing but farmlands with a single lush cherry tree up front. It felt like I discovered a very special spot, although I also felt very frustrated about my commute.
I spent the entire day perusing the streets of Kawagoe. It was a pleasantly warm sunny day, and the dormant little town with quaint architecture was covered with white clouds of sakura everywhere you looked. Shrines were decorated in neon-colored lanterns that created a striking contrast to the creamy cherry trees. You could also see the food stalls set-up nearby selling cherry blossom ice cream, mochi, manju, daifuku, wine, juice, and probably more that I didn’t see. The scenery was charming and refreshing after being in Tokyo too long. I particularly liked three spots for cherry blossom viewing.
Shingashi River behind Kawagoehikawa Shrine
It was serene, stunning and perfect. The white blossoms were so plush they looked like a foamy soap forming a tunnel over the river. The pleasant smell of cherries filled the air and birds were singing loudly. It was a delight to sit on the bank of the river and enjoy the warm afternoon sun streaming through the blooming branches. At times, the light breeze would blow the delicate petals off the trees and make them float in the air. It was a pure poetic beauty and looked and felt magical. Sadly, I missed the famous traditional wooden boat that runs at set times during the matsuri, something to bear in mind for the next year.
The Hikawa shrine itself boasts with long history, dating back to the 6th century. Known as a “love shrine” enshrining the god of married couples, it either is frequented by singles looking for help in finding their significant other, or couple who hold their wedding ceremony here. It is also a center of the famous Kawagoe Festival held every October.
The temple grounds were submerged in the blossoms and formed a perfect spot for a relaxing picnic. Known for the Tokugawa Rooms inside its museum, as well as housing the statues of the 500 Rakan—the disciples of Buddha—this temple holds a daruma festival on the 3rd of January each year.
Although, to be honest, everywhere I looked and every random shrine I bumped into during my walk looked particularly beautiful.
Kurazukuri no Machinami
Cherry blossoms are not the only attraction in the city, and no visit to Kawagoe should go without a stroll along the main street of Kurazukuri no Machinami, or the Warehouse District. Entire avenue is lined up with Kurazukuri, the clay-walled warehouse-styled houses. If it were not for the annoying heavy traffic, you’d think you are traveling back in time to the Edo Period. Almost every building houses a souvenir or craft shop or a restaurant, although I also spotted the post office in one of them. One of the prominent features of the district is Bell Tower which still chimes four times a day. Those with the sweet tooth should not miss Kashiya Yokochō (literally “Candy Alley”) either, a little shopping atmospheric street dotted with shops selling traditional Japanese sweets and cakes. Kawagoe also comes to life every October during its annual Kawagoe Festival which features spectacular festival floats carrying exquisitely crafted dolls.
It was the most relaxing day I’ve had in a while, and I will certainly be back to explore more of Kawagoe’s craft shops and indulge in local specialties like sweet potato on rice.
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