Koedo: “Little Edo” 30 minutes from Tokyo!
Anyone planning to travel to Japan must have once thought of going to Kyoto, as this is one of the few locations with remnants of Japan from the Edo period. However, Kyoto is relatively far from Tokyo, so for those of you who don’t like the hassle of moving from one place to another, choosing between Tokyo and Kyoto can be a dilemma. But worry no more, because you have another option in Koedo! Which takes only 30 minutes by train from Tokyo, to experience “the Edo ambience”!
What is Koedo?
Koedo (小江戸 or Little Edo) is a tourist destination located in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture. The area managed to keep many historical buildings during the Edo period, through which you can see how life was like during this time. Some famous attractions here are the Kurazukuri Zone (“Old storehouse zone), Toki no Kane (“The bell of time”), Kashiya Yokocho (“Penny candy alley”) and many more.
Kurazukuri Zone (“Old Storehouse Zone”) is an area of old houses built with the design from the Edo period. The main street is about 250 meters long, but you can always take some turns into the smaller streets along the main road to have a closer look at the town. Most of the houses here are now used as stores and museums, so there are many things you can do while taking a walk along the street.
Toki no Kane (“The Bell of Time”) is a 16-meter bell tower, designed and built by Sekine Matsugoro in 1894. The tower went through many fires and reconstruction during its history, especially the Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1893. The bell has been replaced many times to maintain its sound quality too. Toki no Kane is one of the well-known symbols for Koedo and Kawagoe.
Kashiya Yokocho (“Penny Candy Alley”) is a small but colorful alley in Koedo with 22 stores of traditional Japanese candy. The candies are usually made from melted crystal sugar and have a lot of colors and patterns. During the early Showa Period, the alley had more than 70 candy shops but eventually declined due to wars and preference of Western-style sweets. Yet, the spirit of traditional sweetness are still preserved until today. If you come to Koedo, don’t forget to take a walk along the Kashiya Yokocho and slowly look around the candy shops. Even if you didn’t grow up in Japan, you’ll surely feel quite nostalgic when entering these little streets full of traditional, colourful candies!
What to do at Koedo?
Of course you will go sightseeing when you visit Koedo, but there are some special ways to experience the place. If you don’t want to walk much, you can choose to go around the area using the rickshaw or Co-Edo Loop Bus. The rickshaw station is on the main road of Kurazukuri Zone (near Resona Bank), where you can take a ride, viewing the streets while relaxing in the rickshaw. It’s also recommended to use the rickshaw when the area is crowded with people.
You can also use the Co-Edo Loop Bus on rainy or hot days, which will take you to the famous attractions and railway stations. It departs every 30 minutes, and a full tour around the city will take around an hour. It is recommended to buy a 1-day free pass ( ¥500/person) if you plan to travel around the area with this bus. The Co-Edo Loop Bus is designed with a retro style that really matches the old streets here, and it’s also good to take photos with.
But your experience in Koedo wouldn’t be complete if you don’t go around the old streets in kimono or yukata! It’s quite easy to rent kimono and yukata here since the location is popular with both foreign and local tourists. Most of the shopkeepers here can speak a little English, but you should still prepare some basic questions like price and return time in Japanese. The price is reasonable in general, and there is a variety to choose from. The shopkeepers will help you wear the kimono/ Yukawa and some shops will also keep your clothes and shoes until you return, so you’d only need to bring your valuables along.
Shopping in Koedo
As Koedo is a tourist attraction, most of what you can buy here are souvenirs such as traditional snacks and craftwork. There are a lot of kinds to choose from, such as chopsticks, handmade coin purses, handmade wind chimes, umbrellas, etc.
Japanese culture really takes chopsticks seriously and children are taught how to use them since they were very young, thus it is not weird for to people purchase chopsticks as souvenirs. Their price can even reach ¥5000/pair! In Koedo, there is a chopsticks store where you can even carve your name onto the pair of chopsticks that you want to buy. Of course as a chopsticks speciality store, it also sells chopsticks related items such as the chopsticks rests, with incredibly cute and creative designs that can lighten up your dining table.
As I mentioned above, umbrellas are a rather special souvenir too. Aside from the normal umbrella with traditional-style designs, some souvenir shops here also have “water-blooming” umbrellas. Despite looking like every other umbrellas, these “water-blooming” umbrellas will display floral patterns on their surface when exposed to water. But it’s really not too difficult to find them among the normal ones, since the shops will usually put an already-opened umbrella outside beside a water pot for you to see the blooming patterns by pouring the water on the umbrella yourself!
At Koedo, you can also find pickles and preserved beans made with Japanese traditional methods. Japanese people like to eat pickled vegetables (onions, ginger, cucumber, radish, etc.) and beans with rice. The packages are often airtight so you won’t have to worry about preservation.
There are certainly many traditional souvenir shops in Koedo, but if you’re a fan of the famous Ghibli animation, “My Neighbor Totoro”, you definitely cannot skip a very unique Totoro souvenirs store here. The store has a big Totoro panel as high as a real human, placed next to a fake old bus stop sign, just like that famous scene in the movie where Totoro was waiting at the bus stop under the rain! Inside the store, there are a lot of souvenirs and daily-use objects with Totoro designs such as towels, toothbrushes, etc. There are also some other popular Ghibli characters such as No-Face (Kaonashi) and Yubaba. So if you’re a fan of Ghibli movies, don’t forget to stop by this store.
Specialties of Koedo
Kawagoe City, where Koedo is located at, is so famous for its sweet potatoes that the mascot character is a sweet potato. Thus, if you go to Koedo, you’ll see many shops selling varied sweet potato snacks. The most popular one is probably the sliced sweet potato fries, which are so thin that you cannot resist its crunchiness. There are also sweet potato steam cakes, mochi with sweet potato paste, caramelized sweet potatoes, soft ice cream with sweet potato flavor, and many more.
Next to the Toki no Kane is a special Starbucks shop with a traditional design, which matches well with the vintage Edo aura of Koedo. You can even enjoy your coffee in a Japanese-style garden, which is also a feature of this Starbucks.
If you’re the type to love trying out new things or experience new stuff , you’ll probably find soft ice cream with soy sauce flavor interesting. Many of my friends frown when they first heard about it, but after tasting it, they’ll all say that the taste isn’t so bad after all! Rather than a pure soy sauce taste, it’s more like a caramelized version of soy sauce that you can find in dango – Japanese sweet mochi dumplings. There’s only one place in Koedo that sells this, and you can find it opposite to the aforementioned Starbucks, next to a shop that sells soy sauce and miso paste.
Last but not least, an Edo-atmosphere experience is not all Koedo can offer, its craft beer COEDO is also famous, with many awards all over the world and high international reputation. The beer has a fresh taste with distinctive bitterness, and they even have a beer brewed with roasted sweet potatoes from the area. Bottles of COEDO beer can be found on the streets of Koedo, so don’t forget to try and take a sip!
Other nearby attractions
Not very far from the main road of Kurazukuri Zone, you can have a tour around the Matsumoto Craft Soy Sauce Factory. The place has a history of over 250 years. The wooden barrels displayed are used to make soy sauce and have been used and preserved for more than 180 years. It usually takes about 2 years to ferment the soy sauce here, hence providing a deep, rich taste that would certainly differ from your ordinary mass-produced soy sauce. There are also many other products from soy beans such as miso paste (to make miso soup), soy-sauce-marinated pickles, salad dressings, and other sauces for Japanese cuisine. The factory tour starts at 13:00 every day and usually lasts for 20 minutes, you can come 10 minutes before the tour to join without reservation.
On the way from Hon-Kawagoe Station to Koedo, you can stop by Koedo Kurari for a sake-tasting experience. Koedo Kurari is a souvenir shop and restaurant remodeled from a 140-year-old sake brewery, where you can try 40 different kinds of sake from 35 breweries of Saitama Prefecture. There are also snacks to eat with sake, and the place provides quite detailed English instructions.
Last but not least, if you’re hoping to find your other-half, try your luck at the nearby match-making Hikawa Shrine. 10 minutes by bus from Koedo, Hikawa Shrine is well-known for its blessing for relationships and marriage. If you visit the shrine in summer, you might get to see the wind-chime festival here, where 888 wind chimes are hung around the shrine and welcome you with the refreshing sound of the winds.
How to get to Koedo?
If you prefer trains then the Tobu Tojo Line or JR Kawagoe Line can take you there, or if you are from the airport you can take the bus which will stop at Kawagoe Station, all you need to do then is to take bus no.1 (or 2, 3, 4) and get off at Ichiban-machi bus stop.
If you take the Seibu Shinjuku Line, you can stop at Hon-Kawagoe Station and take bus no.1 (or 2, 3, 4) and again, get off at Ichiban-machi bus stop.
At both Kawagoe Station and Hon-Kawagoe Station, you can find the Information Desk to ask for directions, recommendation and many more in English. They also have a tourist map in English that can guide you through the area if you don’t have internet access.
As you can see, there are many things you can do around Koedo. You can save money and time instead of going to Kyoto for an Edo-period experience. Also, if you are into golf, the golf competitions of Tokyo Olympics 2020 will be held at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe City, so you can always stop by Koedo for a peaceful trip while waiting for the big game.
For more information about Koedo, check out the official website: https://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/