Near Tokyo, a City Shows Its Age, Proudly
But the city of Kawagoe, right in Tokyo’s backyard, is a more practical alternative. Less than 45 minutes by train, the center of Kawagoe is filled with a well-preserved collection of century-old kura, or warehouses, that still double as stores, workshops and homes.
Many kura are clustered around an even older wooden clock tower and a jumble of buildings from the Taisho and early Showa eras that create the feel of a small town with a charm missing in many Japanese cities. A former castle town, Kawagoe does such a good job evoking the Tokyo of yore that it is affectionately called Little Edo, a reference to the ancient name for Tokyo.
Its streetscape is so authentic that NHK, the national television broadcaster, is filming one of its serialized morning dramas in Kawagoe, a city of 330,000. That has stirred further interest. One afternoon in June, busloads of Japanese grandmothers and grandfathers ambled up and down the city’s streets admiring the three dozen or so kura, the old-time candy shops and the graceful Kitain Temple.
But as I learned more than two decades ago when I taught in the city, the real crowds arrive during the third weekend of October, when Kawagoe puts on one of the most colorful street festivals in the country, replete with three-ton rolling floats.