It must’ve been ages since I wrote about an upcoming class trip to Kawagoe (川越). At the Naganuma School (Tokyo School of Japanese Language), cultural events are part of the school’s curriculum and a welcome change to daily Kanji tests and the dreaded Unit Test. When the teachers announced that the next trip would be to Kawagoe, I said that I’ve just been there. Kawagoe is still somewhat of a hidden gem, a town that’s not on everyone’s radar, especially for tourists. Back then, places weren’t rated according to their Instagramability, because there was no Instagram ;-).
When you arrive at Kawagoe Station, the town looks pretty much like any other Japanese city. Certainly not like „Little Edo“, Kawagoe’s nick name. The place where you want to be are the Warehouse District and the Candy Alley next to it. This is the historic part of the town, the remnants of a once important commercial town that supplied goods to Edo (Tokyo). Trade creates wealth and the wealthy merchants built their buildings to last. Made out of clay and heavy roofs, these buildings along Kurazakuri Street are fireproof – unlike ordinary wooden buildings in Japanese cities which were prone to fire.
Kawagoe as a whole wasn’t spared with two great fires occurring in 1638 and 1893. The Bell Tower of Kawagoe was destroyed in 1893 during the Great Kawagoe Fire – and was rebuilt just a year later. To this day, the Bell Tower is a landmark of Kawagoe City.
Most of the buildings are used as restaurants or shops. Another interesting historic street is just next to the Warehouse District: the Candy Alley. Stores upon stores selling Japanese sweets, cakes and snacks. This alley has a unique atmosphere, you don’t go there to complete your collection of Japanese Kitkats. A great place to shop, buy souvenirs and… get sentimental.
Naganuma’s class trips are discussed in class before with the only requirement being that you should learn something about the culture and history of Japan – not too modern of course, so an AKB48 concert is out of question. Two teachers accompanies us this time and one of my teachers had special memories about Kawagoe, because she remembered the candies of Kawagoe. So she not only showed us around, but she had a great time as well, going into a little shopping spree and feeling just a little remorse for maybe buying too much candies, cookies and rice crackers.
Twice we lost sight of her and the class mates that were following her. Assuming she had some candy-powered ninja stealth power, I followed her next. And sure enough, we disappeared quickly, losing track of the other half of class for a while. Fortunately, Kawagoe’s Old Town isn’t a place to get lost for long and the whole class reunited in time for the trip back to Tokyo. Another memorable class trip, and a whole lot of candies. That’s Kawagoe in a sugar-coated nutshell.