Starting out early on the day of the June 2013 Australia v Japan game in Saitama I was at the magnificent Hikawa Shrine near Omiya before 9:00am. With its kilometre long tree-lined avenue, you can’t help but to be drawn into this spiritual precinct.
With the rest of the supporter gang heading down to Kamakura, the next stop for me was Kawagoe to catch up with a work acquaintance from Sydney who had just moved back to his home of Japan. While Fukashi lived and worked around Tokyo, he had not been to Kawagoe and suggested it for its walkable history and culture – given our meet up was for only a few hours.
It was a tad weird with a young Japanese guy and an (older) Australian football fan meeting up to act as tourists for a short time. Both of us were confused about how to get to the historic precinct!
While independent travel without the local language is exciting as much as challenging, it is a great feeling to be with a local who can break down language barriers and enhance the visitor experience. I really appreciated the time Fukashi gave me on his day off. His work place and home town was well over an hour away by train. Ironically, his boss from Sydney was also back in Tokyo and sought a meet-up that day. I won!
Kawagoe’s history is important and interesting, with many old style warehouses still standing. The main sights are close together and it made for pleasant walking through narrow streets and lanes.
However Kawagoe’s real claim to fame is that it seems every food and drink item contains sweet potato! Sweet potatoes were roasted and eaten as a snack, and at times have been an important staple food for many people. Kawagoe is still known as the the City of Sweet Potatoes!
So to keep in the sweet potato spirit of the town, we went for lunch at Touho Yamawa restaurant. This old site is part of an old pottery establishment where you can take classes and use the still-operating kiln. The shopfront has an extensive array of their pottery on display and for sale.
It might sound odd, but in the half a dozen trips to Japan I had not been exposed to the traditional ‘kaiseki’ dining. The ‘mini kaiseki’ was on offer for 1,900 Yen at Touho included sweet potato in every course: fried croquet, noodles, deep-fried tofu, rice, miso soup and ice cream. To be different, I went for the shochu with plum.
Really enjoyable food. Great conversation. Great service as usual. A rich and interesting place, particularly looking out onto the kiln and pottery work area.
The short taxi ride back to Kawagoe JR gave little time to reflect on the last few hours.
We go our separate ways, as with most travel experiences. but enriched for the experience.
I hope we meet again Fukashi.
Kawagoe is an interesting place, and well worth a short trip out of Tokyo. Kawagoe is about 1 hour north of central Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, easily accessible by a couple by JR from Ueno or private line from Shinjuku.
If you want to live the sweet potato dream, I think I have Touho Yamawa address right: 350-0062 Saitama-ken, Kawagoe-shi, Saiwaicho 7.