Long time no blog post! I got a cold last week, and I’m still hanging in there on the job, so I haven’t had a ton of energy. But today I’m back at it with a little something about Japan! You know, the usual.
Old town Kawagoe.
Kawagoe is a satellite of Tokyo that stands on its own pretty well. Its nickname is Koedo (小江戸/Little Edo), after the old name for Tokyo, and it’s locally famous for having preserved a few streets from the Edo Period (1603-1868), along with a historic bell tower and the ruins of Kawagoe Castle.
If you’re going to be in Tokyo for more than a few days, I actually do recommend spending an afternoon in Kawagoe. It isn’t far and, if you’re interested in a nostalgic trip into the not-so-distant past and like sweet potato, the Candy Street (菓子屋横丁/Kashiya Yokochou) alone is worth the trip. Kawagoe is famous for sweet potato, so on the Candy Street you can find everything from sweet potato ice cream to sweet potato candy to sweet potato beer. And it’s all tastier than my western readers might think!
I admit, I look at Kawagoe through the lens of personal nostalgia (it’s my Japanese hometown), but I genuinely think it’s a great city to visit. A little quirky, a little historical, and very unique.
Access: From Ikebukuro Station, hop on the Tobu-Tojo Line going to Kawagoe-Shi, Shinrin Koen, or Ogawamachi (same train, different terminal stations). A semi-express will get you to Kawagoe Station in about 30 minutes.
Autumn is slowly starting to set in here in the Pacific Northwest and I’m reminded of my autumns spent in Japan. So today is a short, simple post before I go to work, sharing a beautiful day from October 2008, right when the leaves were really changing.
Autumn in a park in Saitama.
Every October, the city of Kawagoe has an autumn matsuri (festival). It’s actually a really big matsuri and people from all over the area attend. And an important part of the festivities is the inclusion of dashi! Dashi are floats, basically. They’re owned by neighborhoods, cost almost as much as a house, and are pulled by large teams. During the dashi portion of the festival, when two floats meet they have a battle made up of music and cheering, both from the people on the float (costumed and carrying instruments) and the people pulling.
When I was on JSP, we got to join a neighborhood and help pull their float. It was really fun and really memorable, so I’m going to share some pictures with you.
Almost too tall to get under the pedestrian overpass.
It’s on now.
The neighborhood team.
Bonus shot: Annie and me, dressed and ready and squinting into the sun.
I have folders and folders of photos that could serve as blog fodder, neatly categorized by type and location. And this morning, looking around for something good, I came across one from Kawagoe: a sign directing you to other cities, one of which is Kawagoe’s American sister city, Salem, and the other one that greatly enjoyed the 2008 US presidential election.
Only 7,820km to Salem? Practically right around the corner.
Sticking with my JSP theme, today I’m coming to you with something from the strange Japan files. I don’t know if it’s still there, but back in 2008 a men’s clothing store in Kawagoe’s Crea Mall (a shopping street) had a… unique marketing technique. They put a mannequin with a scary horse head out on the main street, usually dressed in their clothes, in a bid to draw in traffic. Apparently it worked because that thing was out there every day, always dressed for the season. When Christmastime came around, after passing it multiple times a week for months, Annie and I finally had to get a picture.
Scary horse mannequin: Santa Edition. Co-starring Annie.
Yes, good old Tokyo International University (東京国際大学). The way I first went to Japan, in August 2008. TIU, which is in Kawagoe, Saitama, has a program for foreign students called the Japanese Studies Program. It’s primarily language-oriented, with three hours of Japanese class four days a week and two Japanese studies classes, once a week each. I took modern Japanese history and Japanese literature. I only did the program for one semester, because I was an English major, but a full academic year is also an option.
I actually really recommend JSP, if you want to study in Japan. It’s near Tokyo, it’s homestay, and there are other things involved, such as a one-week trip to Kansai and a few local cultural activities. It’s a pretty great program.
Most of my TIU pictures are full of former classmates, but I did find three pictures of the campus itself. Better than nothing, right?
The building where JSP classes are held.
The exterior stairs leading to the “English language lounge”, and one of the cafeteria buildings to the right.