Kawagoe

Last year (yes, yes, I know that makes this post a bit (well, a lot) late, but let’s not dwell on that, okay?) the lovely Starbucksgirl and I wandered over to Kawagoe city in nearby Saitama prefecture for a quick day trip.

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Kawagoe is actually not such a famous place, and even if you find yourself hankering for a brief escape from the urban jungle that is Tokyo (but really, why would you ever want that? I love it…), there are probably better choices out there: Hakone, Kamakura, Yokohama and Nikko, just to name a few. So why did we end up going to Kawagoe? Well, for one, I’ve already been pretty much everywhere else in the area. And for two, Starbucksgirl’s (I really ought come up with a new moniker for her, since she doesn’t work at Starbucks anymore…) family runs a mochi shop, which means she likes traditional Japanese sweets. And being secretly (or not so secretly) a child inside, I happen to love candy and all things sweet (even mochi too, at this point). Guess what? Kawagoe is famous for sweets.

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But not just any sweets, you see. Really, Kawagoe’s main claim to fame (at least in Panda’s mind haha) is its collection of dogashiya (traditional (old-fashioned) Japanese candy shops) shops in its “candy street” neighborhood (菓子屋横丁kashiya yokocho). We’re talking an entire block (it kind of wraps around in a big square) filled with shops selling all those nostalgic candies, sweets and toys you remember so fondly from your childhood. Or more accurately, which Starbucksgirl remembered so fondly from her childhood, and which I pretended to remember from my childhood – a childhood which I proudly proclaimed to a kind old lady at one of the candy shops was spent growing up in Kagoshima, during an (apparently) successful spell of pretending to be Japanese. I’ve noticed that recently, I’ve started occasionally lying to shopkeepers for no apparent reasons. Not “real” lies, mind you, but little random pointless white lies – such as pretending to be Japanese, or, in one particularly memorable incident, spinning an entire yarn about my dislike of shiso to a server when I asked him if there was any shiso in a particular dish (in my defense, he had inquired if I disliked it or not). I actually have nothing against shiso, I just happened not to want to eat it that day. Afterward I remember shaking my head and being like “why the hell did I just waste 30 seconds making up that ridiculous story about shiso?” So random. I really need to stop making up random tangents with people in the service industry.

ANYWAY.

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Where was I, before I started confessing to randomly lying to strangers? Oh yeah. So this street is filled with nostalgic old-style Japanese candies and sweets, and they are so so cheap. It’s like, if you can still find an old-style “general store” or “dime store” out in the remote boonies of Wisconsin or something which sells lemonheads for 10cents, or stuff like wax lips, candy cigarettes for 5 cents, or those gross coca-cola gummy things. If you know what I’m talking about in this paragraph, congratulations, you are officially as old, if not older, than me. If you are like WTF are you going on about panda, wax lips and shit, then just smile and nod along, knowing that we used to eat gross crap like that back in the day AND ITMADE US HAPPY, but then Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and the intarnets and all that crap came along and SPOILED IT ALL, and now I don’t know how to be happy unless I’ve just spent $1500 on the latest and greatest electronic gadgets. (will someone please buy me a macbook air, by the way? I reeeeaaaaallllllyyyyy want one, but unless I win the lottery tomorrow, it ain’t anywhere in my budget or future.) (random aside: my salary was just cut $200 because the government decided to end housing subsidies for employees, but at the same time thought it would be a great idea to start throwing $300 a month per child!! at families with kids in what must be the most ill-conceived, transparent attempt to buy votes EVAR. That’s $300 per month of MY TAX MONEY for other people’s smelly, stinky kids. GRRRRRR… I wouldn’t even mind that they reduce my salary if they didn’t then turn around and start giving it to people with kids. YOU had a kid, YOU pay for it. *sigh) (oh the whole point of that rant is that now, a macbook air is even more of an impossibility for me than before. )

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What was I talking about? I forget. But in summary: a) if you know what wax lips are, then you are old and b) if you don’t, then be happy and go play with your smelly PS3 and be smug in the knowledge that the 21st century is a lot cooler than the mid-to-late 2oth century, c) that Kawagoe is filled with old-fashioned nostalgic candy shops that are the equivalent of Japanese dime stores selling the Japanese equivalent of wax lips and candy cigarettes. (they actually do sell candy cigarettes, btw, and Starbucksgirl was all like “OMG J00 HAZ THESE IN AMERICA TOO?!” and I was like “How funny, I was just about to say the same thing to you about Japan.” ← Adventures in cross-cultural discovery.)

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Okay, so that’s why (I think – there was a lot of rambling above) we went to Kawagoe – because we wanted old-fashioned candy and sweets. What else does Kawagoe have? Umm, a big old-fashioned warehouse district (蔵造りの町並み- kurazukuri no machinami) with those distinctive black-walled traditional Japanese-style warehouses (I saw them in Kakunodate as well, a few years back) (random fact: on old guy along the way told us that the warehouses could be fully sealed and left with a candle burning inside to starve the house of oxygen and prevent it from burning down in a fire. Sounds fascinating but like, how would that work? Because the outside of the building is still made of wood – wouldn’t it just burn from the outside in? And umm, wouldn’t it take a long time for a single candle to exhaust all the oxygen trapped in one of those huge warehouses? I suspect some fatal flaws with this cunning plan, but I wasn’t about to point them out (in truth, I got distracted by another guy who walked by in the background with a gigantic pickled cucumber impaled on a stick and forgot what I was going to say) (I’m flighty that way). But yeah. I think the “leave a candle burning in your warehouse” fire-disaster-prevention plan needs a second look. Anyway.)… where was I? Oh yes, a list of Kawagoe’s other non-candy-street-related attractions. Umm, the warehouses. Yes. And also, a big bell tower that rings three times a day. And ummm, that’s about it. I mean, there was the usual assorted smattering of random temples and such, but really, if you’re going to Kawagoe, you’re going for the old skool candies. And cheapie old-skool toys (like cap guns and wooden bow n arrows, and stuff) (omg, cap guns!!)

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I had originally planned to post some pictures with little detailed explanations of all the various old-fashioned Japanese style sweets and candies we got, thinking how nice it would be to introduce that to my English speaking readers, but as mentioned, this little adventure took place nearly a year ago, and as you can imagine, those candies are no longer around, having disappeared down our gullets long ago (to be more exact, they lasted all of about 24 hours, and were halfway gone by the time we got back to the station haha). So instead, the only evidence I have left of our tremendous candy loot haul is a memory of passing out in a sugar-induced coma, waking up the next day with the most sickeningly-sweet aftertaste in my mouth and the world’s worst stomach ache, and a couple of cap guns in my living room, with enough caps to survive a zombie apocalypse. (well provided they were nice zombies who would pretend to be dead if shot by a cap gun and not a real gun) (… i guess if they’re zombies, they don’t need to pretend to be dead) (anyway…)

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One thing about cap guns – if you live in a Japanese apartment, and you happen to be out and about one day, and randomly run across a cap gun for sale (say, in an old-fashioned toy store in south-west Saitama prefecture) and are suddenly filled with the irresistible urge to purchase it, I would urge you to do your utmost to refrain from indulging said desire. Do you know why? Because cap guns are loud, my friend. They are even louder than I remember them from my childhood. And that was a childhood spent running around the abandoned north woods of Wisconsin with nary another soul around for kilometers, and I recall them being quite loud even then. They are even louder when you fire them in your tiny Japanese living room barely larger than a rabbit hutch in area – by the time you recover from the temporary deafness induced from the resultant echoing reverberating explosion, you will realise that you might as well have set off a small bomb in the middle of your house, because the sound level will probably be about the same. Needless to say, we only squeezed off a couple of shots before worries about the neighbors calling the police (we were actually seriously worried about this, because this ish was loud!!) forced us to sadly pack the guns away, along with all the extra unused ammunition we bought, in a drawer to collect dust (and await use on the day the play-pretend acoustically-sensitive zombie hordes come mobbing to my door). Sigh. Maybe if we can find a large deserted field in the middle of the countryside somewhere we can bring them along and shoot them off to my heart’s content. Because that’s how exciting my life in Japan is sometimes – reduced to looking for an abandoned field to shoot cap guns at my friend in. *laughs* Not quite the image I had in mind when I was in college and used to dream of living in Tokyo hahaha…

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Anyway. So that was Kawagoe. It was fun. It’s easy to get to from Tokyo. It is filled with cheap and delicious nostalgic old-skool candies and toys. If you’ve already been everywhere else in Kanto, it’s worth a go.

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Here’s a few more pictures from the day:

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And that is all for today. Thank you for reading!

Now listening to: The Notorious B.I.G. – Miss U

OMG talk about old-skool (for me, anyway). I remember listening to this disc back in high school when I would make that 4 hour drive down to Chicago through the farm-field Wisconsin countryside (lol yes, I, tragically suburban panda, would listen to gangsta-rap whilst driving through Wisconsin. Umm, thug life?) Recently I’ve started using the “Genius Mixes” function on my iTunes, and have been pleasantly surprised to see that it works a lot better than I thought it would – it’s great at bringing up a bunch of cool tracks in my music library that I had forgotten I ever had! If you have iTunes and even a moderately sized collection of music, you should definitely try it :) .

4 Reactions

  1. Anonymous

    Love the candy pictures. I am going to go out and take some and send them to you (pictures, not candy, ha, ha).

  2. Michaelpanda

    @Allyson: Thank you so much! I’m glad you like them… :) sadly, it was really cloudy that day so some of the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but I’m hoping to go back again in the future and maybe capture a few places we didn’t get a chance to visit the last time.