A Travellerspoint blog

Off the Beaten Track in Kawagoe

sunny 26 °C

Kawagoe used to be a sleepy rural town of wooden houses, but Tokyo has so spread its wings that it is now difficult to find a seam between the two. However, many of the ancient buildings were rebuilt after the Great Kawagoe Fire of 1893 and have been well loved ever since…
The bell tower just off the main street was built originally in 1627 and has been rebuilt several times following fires and other disasters...
The bell is sounded to tell residents the time and its sound is so mellifluous that it has been declared one of the “100 Sound Sceneries of Japan” which must be preserved for eternity. Japan also has a register of similarly protected “Smell Sceneries” which includes the smell of fish surrounding Tsukiji market in Tokyo.

We arrived in Kawagoe to find the town being spruced up with bunting, and the streetlights and traffic lights being swung aside, in preparation for the annual festival when each district parades giant effigies through the streets on portable shrines accompanied by musicians and dancers and have mock battles with the neighbours. Here’s a scene from last year’s festival…
But we were not here for the festival. We came to visit family and to learn some ancient Japanese skills that we can practice when we get home. First there was glass blowing…
Jim’s soy sauce/milk jug turned out quite well for a first effort…
And then onto the soy sauce factory. Sadly, we didn’t get to make any soy sauce because it takes two years and we only had two days, but we learned that there are only four ingredients: soy beans, salt and water. The fourth ingredient is somewhat esoteric and can neither be seen nor measured, but it is in here somewhere…
This building and the giant lidless vats are more than two hundred years old and have never been cleaned. The roof beams and trusses are caked in centuries old grime that is alive with bacteria, (along with all manner of creepy-crawlies and small animals). The bacteria, together with insects and their droppings, fall into the slowly fermenting liquid and gradually turn it into a rich must. After a couple of years the must is strained and the resultant sauce is bottled.
Following the soy sauce tasting we were off to the sake brewery – a stainless steel palace of such pristine cleanliness that we were only allowed to peer through reinforced plate glass windows at the giant fermentation tanks. However, the sake tasting was much more fun than the soy sauce affair so we bought a couple of barrels to take home.
So, now that we can make three of Japan’s best known products we decided to visit the railway museum in nearby Omya so that Jim could take the controls of a Shinkansen…
O.K. So what if it is made out of giant lego! We have been racing around Japan for the past month on the country’s amazing trains so it was fascinating to tour the museum to learn of the railway’s history. Interestingly, nearly all of the early trains and equipment were manufactured in Victorian England. This one was made in Leeds...
The Railway museum was full of schoolchildren learning about trains and, while some of them seemed keen, none were quite as exited as the ones we met visiting the numerous sweetshops in Penny Candy Lane in Kawagoe – the onetime centre of Japanese sweetmaking…

Posted by Hawkson 04:44 Archived in Japan

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So that's where that lovely earthy taste in the soya sauce comes from. Obviously 100% organic (assuming the secret ingredient isn't DDT) so should be good for one. Hope you can tuck a small bottle into your return luggage. Would be a most interesting accompaniment to a future Jim's rice dish.

by R and B

I don't think that the soy sauce sounded very appetizing -dirt from the roof??? yuck But those buildings are amazing...so beautiful
I got a good ok from the eye doctor yesterday so I can read lots more books.

by Jean McLaren

Loved the glassblowing and registry of sound and smell sceneries. Got to go nose to nose at the Anthropology Museum exhibition from Cuba. The 8-10 noses installation each had a scent in them. Great fun you two.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Jim, is there absolutely nothing you can't do?? Your glass bowl is beautiful.Our grandson would go bonkers for the train museum...he knows all about the shinkansen from youtube...love to you both

by Sharron

What w great range of activities. That is what makes for a great trip. Lots of opportunities to learn.
I wonder how many other visitors took pictures of Jim on the Lego train! How would they explain?

by Tom

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