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Flash in Japan: Welcome to KAWAGOE

One of the things I can’t help doing over here is seeking out the trace-elements of old Tokyo, hardly an elementary pastime since much of this has been removed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, the carpet bombings of the mid ’40s, assorted fires, and the rapid pace of reconstruction and renewal that Tokyo willingly submits itself to every day.

Yep, I’m talking up architecture in particular since that’s the most visible face of change.

I previously looked at the subject for Forces Of Geek – in terms of inner-city Tokyo – way back in September, 2010 and I’ve been on the prowl ever since, taking photos and trying in my own small way to document a vanishing past.

This process was given impetus after the earthquake in March 2011 since most of these places won’t survive a bigger one, as well as with the announcement that Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympic Games. If 1964 is anything to go by, expect the demolition of great swathes of old wooden buildings to make way for modern concrete.

Last month I went to investigate these gems in Kawagoe, which is not actually in Tokyo but on the edges of a satellite city (Saitama) to the west.

I didn’t exactly ‘discover’ them as they’re a fairly well known tourist draw and the area is dubbed Little Edo (the old name for Tokyo). But I did lost a kilo by spending the afternoon in my appreciation, sweating it out in 36-degree humidity (yep, we’re talking Celsius rather than Fahrenheit) to get these pics.

Let’s start with the more monumental.

Toki no Kane (a.k.a. the Bell of Time) is a bell tower originally built by Sakai Tadakatsu from 1624 to 1644, though the tower you see here was actually assembled in 1894, a year after the Great Fire of Kawagoe. Wood-and-paper structures do tend to suffer in the regular conflagrations that cursed Japan back then.

Then there’s this building at Seiya-san Muryōshuji Kita-in, a Buddhist temple believed to have been founded around 830 AD. It’s also burned down on several occasions, but the main hall (below) was donated by samurai VIP Tokugawa Iemitsu from part of Edo (Tokyo) Castle.

Tucked away in this area you’ll find things like the original moat and main hall for otherwise razed Kawagoe Castle (Kawagoe-jō). Hōjō Ujitsuna seized this place in 1537, after having snapped up Edo castle in 1524. In 1870 dismantlement of the castle began. Today only the primary hall (named Honmaru Goten), here, remains.

But the real treasures here are the old shops and storehouses along the streets (see here and at the beginning of this article), many of them bunched together to grant you a real feel of old Japan… drink vending machines and all.

It’s definitely worth detouring off the main road and checking out laneways and smaller streets to find ones still more sublime.

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