Written by Cara (Greater Tokyo_Explorer)
Best known for its streets lined with traditional buildings, Kawagoe is famous for the great quality and variety of its sweets! This itinerary introduces you to restaurants, cafes and shops that use Kawagoe matcha green tea to make delicious treats.
Written by Cara (Greater Tokyo_Explorer)
Kawagoe is only about 30 minutes away from the bustling center of Tokyo, in Saitama Prefecture. Best known for its area with Edo period-style traditional buildings, and for landmarks such as the Bell of Time or Hikawa Shrine, Kawagoe is an extremely popular day trip destination.
What attracts travelers to Kawagoe is not only its charming streets lined with historical buildings and shops full of brightly colored souvenirs. This city is actually famous for its local sweets!
Recently, various sweets made with Kawagoe matcha, a type of tea that has been produced in the Kawagoe area for centuries, have become the most popular treat and souvenir. Kawagoe matcha has a mild taste, but the fact that it overcomes harsh winters gives it an extra layer of thickness.
The recommended itinerary introduced in this article allows you to learn more about the features of Kawagoe matcha by visiting a tea farm and then taste various types of sweets and treats made with this special tea.
The best place to learn more about tea through a hands-on experience in Saitama is Sayama, a city renowned for its tea production. Here, you can visit Miyanoen, a farm that offers tea picking workshops.
To get to Sayama, you can take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station. Take the express train heading for Hanno and after about 22 minutes, change trains in Tokorozawa where you can take a train heading to Hon-Kawagoe from platform no. 1. In about 11 minutes, you'll reach Sayamashi Station at 9:33.
To reach Miyanoen, use the East Exit of the station and take the Sayama 31 bus from bus stop no. 2. Make sure to hop on from the back door - have your Pasmo or Suica card ready - or pull out an order ticket from the box near the door. The ride costs about 170 yen. (If you're paying cash, please prepare the exact sum and hand it to the driver before you get off.)
After getting off at Sayamadai-minami bus stop, keep walking straight in the same direction as the bus for about 10 minutes and turn right when you reach the intersection. You'll be able to see tea fields and signs pointing to the entrance to Miyanoen.
Having started their business in 1928, Miyanoen is one of the representative brands of Sayama tea. They offer tea picking experiences (*1) at their farm and are more than happy to share their vast knowledge on tea with their visitors.
*1... The tea picking experiences require a reservation in advance.
Visitors will first put on traditional tea leaf-pickers' clothes and then go in the garden where they'll learn what type of tea leaves are best for making good tea.
In order to make your own tea, you'll steam the leaves by using a microwave and rub the leaves with your palms to take out the water that they contain. After repeating this process four or five times, it will result in dry, crisp, fragrant tea leaves which you get to take as a souvenir.
Part of the leaves you picked will be made into delicious tempura which you get to eat on the spot. The tea leaf salt you will dip your tempura into really brings out the freshness of the leaves.
While at Miyanoen, you'll also get a chance to taste three kinds of tea: sencha (green tea), kocha (black tea), and hojicha (roasted tea). Although they are all made with the same type of leaves, the processing methods differ, resulting in different types of tea. After hearing the kind explanations given by the tea specialists at Miyanoen, you'll really know a lot more about Japanese tea!
After learning about tea first hand, let's head to Kawagoe and taste the treats made with tea. To return to the station, walk the same way back to the no.31 bus station. Take the bus heading to Sayamashi Station. From here, take a train bound for Hon-Kawagoe.
Any visitor to Kawagoe will most probably go directly to the famous Kurazukuri Street, an area where old storehouses built in the Edo period architectural style gather. Despite the traditional outlook, these buildings are now popular tourist facilities: restaurants, cafes, sweets shops, museums, and souvenir shops.
You can find soba noodles anywhere in Japan, but only few places offer green tea flavored soba noodles.
Chasoba Kotobuki-an Kuranomachi Store, located mid-way through the Kurazukuri Street, is renowned for its exquisite soba noodles flavored with Kawagoe matcha. The green tea powder is mixed with the soba noodle dough, resulting in smooth, chewy green tea flavored noodles.
If you choose the Chasoba Wariko Set Meal, you can pick from either three, five, or seven layers of noodles, which are accompanied by a respective number of toppings.
For example, a typical five-layered tea soba noodle set (1,500 yen) will be served with typical Japanese toppings such as raw quail eggs, grated yam, tempura, sliced seaweed, and spicy grated nameko mushrooms and radishes. Each topping gives the soba noodles a different texture and taste.
Needless to mention, in addition to being extremely tasty, the noodle dishes at Chasoba Kotobuki-an are also very satisfying quantitywise. The deep, subtle aroma of Kawagoe matcha tea makes these noodles a favorite among the visitors to Kawagoe.
About 5 minutes away on foot from the main Kurazukuri Street is Hikawa Shrine, which has stood for 1,500 years. Don't be surprised if you see a long line waiting to make a prayer at the main hall; this shrine is extremely popular among those who wish for good relationships and among families with children as five gods (a family - grandparents, parents, and a child) are enshrined here.
Hikawa Shrine is well-known for its fortune-telling strips (omikuji) that come in the shape of fish. Feel free to drop 300 yen and use a small fishing rod to pick out a fish-shaped charm. There's even an English version of these charms at the back.
Other highlights of this shrine include a long tunnel full of wooden ema message tablets, leading to a pair of 600 year-old sacred trees. Walk around them in the shape of an "8" to receive good luck!
The white, shiny stones that surround the main hall are also said to bring good connections. Each morning from 8 o'clock, 20 stones are given as presents to the ones who wish to have them. Because it is a very popular talisman, if you want one, maybe you could consider spending the night in Kawagoe and coming to the shrine to stand in line for these talismans before 6:00.
Very close to Hikawa Shrine is Kawagoe Kaho Dokan, a store that has been making sweets delights loved by the locals since 1921.
They offer a great variety of sweets made with carefully selected ingredients such as sweet potatoes, azuki beans and seasonal fruit such as chestnuts. Their most popular confectionery is the Dokan Manju, a rich dumpling made with a generous filling of tsubuan (red bean paste) made in eastern Japan.
This time, I wanted to taste their Kawagoe matcha flavored sweet potato mousse mochi (170 yen). It's an extremely soft, delicate confectionery, with a taste that's so refreshing!
Hatsuneya Garden Cafe is a select cafe with a refined atmosphere where one can relax and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. The main building, which is now often used as a wedding venue, was built in 1868 and is has been designated as an important architectural monument by Kawagoe City.
Since January 2018, Hatsuneya Garden has been offering an original dessert: Kawagoe matcha flavored tiramisu (650 yen), a splendid blend between Eastern and Western tastes.
This six-layered tiramisu - containing sponge cake at the bottom, marron nuts, cheese mousse, apple jam, cheese cream and a generous top layer of matcha powder - quickly became Hatsuneya's signature sweet. It's very tasty and a must-try when visiting Kawagoe.
To end a day full of exciting discoveries about the many ways in which Kawagoe matcha is used to make delicious treats, I visited Kawagoe PATATE, a store located on the Kurazukuri Street, right next to Chasoba Kotobuki-an.
Kawagoe PATATE is a gelato shop that also offers latte drinks made with Kawagoe matcha or fragrant hojicha (roasted tea).
Roasted tea is increasingly popular among international visitors to Japan who love it for its aroma. Taste the Hojicha Latte (400 yen) at Kawagoe PATATE and you'll see just how well it goes with milk, which enhances the fragrance of the tea.
The Sweet Potato and Kawagoe Matcha Gelato (500 yen) is a popular choice as well. While the Kawagoe matcha side has an extremely rich taste, the sweet potato side carries only a little bit of sweetness, making it a balanced, refreshing flavor.
On the second floor of Kawagoe PATATE, there are seats where you can enjoy your treats at ease while looking out the window at the busy, charming Kurazukuri Street of Kawagoe.
On the way back, I took a loop bus to Kawagoe Station, where I hopped on a train bound for Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo Line. As it was an express train, I arrived at Ikebukuro Station in half an hour's time.
From Kawagoe Station, you can also take the JR Saikyo Line and return to Tokyo's Ikebukuro, Shinjuku or Shibuya stations via Omiya, a large city in Saitama Prefecture.
It had been a very exciting day that made me aware of the tea tradition of Kawagoe. At the same time, it was amazing to see the great variety of ways in which Kawagoe matcha is used to make delicious treats that appeal to our taste buds. It's a very versatile flavor which Kawagoe can be proud of.
Ikebukuro Station → Sayamashi Station → Miyanoen → Sayamashi Station → Hon-Kawagoe Station → Chasoba Kotobuki-an Kuranomachi Store → Hikawa Shrine → Kawagoe Kaho Dokan → Hatsuneya Garden Cafe → Kawagoe Patate → Kawagoe Station → Ikebukuro Station
Travel expenses: 1,430 yen
Lunch: 1,500 yen
Sweets, souvenirs, other expenses: about 2,000 yen in total
For more information on exciting things to do in Kawagoe and its surroundings, please visit this website: http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/chokotabi-saitama/eng/index.html
Supported by Saitama Prefecture