Kawagoe: Saitama’s Little Edo
Just 30 minutes by train from the hustle and modernity of Tokyo, Kawagoe offers visitors a glimpse into Edo-era Japan. While many candy alleys throughout Japan have been swallowed up by inevitable change, the one in Kawagoe is still a major tourist attraction and meeting point for locals. Here are 11 stops you won’t want to miss.
A similar version of this post first appeared on USA Today 10Best.
Candy Alley - Kashiya Yokocho
If you start your journey along Kashiya Yokocho (known in English as candy alley) from the main road (Honmachi Dori), Zaumon will be the first confectionery store on your right. They bake their own manju in house, and the most popular variety comes stuffed with red bean paste and sweet potato. Careful attention goes into each bite-sized manju coming out in the shape of a traditional Kawagoe storefront. On the boxes, you can see a hand-drawn image of the storefronts, which are still omnipresent in the area to this day.
Sweet potato fries are the specialty at Umon Tokinokane and they come coated with salt, sesame or sugar. If you’re trying to save room for the more than a dozen other stops along Kawagoe’s candy alley, you can try a free sample of their hard, crunchy fries. If you approve, get a bag to go.
According to their staff, they’ll stay fresh for at least two months if you don’t open the bag, so they can make an excellent gift to take home as they’ll still taste the same regardless of whether or not they get crushed in transit.
Sticking with the sweet potato theme which is omnipresent throughout Kashiya Yokocho, Umon sells soft sweet potato ice cream in the adjacent stall.
When you see stacked bags of fugashi bread for 500 yen, you’ll know you’re at Matsuriku. They also make their own hard candies in-house; cinnamon, mint, orange, and strawberry are their most popular flavors.
As the Sayama cola plant is near Kawagoe, Matsuriku sells bottles of green Sayama brand cha cola, which is a carbonated matcha drink. Like Umon, they also sell sweet potato ice cream from an adjacent stand.
Doces Edoya de Kawagoe
Edoya is the largest of the stores along candy alley. They’re also unique in that they sell toys and children’s masks. The store sells candy by the gram, whereas the other shops along Kashiya Yokocho sell their sweets prepackaged. You can mix and match gummy bears, chocolate rocks, candy hearts, etc. as you wish. They also sell various dried fruit and fish.
Part candy store, part medicine shop, Tamariki Seika makes their own medicinal candies behind the storefront. Cough drops made of Japanese mint and medicinal herbs are their most popular confection.
They offer free samples, and you can watch and even smell the process through the transparent window behind the counter.
Imokoi is the most upscale store along candy alley. You can take their sweet potato cakes home in small, medium, or large boxes, which start at 350 yen and go up to 1,000. They also sell their starchy, jelly-like warabi mochi from the storefront. It’s soft on the outside with a chewy texture. Theirs is coated with soy bean powder. Everything comes with an expiration date as well.
Matsumoto is easily identifiable by large 100 million yen squid sheets they have on sale in front of the store. The staff claim that they are best paired with Asahi beer. They also sell fugashi bread and various flavored pop rice cakes.
If you started your journey at the intersection of Kashiya Yokocho and Honmachi Dori, you may be looking for some respite from all things sweet potato by the time you reach Raku Raku. If so, you’ll be in luck.
Raku Raku looks, smells and feels more like a European-style bakery. But that doesn’t mean that you need to limit yourself to a croissant with strawberry jam and butter. Instead, try the miso bread – it’s their most popular item.
If you ask the staff what to try, they’ll likely tell you that there’s a miso brewery in nearby Chichibu and that you need to try their miso bread. The bread is delicate with a hint of sweetness.
Lemonade by Lemonica
Lemonade by Lemonica offers a touch of modernity mixed in with the pre-internet nostalgia of Kashiya Yokocho. In this over-sized lemonade stand, the young staff of mostly twenty-somethings scoop lemonade out of an old-fashioned lemonade jar for their hip clientele.
While anyone over 30 might feel old inside this place, that’s no reason to skip it. After all, what’s more refreshing than a cup of fruit-infused lemonade in between sampling different sweet and salty Japanese candies?
Lemonade by Lemonica offers twenty different variations of the 700-year-old Mongolian refreshment. Lemonade soda is their most popular drink, followed by original. Other variations include coca-cola, cream cheese and fruit-infused.
While Lemonade by Lemonica attracts a younger crowd, Yoshiokaya tends to attract an older crowd, who are nostalgic for the candy stores of their childhood. Of all the places in this list, Yoshiokaya is the most quaint, charming and unpretentious.
They sell vintage mini sours, candy cigarettes and even fake beer powder. Yes, Japanese children used to mix this powder with water and pretend they were drinking beer with dad! If you buy something here, you’ll have to leave your credit card in your pocket, forget about Apple Pay and pay cash which will be deposited into their 1970’s Casio cash register.
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