Thursday, October 12, 2006

Kawagoe Matsuri, October 14 and 15

If Tokyo is getting you down and you are not going to be taking a trip to Kyoto or Takayama any time soon, then get thee to Kawagoe (via either the JR or Seibu lines) this weekend for the Kawagoe Matsuri.

It looks like a damn decent substitute for the Gion and Takayama matsuri.

To appreciate the town of Kawagoe it is best to make a visit at some other time of the year. It is an especially nice place to go on a day of light rain when one cannot contemplate even spending one more minute indoors.

I doubt there is another town close to central Tokyo that preserves so much Edo to Early Showa era architecture (not much on the Meiji side, I'm afraid). While touristy, the kura and Taisho districts are graced with quaint shops containing merchandise I am actually tempted to purchase (make me turn over my wallet when I enter the cutlery shop, for example). The candy lane and the restaurants are charming as all heck.

The Kitain on the town east side is an overlooked treasure. Head temple of the Tendai sect in the Kantō, it was shown special favor by the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. When the original buildings burned down in 1638, Iemitsu had rooms of Edo Castle disassembled and shipped to the Kitain to replace the lost living quarters. Consequently, the Kitain preserves what I believe are the only surviving Edo Castle interiors.

The time to go the the Kitain is probably in Golden Week when the temple treasures go on display. My guess is the monks are sitting on a mountain of extraordinary stuff.

When I visited in the temple in March this year, someone had tacked up an original Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) landscape scroll behind a mound of some Tokugawa lacquered household crap--directly under the light fixture in a case without temperature or humidity controls.

I nearly had a coronary.

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