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Jul 11, 2018

The secret of why Kawagoe became so popular

Okay, so its not actually a secret in the strict sense of the word. However, if you didn't live in Japan ten years ago you might not have heard the reason why Kawagoe is so popular. The tourist area of Kawagoe commonly called Koedo "Little Edo" has been around, as the name suggests, since the Edo period. However, Kawagoe only became a major tourist destination nine years ago. And would you believe it was thanks to an "asa dora" the colloquial term for NHK's morning drama.


It was no accident that a NHK morning drama was responsible for the promotion of Kawagoe. It was in fact a conscientious effort, the brain child of a community and tourism development plan put together in 2007. As part of their branding strategy they aimed to have Kawagoe used on a major television production. In 2008 NHK announced that the 2009 morning drama, a popular 15 minute segment shown daily, would be set in Kawagoe. Tourism increased days after the drama was shown and continued to increase exponentially. 

The secret of why Kawagoe became so popular photo

Fake Edo! The new but already famous Starbucks in the Bell Tower area of Kawagoe


As a result of the success of the TV programme, "Tsubasa", in promoting the area the city in turn started to make improvements in the Kawagoe area. For example, the electrical wires that once ran above ground, were moved underground, rest areas were constructed around the tourist district, bicycles became available to rent and so on and so forth. Likewise the businesses in the area stepped up their game, renovating premises, adding new products, creating promotions etc. Subsequently Kawagoe retail space became prime space and eager business owners vied for a premises in the tourist area. 


The secret of why Kawagoe became so popular photo

New Kawagoe with old Showa period goods

Today I was chatting to a lady in Mokko cafe in an area just outside the tourist area, itself a relatively new addition in Kawagoe, but with a free Showa Period showroom. She remarked that it is paradoxical that Kawagoe is now more new than old. A thought I myself have been tinkering with for the past year as each week a new shop or facility seems to pop open in the district. According to her many of the original shopkeepers in Kawagoe have been forced out due to the fierce competition in the area. They just can't keep up. 


The secret of why Kawagoe became so popular photo

New Kawagoe: Trick Art Museum that opened in April of this year


At one time we thought that the boom in tourism would be ephemeral, as so often happens in Japan where things and places come in and out of fashion as quickly as the seasons.  But it looks like crazy crowds and new openings are here to stay. It is exemplar that Kawagoe managed to increase tourism, but at what cost? Kawagoe is definitely worth the journey and there is lots to do and see, but while there is still much history, traditional crafts and many Edo period buildings, there is also an increase in fake Edo period buildings with Heisei period offerings! I suppose in one way it is fitting as a contemporary morning drama is the reason why Kawagoe became so popular.

Saitama

Saitama

Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.


4 Comments

  • helloalissa

    on Jul 11

    That's gentrification, exactly. There's always the Hikawa Matsuri, which is the reason I went there.

  • Saitama

    on Jul 11

    @helloalissa you put it perfectly. The Hikawa Shrine from which the matsuri originated, is now more of a tourist trap than a sanctuary, but the history is fascinating and it remains one of my favorite sites in Kawagoe. We attend the matsuri annually, it never disappoints. :-)

  • edthethe

    on Jul 12

    I was studying abroad when they filmed the show and got to see a few scenes in production. I do love that they improved the side of the station opposite atre.

  • Saitama

    on Jul 12

    @edthethe yes its so much nicer now. I was living here when they were filming it, but I was completely oblivious!! Well actually toward the end I had heard about it, but I never saw any camera crew at the time... nowadays though, I see camera crews almost weekly!