Kawagoe (川越), a roughly 30-60 minute ride from major train stations throughout Tokyo, is also known affectionately known as Koedo (小江戸/Little Edo), whereas Edo refers to Tokyo’s former name. As Kawagoe made it through World War II only receiving minor damage, many of its most famous structures, the 蔵造り (くらづくり/koora-zukoori), or warehouses, survived:
For that reason, it is one of the gems of Saitama prefecture, and one of the reasons that I visited.
Alas, there was another motivating factor for the short-haul north of Tokyo– the 芋 (いも/ee-mo) , or sweet potato.
That freaky fella above is called いもグラ (ee-mo gu-ra). It is one of hundreds (seriously) of ゆるキャラ (yooroo kyara), or mascots designed for companies/tourism bureaus throughout Japan. There are even annual competitions among said mascots; if you want to forego nightmares for some time, don’t click this link (in Japanese).
Kawagoe is one of the sweet potato centers of Japan; this was particularly important for the region during the war, as other foods were quite scarce, and more susceptible to pests/extremes in weather.
Although I referred to the character 芋 to refer to sweet potatoes, that character can also mean potato, or country bumpkin. You see, the other part of Japan best known for sweet potatoes is present-day Kagoshima prefecture, on Kyushu island. A section of that prefecture used to be called Satsuma, which begets another way to say sweet potato, 薩摩芋 (さつま・いも/satsuma ee-mo). More still, loanword enthusiasts would appreciate the term スイートポテト , which literally reads “suii-to poteyto.
Stroll through Kawagoe, and you’re bound to come across numerous food shops and souvenir stores vending this hardy tuber; sweet potato noodles, a sweet potato-centric set menu, desserts, ice cream, candies, and who knows what else?
Fortuitously, I found one of my favorite sweet potato snacks, daigaku imo (大学芋/ dai-gakoo ee-mo). It means college potato, and is made of caramelized sweet potato sprinkled with black sesame seeds. The sign showing its name is written in Japanese above, and the dish itself is photographed below:
My time in Kawagoe was rather limited – if judged solely by the food I didn’t get to try – so I must revisit. That said, here are a couple more delights sampled on that day:
Grilled sweet potato-coated karintou (花林糖・かりんとう). Karintou are sweet, deep-fried snacks made of flour, yeast, and often brown sugar. Though they often look like things you’d find crawling across the floor, to me, they’re delicious.
Termites! No, no. Actually, these いもかりんとう饅頭/まんじゅう (ee-mo karintoh-man-juu) were excellent. Manjuu are typically made with rice powder, flour, buckwheat, and red beans (adzuki), but these used burdock and carrot powder for the outside, and sweet potatoes inside.
Are you as big of a fan of sweet potatoes as I am?