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:
Alas, there was another motivating factor for the short haul north– the 芋 (いも/eemo) , 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
to haunt visitors for companies/tourism departments throughout Japan. There are 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 in Japanese to sweet potatoes, as that character can also mean potato, or country bumpkin, it’s a bit of a gray area. How gray? Charcoal. 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 eemo). English-language cheaters might like the term スイートポテト , which literally reads “suii-to poteyto. Even more linguistic fun? Visit this page.
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? One of my favorite sweet potato snacks is the college potato, written in Japanese above, and photographed below:
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.
Fancy a visit to Kawagoe? Hungry for some vitamin A?