A one-hour train ride from Tokyo brings you to Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, a city known for streets lined with classic kura-style buildings (traditional merchant houses). Take a short walk down an alley from these streets into a residential area, and you will notice a sweet aroma hanging in the air. The smell comes from Kashiya Yokocho (Confectioner's Row), which has been chosen as one of the "100 best-smelling places" in Japan by the Ministry of the Environment.
Kawagoe replaced Tokyo as a center of dagashi production after Tokyo suffered severe damage in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In the early days of the Showa period (1926-1989) there were as many as 70 candy stores in Kashiya Yokocho. Today a little more than a dozen stores operate in antique wooden buildings.
The moment you step inside, you are enveloped by the sweet smell of candy, the aroma of roasted rice dumplings, and the lively voices of people selling and buying. It's as if you have traveled back several decades through time.
Dagashi are not the only sweets on sale. Among the other foods sold here are soft ice cream made of the sweet potatoes for which Kawagoe is famous and fish-shaped cakes filled with sweet bean paste. Tourists from all over the country visit Kashiya Yokocho on weekends and holidays, and the narrow alleyway becomes so crowded it is almost impossible to walk.
A middle-aged woman visiting from Tokyo smiles, "This place brings back so many memories, I think I'm forgetting my own age."
"The children seem to be having fun, too, but the grownups are the ones who get really absorbed," observes one shop owner.
Kashiya Yokocho, Kawagoe: From Tokyo Station, take the JR Yamanote Line or Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to Ikebukuro Station. Take the Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro Station to Kawagoe Station (about 30 minutes), then take a bus from there.