After three days of struggling with a rental car in Tokyo, me and my two friends racked up a $300 parking bill, sideswiped a cement pole, and got stuck in what was essentially an alleyway (but is somehow used for cars). It took us a solid four hours to actually get the car out of the parking spot due to a language barrier and a need for 1000 yen pieces.
After an anxiety-inducing ride to Mount Fuji, and $60 in tolls later, we decided it was time to return the rental car and buy some bullet train passes. The first place we went with our newly-obtained train passes was a beautiful city named Kawagoe in the Saitama Prefecture.
Luckily for us, we had a tour guide in our good friend Manabu, who is the founder, designer, and maker of Southern Field Industries. He makes some really stellar canvas products. He is a native of Saitama and hand-makes his bags with his wife in his studio in the same city in which he lives. Without him, we would have never truly enjoyed Japan the way we did.
Compared to Tokyo, Kawagoe was a relaxed retreat with much less people, but with what they lacked in numbers, they made up in quality in terms of friendliness and making three American dudes feel welcome in a smaller Japanese town. Kawagoe wasn’t short on touristy things to do downtown, but in the quieter backroads and neighborhoods not too far from the train station, there was much to be appreciated and enjoyed.
Walking around Kawagoe was seriously a treat. It was the perfect city to walk around as it was as quaint as it was full of people and things to do. A truly perfect balance which made it my favorite stop during my stay in Japan.
Throughout our day here, we ran into some really beautiful shops that had an attention to detail that I can’t even express verbally. It was as if every single piece of every shop was staged, but looked just so natural ever so effortlessly. Not to mention that the people who owned these shops were more than friendly and were just so incredibly gentle and kind.
After a teriyaki burger at McDonald’s, Manabu drove us into the mountains where we were able to unwind and detox in a natural hot spring, giving us our first onsen experience. It was just nice to sit in outdoor silence, listening to the crowing of birds and the waving of trees; appreciating that fact that we were lucky enough to be where we were with the people we were with at that point in time.