Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine (川越氷川神社) is arguably the most famous and popular shrine in Kawagoe. The old shrine, more than 1,500 years old, is where the locals pray for marriage ties. In addition to the normal things you would do at a Japanese shrine, such as writing wishes on the back of an ema plaque, there are a few more interesting things you can do here!
When the shrine was first erected in the mid-15th century, it was established to enshrine the guardian god for the newly built Kawagoe Castle and the entire Kawagoe Domain. Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine thus was deeply revered by generations of castle lords. This is why the worship halls could be splendidly constructed. As time passed, the shrine became a place for people to pray for a happy relationship because out of the five gods enshrined here, there are two couples.
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Gigantic Torii Gate
Standing in front of Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s approach, you will be amazed by the size of the torii gate. The 15-meter tall gate is the biggest wooden torii in the country. The shrine’s name written on the plaque in the center of the torii gate was written by Katsu Kaishū (勝海舟), the guy who played the key role in surrendering Edo (today’s Tokyo) to the Meiji government.
On the third weekend of October, Kawagoe Festival (川越祭) is held each year. The splendid festival float leaves Hikawa Shrine from this torii gate and tours around the historical township.
Note that the shrine has two entrances. The entrance closest to the bus stop is the side gate.
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Divine River
Beyond the torii gate, there is a small divine river on the left. It is where the ritual, Hitogata Nagashi (人形流し), takes place. If any part of your body is unwell, how about trying this ritual? It might help to chase away the illness!
The same concept applies if you have been feeling unlucky recently. The ritual is said to be able to ward off bad luck.
If you are interested, purchase one human-shaped piece of paper from the shrine office and follow the procedure below.
- Breathe three times on the human-shaped paper called, Hitogata (人形).
- Rub the paper against your unwell body part.
- Float the paper on the divine river while saying “Harae Tamae, Kiyome Tamae (祓えたまえ、清めたまえ)”, meaning ‘ward off, purify’.
Note that your paper doll has to flow between the two wooden poles.
Important: Avoid folding the paper doll. It will affect its drift.
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Sacred Zelkova Trees (ケヤキ)
At the back of the worship hall, there are two sacred Zelkova trees that are more than 600 years old.
The promenade is set to go around the trees, and it is said that if you walk around the path in a figure-eight pattern, you will receive spiritual power.
The Ema Plaque Tunnel at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
Instead of the usual vertical ema rack, the ema plaques are tied to a pergola at Hikawa Shrine. The pergola is now covered with thousands of plaques, forming an ema tunnel.
Even if you aren’t interested in hanging an ema here, walking through this tunnel filled with people’s wishes would be quite an experience!
Fishing a Fortune Slip at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
Drawing a fortune slip is what many would do when they visit a Japanese shrine or temple, but have you ever fished one up?
At Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, you can fish a fortune slip!
While the shrine also has ordinary fortune slips for you to draw, how about spending a bit more money and bringing the snapper back home as an amulet?
Arriving Early for the Limited Enmusubi Tama (縁結び玉)
If you plan to explore Kawagoe from the morning, head straight to Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine after you get off the train. Why? Because the Enmusubi Tama is only given to the first twenty people!
According to the legend, if you bring back and cherish a pebble stone from Hikawa Shrine, god will bless you with a good relationship. So Hikawa Shrine’s shrine maiden wrapped the pebble picked from the ground in front of the worship hall with a hemp net before handing it to the priest for purification.
Each morning at 8 o’clock, 20 Enmusubi Tama are handed out. It is said that the blessing contained in the stone is so strong that many would queue up for it!
If you are one of the lucky people who has got the Enmusubi Tama and do find your life partner, exchange the stone for a special red thread called Yuihimo no Moto (結い紐のもと)!
Important: If you are keen to get the Enmusubi Tama, arrive early. More than 20 people can be queuing for it by 7 am.
Hikawa Shrine’s Summer Wind Chime Tunnel (縁むすび風鈴)
In summer, from July to early September, listening to the crisp sounds from the wind chime tunnel is one of the best ways to enjoy Kawagoe. The small divine stream flowing in the precinct is illuminated at night, creating a fantastic ambience for the pilgrims to enjoy.
If you want to pray for a happy relationship and/or family, write your wishes on a wooden plate and tie it to one of the 2,000 wind chimes. When the wind chimes sound, it is like the wind has carried your prayers to god.
The wind chimes hung in the tunnel are all Edo Wind Chimes (江戸風鈴). The type of wind chime was popular in the Edo period. But nowadays, only a limited number of workshops make Edo Wind Chime. Because Edo Wind Chime is handmade, you won’t find two identical Edo Wind Chimes (^_-)-☆.
In the good old days, wind chimes are hung throughout the year as a talisman. But nowadays, it is mainly a summer thing.
The main characteristics of Edo Wind Chimes are as below.
- The edge of the wind chime is jagged.
- Because it is made by glassblowing, each wind chime has a different shape and tone.
- Images are painted on the inner part of the wind chime.
Tip: In July and August, check with the shrine to see if round Edo Wind Chime-shaped illuminated paper lanterns are available from the shrine office. Walking around Kawagoe in Kimono/Yukata with one of these paper lanterns is the best way to enjoy the town’s historical atmosphere at night!
In 2023, Summer Wind Chime Tunnel is held from 9 am to 8 pm from the 1st of July to the 3rd of September.
Aka-en Fude Pencil (赤縁筆)
An interesting item you can buy from Hikawa Shrine is the Aka-en Fude Pencil.
The Japanese believe that when you are born, your little finger is connected with the one destined for you by an invisible red thread. So the shorter this thread is, the closer you are to your destined one.
Using this concept, the red pencil has a red line on its body connected to a girl’s little finger. The other end of the line is connected to the boy drawn on the pencil’s cap. So each time the pencil is shaved, the distance between the pair is shortened.
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s office is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
- From Kawagoe Station (川越駅) or Hongawagoe Station (本川越駅), take the Tobu Bus or CO-EDO Loop Bus (小江戸巡回バス) and get off at Hikawa Shrine (氷川神社) or Hikawa Shrine-me (氷川神社前) respectively.
Explore Kawagoe With a Guided Tour
If you prefer a guide to introduce you to the charms of Kawagoe, how about joining one of the below tours? You can also hire a professional photographer to capture your visit!
- Uncovering the Hidden Treasures of Kawagoe
- Half-Day Kawagoe Walking Tour
- Koedo Kawagoe Customized Private One-Day Tour from Tokyo
- Oishi Park, Oshinohakkai, and Koedo Kawagoe Day tour from Shinjuku
- 1-Hour Kawagoe Photography Session
Tip: Exploring Kawagoe in the traditional Kimono can be a great way to explore the traditional township. Refer to HERE to book a dress-up session!
The Must-Visit Spots on Kura no Machi Ichibangai Street
After visiting Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, how about enjoying some delicious desserts on the old township’s main street Kura no Machi Ichibangai?
While sweet potato might sound boring for some, the locals have their way of turning the ordinary ingredient into something extremely yummy!
For more information, refer to our Kura no Machi Ichibangai Street article!
Exploring Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street
On the way to Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, you might walk past Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street. The street is a great spot in Kawagoe to visit first for a vibe of the different periods in Japan, from the present to the Taishō period, then to the Edo period. So how about visiting a few shops and cafés on the street that are filled with the Taishō era vibe?
If that sounds like a good idea, refer to our Guide to the Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street!
Other Attractions in Kawagoe
Besides the religious spots, Kawagoe has historical attractions, shops and restaurants, workshops, and museums that might interest you.
So refer to our Guide to the Little Edo, Kawagoe, for more travel ideas!