Kawagoe’s other major highlight, around 500m east of Hon-Kawagoe station, is Kita-in (喜多院), the main temple complex of the Tendai Buddhist sect. There’s been a temple on these grounds since 830, and it gained fame when the first Tōkugawa shogun, Ieyasu, declared the head priest Tenkai Sōjō a “living Buddha”. Such was the reverence in which the priests here were held that, when the temple burnt down in 1638, the third shogun, Iemitsu, donated a secondary palace from Edo Castle (on the site of Tokyo’s present-day Imperial Palace) as a replacement building. This was dismantled and moved here piece by piece, and is now the only remaining structure from Edo Castle which survives anywhere.
You have to pay an entry fee to view the palace part of the temple but it’s well worth it. The room with a painted floral ceiling is believed to be where Iemitsu was born. Serene gardens surround the palace and a covered wooden bridge leads across into the temple’s inner sanctum, decorated with a dazzling golden chandelier. The entry fee also includes access to the Gohyaku Rakan, a remarkable grove of stone statues. Although the name translates as “500 Rakans”, there are actually 540 of these enigmatic dwarf disciples of Buddha, and no two are alike. Should you know your Chinese birth sign, it’s fun to search the ranks for it, as twelve of the statues include the zodiac symbols of animals and mythical beasts. Kita-in also has its own mini Tōshō-gū, which, like its famous cousin in Nikkō, enshrines the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu and is decorated with bright colours and elaborate carvings.