Sweet potato

Kawagoe is famous for many things, not least its sweet potatoes. Even the city’s main mascot Tokimo is a mash (if you’ll pardon the pun!) of the sweet potato “imo” and the symbol of Kawagoe the bell tower “Toki”. Moreover, there is even a “Kawagoe Imo” which refers to sweet potatoes – particularly baked “yaki” sweet potatoes – that are grown in the wider area of the old Kawagoe Domain*.

*The wider Kawagoe domain includes the modern day cities of Kawagoe, Tokorozawa, Sayama, Niiza and the town of Miyoshi.

Tokimo the sweet potato bell tower mascot of Kawagoe
Tokimo – the sweet potato bell tower mascot of Kawagoe!

Sweet potatoes

Sweet Potato are not native to Japan. They were introduced to Japan in the early 18th century. They got their Japanese name Satsumaimo from their point of origin in Japan: Satsuma, an area that is part of the current Kagoshima. Imo is the Japanese for potato.

Records in Kawagoe show that they began cultivating them in 1751. They were grown as an experiment in a desperate bid to prevent a famine. All other crops including rice had failed for several years consecutively. The sweet potato crops in Saitama in particular flourished beyond their wildest expectations. The people were so grateful that there are shrines and temples dedicated to the sweet potato around the Kanto area. And in Myozenji in Kawagoe they have a prayer service to the sweet potato deity annually on October 13th.

More about the history of sweet potatoes in Kawagoe:

Kawagoe for Sweet Potato Digging

Sweet potato

Koedo Kawagoe is a popular place for sweet potato digging in Saitama due to the history as well as the abundance of sweet potato fields. The proximity to Tokyo attracts city dwellers looking for hands on experience. Its really easy to get to Kawagoe from Tokyo. And where better to try your hand at potato digging than in a beautiful tourist town with hundreds of other attractions. It certainly helps that you can try dozens of sweet potato dishes, even drinks, within the tourist area too. There is even a mini sweet potato museum in Kawagoe. And you’ll find sweet potato photo props such as this one (below) here and there in the city!

picking sweet potatoes Kawagoe

Digging for Sweet Potatoes in the Kawagoe area

It is very easy to grow sweet potatoes in the Western area of Saitama, the climate and soil conditions are perfect for it. And with the abundance of sweet potato farms in the greater Kawagoe area, children grow up planting them in late spring to early summer and digging them up in Autumn. To be honest, until a few years ago I actually assumed that this was a national past time! It was only through some research a couple of years ago that I realized that we are just very fortunate to live in an area that is conducive to sweet potato cultivation. And where sweet potato fields and farms are a dime a dozen.

Sweet potato digging tourism started almost a 100 years ago in Kawagoe. And in 1963 a cooperative of ten sweet potato digging farms was established. They enhanced the tourism trade for sweet potatoes by working together to improve production of sweet potatoes and to provide facilities for tourists. Supposedly in the 1970s the area was receiving up to 200,000 sweet potato digging tourists a year! Nowadays the average is 40,000 according to the Kawagoe Imo Research Association.

Kawagoe Digging Farms

The season of digging / picking at the Kawagoe Sweet potato farms is from September to early November. Ring in advance to make a booking at the number provided. They are all open now for the season. I have not included individual prices as they are subject to change. Some charge by the potato, some by weight, some have a standard fee. Budget for at least 600 yen per person, but most likely 1000 yen or more. Unfortunately the number of farms in the coop have gone down since its inception in the sixties. However, there are still six farms to choose from:

  • Arahata Farm
  • Arahata-en
  • Sakamoto
  • Yamada-en
  • Mutou-en
  • Nakagawa Farm

Arahata Farm

Season:mid-September – early November
Address:6-12-33 Minamiotsuka, Kawagoe City
Phone:049-243-3895
Hours:10:00-16:00
Access:By public transport: a 20 minute walk from Minami Otsuka Station.

By car: 5 minutes drive from the Kawagoe Interchange. Parking available.

On Google Maps.
Online:Official website

Arahata-en

Season:early September – early November
Address:6-12-34 Minamiotsuka, Kawagoe City
Phone:080-1160-1234
Hours:10:00-16:00
Access:Walk from Minami Otsuka station.

5 minutes drive from the Kawagoe Interchange. Parking available.

On Google Maps.
Online:Official website

Sakamoto

Season:mid-September – early November
Address:2-2-2 Nakadai, Kawagoe City
Phone:049-242-6509
Hours:9 am to 5 pm
Access:Bus from Hon-Kawagoe or Kawagoe stations in the direction of 今福中台. 3 minute walk from 今福武蔵野 bus stop.

Parking for 9 cars.

On Google Maps.
Online:Official website

Yamada Farm

Season:Mid September –
Address:2 Chome Nakadai, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-1159
Phone:049-242-6213
Hours:9:30 – 4 pm
Access:On Google Maps
Online:Official website

Muto-en

Season:mid-September – October
Address:2-15-20 Nakadai, Kawagoe City
Phone:049-244-3247
Access:Parking for 10 cars.

Not on Google maps, but I’ve pinned it here.
Online:No official website.
On Kawagoe Info website here.

Nakagawa Farm

Season:mid-September – October
Address:2-1 Nakadai, Kawagoe City
Phone:049-242-6146
Hours:10 am to 5 pm
Access:On Google maps
Online:Official website

Other digging farms in Saitama

Dig it!

Kawagoe is a great spot for a first time digging experience. And really accessible from Tokyo too. Just 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro. If you are a first timer, I would advise wearing long sleeves and long trousers when digging. Particularly for children. And have a bottle of water or two handy, especially if its a hot day. If you are bringing the sweet potatoes home with you, here’s a fun recipe bound to be a hit with the kids. From Fiona Uyema, Ireland’s leading Japanese food expert and owner of Fused;

I hope you enjoy sweet potato digging as much as we do. And if you digged this article, please do share it around! Have you been sweet potato digging in Japan yet? How did you like it?

2 Comments

    1. Author

      Haha! I like them in Japan because they are actually quite “sweet” whereas in Ireland they’re very bland!

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