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.
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
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 (you need to make an appointment to visit). And you’ll find sweet potato photo props such as this one (below) here and there in the city!
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:
- At Farm (@ Farm)
- Arahata Farm
- Nakagawa Farm
At Farm (@ Farm)
At or @ Farm is a new and trendy picking farm in Kawagoe. However, the people behind it, Sankyo-Mokko, have been operating in Kawagoe for more than a 100 years. The farm also offers strawberry picking in winter / spring and cherry picking in summer. They also grows tomatoes for picking. Moreover, they have a lovely cafe on the grounds that is open all year round.
|Season:||expected to be a date in October to early November 2023|
|Address:||1043-3 Imafuku, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-1151|
|Hours:||yet to be announced. Closed on Mondays|
|Access:||By public transport: take a Seibu bus for the east gate of Shintokorozawa station from either Kawagoe or Hon Kawagoe station. Alight at Kasumimachi bus stop. The farm is about a 5 minute walk from the bus stop.|
By car: The farm is about a ten minute drive (3.5 kilometers) from the Kawagoe Interchange of the Kanetsu (Kan-etsu) expressway.
On Google Maps.
|Season:||mid-September to early November|
|Address:||6-12-33 Minamiotsuka, Kawagoe City|
|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.
|Season:||generally early September to early November, but they are late starting in 2023.|
|Address:||6-12-34 Minamiotsuka, Kawagoe City|
|Access:||Walk from Minami Otsuka station.|
5 minutes drive from the Kawagoe Interchange. Parking available.
On Google Maps.
|Season:||mid-September – early November|
|Address:||2-2-2 Nakadai, Kawagoe City|
|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.
|Season:||from September 9th 2023, end date not decided yet.|
|Address:||2 Chome Nakadai, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-1159|
|Hours:||9:30 – 4 pm|
|Access:||On Google Maps|
|Season:||mid-September – October|
|Address:||2-15-20 Nakadai, Kawagoe City|
|Access:||Parking for 10 cars.|
Not on Google maps, but I’ve pinned it here.
|Online:||No official website. |
On Kawagoe Info website here and they take bookings through Jalan.
|Season:||generally mid-September to October, but 2023 digging information not currently available.|
|Address:||2-1 Nakadai, Kawagoe City|
|Hours:||10 am to 5 pm|
|Access:||On Google maps|
Other digging farms in Saitama
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?