by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No. 8

The land of "Semba" and water in Kawagoe

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the land of "Semba" and water in Kawagoe. This is number eight in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
An Old Song for Children, "Where are you from?
"Where are you from?" "From Higo." "Which part of Higo?" "Kumamoto." "Which part of Kumamoto?" "Semba."
They say this song was "born" in Kumamoto. Humming this song to myself, however, I enjoy guessing about the following: According to the system of "alternative attendance" during the Edo Period, a Lord of the Kumamoto Domain went to Edo with his attendants. Some of them happened to come to Kawagoe. A Kawagoe native asked them where they were from and they replied that they were from Kumamoto. All through the conversation in this song, the sound "sa" is placed at the end of each sentence. This is a kind of Kawagoe dialect. Kumamoto has a district called "Semba" and so does Kawagoe, though the kanji are different. So, when I sang this song, bouncing a ball in my childhood, I thought it referred to the Semba district in Kawagoe.
The Source of the Name "Semba"
A book written by Kawagoe native in 1801 tells a legendary wizard called "Sempo." The story is as follows:
In the olden times, the land of Semba was under the sea. Sempo came here from nowhere. He could not walk across the sea without a boat, so he was in trouble. Suddenly an old man appeared and said, "I am the dragon god and the master of this sea." Then Sempo said, "I would like to have a small land as large as the size of my spread out clothes." Since the dragon god agreed, Sempo spread his clothes out over the waves. Immediately they spread and spread covering several miles. The dragon god was surprised and said, "As you see, I now have no place to live. So please leave a small pond for me." Sempo agreed and prepared a small pond for the dragon god. Then, Sempo threw a small statue of Buddha into the sea, the sea withdrew and turned into land.
This is the legend about the name Semba. The pond that they say Sempo left for the dragon god still exists in the Semba district.
The stone monument to the legendary pond 'Tatsuike-benzaiten'
The stone monument to the legendary pond "Tatsuike-benzaiten"
The legendary pond 'Tatsuike-benzaiten'
The legendary pond "Tatsuike-benzaiten"
The Hiei (Shinto) Shrine
Very near the Ki-tain (Buddhist) Temple is the Hiei (Shinto) Shrine. It is said that it was built around 830. On this site, there was an old well,which was recently plugged up. They say that the next morning when people put something into the well it appeared in the above-mentioned pond, which is located 1km away. We once saw many springs on the east side of Kawagoe, which is the end of the tableland. We can assume that the ground water was, or is connected.
The Hiei Shrine
The Hiei Shrine
The remains of an old well in the Hiei Shrine
The remains of an old well in the Hiei Shrine
TOKUGAWA Ieyasu and Water of Kawagoe
There is a district near my house which was once called "Shimizu-cho." "Shimizu" means a "spring." When I was a child, I sometimes went there to get shells from the spring. It is said that TOKUGAWA Ieyasu loved the water and used it for tea ceremonies, saying "it is the same as the water in Kyoto, (which was used by Sen no Rikyu)." They say that "Shimizu-cho" was named according to these words by Ieyasu.
Kawagoe Water in Plastic Bottles
Today, the filtration plant in Kuruwa-machi of Kawagoe City, near the once named "Shimizu-cho," is pumping water from 200 meters below ground. It was 1954, about 60 years ago, when this plant first produced tap water for Kawagoe. Due to the increase in the population, the city could not obtain sufficient quantities of water from the wells for all the citizens, so it started to purchase river water from Saitama Prefecture in 1974. Before that, we did enjoy cool water in summer and warm water in winter. Though the ground water and river water are suitably mixed nowadays, we still can drink quite tasty water in Kawagoe, only 30 minutes from Tokyo by train. In June 2002, Kawagoe City filled plastic bottles with the ground water and distributed them to some of the citizens in recognition of the high quality of the water. Now it is being produced on a commercial basis.
Water of Kawagoe,
"Kawagoe Water," 100 Yen/bottle.
You can get it at Koedo Kawagoe Tourist Association
located at Fudano-tsuji (Map C-2) .
Have you tasted a glass of water in a coffee shop after your long walk around Kawagoe? It is soft water.
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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