The first sunrise is an important aspect of New Year’s celebrations in Japan. Many plan their first visit to the temple or shrine in conjunction with witnessing that first sunrise of the year. Hence, as I mentioned in a previous article, Takao-san is a popular place to visit from the early hours of New Year’s day. Not only can you say your first prayers in an ancient temple, you can also be one of the first to see the sunrise AND catch the first glimpse of Mt Fuji for the New Year. The sunrise can be witnessed from Mt Takao, and Mt Mitake too, at about 6.48am on New Year’s Day 2016.
However, that is not the earliest you can see the sun rise for the very first time in Japan in 2016. Choshi in Chiba owns that honour. You can see the sunrise at the Eastern most point of the Kanto area at about 6.46am. The Choshi tourist association recommends Inubosaki, along the coast, as a viewing point. It is a free public area and there is free parking. You can also access this area from public transport as it is only a 7 minute walk from Inubosaki train station. Wrap up well though, it will be cold.
For Tokyo and mainland Kanto, the first sunrise of 2016 is generally expected to be visible at about 6.50am, weather permitting of course. It is quite difficult to see the rising sun in many parts of Tokyo, but there are some places that enjoy a view. How about from 150 metres up? Tokyo Tower opens it doors at 6am on New Year’s day. They do charge for the pleasure and have a restriction on the number of people they are letting up the tower, so do arrive early if you want to be one of them. Rainbow promenade also has a limit on numbers, but it is free in. The Telecom Centre, one of Tokyo’s lesser known observation areas, also has a view for 500 yen per person. If you happen to be in Haneda airport at 6.50 in the morning, you can see the sunrise from the domestic terminal 2 observation decks.
I will watch from a river embankment near my house in rural Saitama. We normally have a great view on a sunny day, so here’s hoping… I wish you many beautiful sunrises in 2016. HAPPY NEW YEAR.
It is very common in my homeland of Ireland, for people to attend horse races during the winter holidays. Around where I lived it is the Leopardstown Races on St Stephen’s Day. Here in Japan, Christmas is not a main event, but New Years is like our Christmas. So when I saw an advert for horse races in Saitama over the New Year my attention peaked. My interest led me to research more and I found not only horse race information, but other type of New Years races that can be enjoyed during the holiday season. Whether you are looking for a unique place for a New Year’s date, or an alternative place for a ladies day out, or maybe a casual get together with work mates, or just a fun family day in Saitama, you might get an idea here. Each of the sports mentioned are ones that you can legally bet on in Japan and there are betting facilities at the venues.
Thoroughbred Horse Racing at Urawa Racecourse
About 30 minutes on a train from Tokyo and a 15 minute walk from Minami Urawa and Urawa stations lies a local Government race course. On race days, there is a free shuttle bus from East Exit of JR Minami-Urawa station. The entry fee to the grounds is only 100 yen. You can pay for a seat if you prefer with costs starting from 500 yen and Viewing boxes cost from 2000 yen. The paddock is close to the stands, so it is possible to see the thoroughbreds up close and personal. This was my experience at the Tokyo race course also. There are a row of shops where you can buy food and goods. Food is very reasonably priced. A popular keepsake is a tumbler of the Saitama mascot Kobaton in horseracing gear.
The race course is closed for New Year’s day, but they have races from January 6th to 8th (2016 dates) with their New Year Cup on the 7th. First races start at 9.40 in the morning.
There are lots of events annually at the Omiya Velodrome. Shortly into the new year they will be holding the popular Kurashige memorial cup races. This special memorial cup event will take place from January 16th to 19th (dates for 2016). THe Omiya race tracks are known for their added services, such as a stamp rally for kids, free sweets in the morning, a free drink at lunch and a free indoor playroom for young children. During this special event, they will have even more attractions for families to enjoy, such as an illusion show on the 16th and Saitama mascot Kobaton visiting on the 18th.
The boat race courses in Toda were designed and opened for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. They still hold big races every year. From the 3rd of January (2016) you can enjoy the 46th annual (very roughly translated) “Saitama racers sports Japan competition” event. It is only a 100 yen into the stadium. Seating costs additional money. There are indoor and outdoor seats. You can buy food on the premises and they have a free children’s play area.
In researching this post, I found information in the 2016 January magazine print issue of “Tokyo Walker“. That issue also includes information on the Seibu Amusement Park velodrome which is beside the ski slopes in Seibu in Tokorozawa. They have races annually in January, this year the dates are January 27th to 29th 2016. There was also information on more boat races in Saitama including “Boat pier Kurihashi” and “Boat pier Okabe“. I had a great day out at the Tokyo horse races a few years ago, so I am definitely keen to try some of the local races here in Saitama. I am particularly interested in the boat races as these are not something you see very often in Ireland. I hope to have a report on one of them in the New Year! 🙂
Whatever you do over the New Year, have a great holiday season.
Lucky bags are a very popular New Year’s tradition. I first happened upon lucky bags quite by accident when I was a student here. It was early in the New Year and myself and my friends were shopping in Takasaki station. They had a sealed Hello Kitty box on sale in a clearance bin. We asked the shop assistant what was in it. She no longer had the list of contents hence it was in the clearance bin. She said it was stationary but couldn’t say what for sure, because it was one of the last “fukubukuro”. Well, it contained stationary galore and to this day it is the best value for money purchase I ever made. Plus, I still have the box all the goodies came in!
福 fuku means luck and 袋 bukuro is a bag. Afore mentioned sales clerk explained that lucky bags are made up of goodies for a discounted price. Clothes shops offer clothes fukubukuro, electronic shops may have household goods etc. It reminds me of a lucky dip in Ireland. In later years, I realised that some lucky bags are more famous than others. Shibuya 109 may possibly be the most famous. It draws thousands.
Meanwhile in Saitama…well, hmmm, not sure we have anything to the level of Shibuya 109, but there are some good ones. Here’s a little round-up for those of you who plan to venture out in the crowds on New Year’s Day. There are others that start on January 2nd, they are in a separate post. Be warned a lot of these lucky bags sell out within a day.
ARCHE, Omiya Station
Their lucky bags go on sale at 10am on January the 1st and remain at the sale price until the last one is sold. Arche is right in front of the West exit of Omiya Station. There is another sale running simultaneously. URL:http://www.arche.ne.jp/archenews/#post-176
They have various different types of lucky bags on different floors; womens clothing, womens goods, kids clothing, sports and interior etc. In spite having lots of lucky bags, they say that they sell out quickly. Opening from 10am. Just a minute’s walk from Omiya Station.
They have a number of different type of lucky bags, some with pyjamas, some with clothes, even some with shoes. The shop will open from 9am. Peony walk is a short bus ride from Takasaka station on the Tobu Tojo line. It has plenty of free parking.
The various Toysrus and Babiesrus around Saitama (Kawagoe, Okegawa, Laketown, Kuki, Iruma etc) offer lucky bags in the New Year. You can already buy them online tonight. They have the type that you don’t know what is contained in them, as well as ones that show you what you are getting inside.
Go on, treat yourself to one!! They’re usually great value for money and a bit of craic too. If there are any really good lucky bags you know of, please do share the information in the comments below. 🙂
Whatever you do this New Year, make it a good one. HAPPY NEW YEAR
Santa Claus IS coming to Saitama. I was beginning to think he wasn’t, but just two minutes ago I found where Santa will visit in Saitama. He is visiting Mallage in Kuki this coming Sunday, the 20th of December.
Mallage are offering customers the chance to get their photo taken with Santa at one of the three allocated time slots. He will visit at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. Tickets will be distributed to 100 customers each time, in the first floor “taki no court”. This is a free event. Don’t forget your camera!
Mallage has been around for quite sometime, but it recently added even more shops and services for families. It is also now more accessible thanks to the extension of the Ken-o highway, that opened last month. Parking is plentiful and free. If you have young children they might enjoy the Secret Forest, which features on this blog.
In the 20th episode of the second season of the anime Yama no Susume, “Climb of Encouragement“, you can see a beautiful park with quirky buildings, that looks completely fictional. Fortunately, for all of us, it’s an actual park in the rural area of Hanno, right beside Tokyo. The park is called Akebono no Mori or “Akebono’s forest“, but it is also called Moomin Valley due to it’s connection with the Moomin characters. You can find more about that as well as general information about the park here on one of the first posts written in English about the park: http://insaitama.com/moomin-valley-akebono-forest-in-hanno-city/. Here are some scenes from the anime, with a real life photo for comparison.
There are other scenes from the anime within walking distance of Akebono’s Forest. I even found a map online of the route you can take to see them all. Unfortunately, it is in Japanese only.
Thanks for viewing, leave a comment if you have the time. 🙂
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In my search for Santa, one prefecture that stood out for having a good selection of Santa events and attractions was TOCHIGI. So my family of six took to the road to do a bit of reconnaissance. Thanks to the completion of a new stretches of highway, Tochigi is very accessible from Saitama. It took us just under two hours to reach our first stop in Nasu, where much to my delight the first thing we saw was Santa’s private sleigh. It was the start of a magical day for my four kids ages 1 to 6 years old, and I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I had anticipated. We thoroughly absorbed the Christmas atmosphere and came home with a little jingle in our steps! There were so many Santa photo spots, events and attractions and the great news is that there is even more SANTAstic fun planned for many parts of Tochigi for the next few days.
661 Street is a quirky row of shops and a museum, that are all adjoined. The Coca Cola store within 661 street offers two ways to meet Santa each Christmas. One is the SANTA EXPRESS! When you purchase more than 5,000 yen of Coca Cola goods in the Coke Store, Santa will personally deliver your purchases to your home (within the area). This offer runs between December 23rd and 25th. The other is a meet and greet within the Coca Cola store. (Images on the left and right from 661 street).
Apart from being able to meet the real Santa you can also enjoy the Christmas decorations and Santa photo spots. You can even get a photo with Elvis, a regular fixture at 661 street, with Santa in the background. That Santa is in front of the Coca Cola store. They also have inflated snowmen and a Santa display out the front of the premises.
Finland no Mori also offer two ways to meet Santa. This Saturday, the 19th, between 2 and 3pm anyone can meet him at the bakery for free, or you can pay to meet him at a more leisurely pace at allocated times from the 19th to the 25th. If you purchase 1,000 yen of goods from the bakery or cafe you get a ticket to see Santa. With this ticket you get the opportunity to take photos. Each day the times are a little different and subject to change so please check on the website (below), but generally there is a mid-morning and early afternoon slot.
Apart from the opportunity to meet the real Santa, there are also some fun Santa photo spots around the area. Finland no moriis also home to a Moomin shop and a Hammock cafe among others. More to come on Finland no Moriin the coming days. Not too far from Finland no mori, there is a shop were it is Christmas all year round; Christmas Town.
Santa Claus will be hanging out in the Babiesrus in Sano for most of the day on the 19th. He will be walking around the store a number of times during the day; 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. If you find him, say hello and get a photo with him. Don’t forget your camera!
This special event is only available for 2 days on December 19th and 20th. The outbound train leaves from Shimodate Station in Ibaraki at 10.35 arriving in Motegi in Tochigi at 12.06. It returns later that day, leaving Motegi at 14.26 arriving to Mooka (not Shimodate)Station at 15.19. It costs for an adult 1030 yen ONE WAY for the event, plus 500 yen for the steam locomotive fare. Children cost 520 yen for the event and 250 yen for the train fare. Preschool children are free. Tickets for the steam locomotive are already on sale at Midori-no-madoguchi (Reservation Ticket Office), View Plaza (Travel Service Center) at Mooka Station in Tochigi.
From December 1st until 23rd the aquatic park in Otawara has Santa visiting. From 11am and 1pm, for an hour each time, you can get a photo of Santa swimming around the tank and interacting with the audience with an etcher sketcher! On Saturdays and Sundays Santa wears a red Santa Kimono instead of his usual suit, at the 1pm showing only. The Santa event doesn’t cost any extra money, once you have a ticket in to the aquatic park. Entry is 600 yen for adults and 250 yen for children over 6. Under 6 are free. Please check the website for up-to-date prices. (Images on the left and right taken from the official website.)
It is rumoured that Santa will visit Nasukarayama on the 25th to give out sweets to kids. There is a popular winter illumination spot in this area run by the tourist association who can be contacted on 0287-84-1977. The flyer can be found online here: http://park18.wakwak.com/~omotenashi/irumi.pdf
I cannot confirm that Santa will visit on the 25th, but I have added to the list because it is the home of Santa Hills. SANTA HILLS is a cottage and campsite where Santa has a house, hence it is rumoured he will visit his Tochigi house on the way home!! He does visit young guests of this campsite and lodges throughout December, but they also have a Christmas shop open to the general public and the cafe has a Christmassy feel too!
On our own trip, we also went to the Teddy Bear Museum where some of the teddies are dressed up in Santa outfits and Olaf costumes. There were many places we passed on our journey that had Christmas decorations and winter illumination. There wasn’t time to investigate them all. However, what we saw and what we felt was reminiscent of a Scandinavian Christmas and I certainly want to go back to investigate more. If you have anywhere you would like to recommend, please do not hesitate to comment.
There are a number of ski resorts that participate in a family ski programme. They offer discounts on lift passes to families. There are some conditions, for example you have to have a print version of the coupon on your person, you cannot get the discount by showing it online. Most resorts in the programme also stipulate that children of the family must be under a certain age, usually primary school age or younger. Generally, you cannot use these coupons in conjunction with any other type of discount. However, for those who fall within the guidelines, there are some great savings to enjoy. The coupons I will be featuring this month can only be used for the 2015-2016 ski / snowboarding season.
Hodaigi Snow Resort, MINAKAMI, GUNMA
The Hodaigi family snow resort in Minakami, Gunma, is offering a 1,000 yen discount on their “daily adult pack”. The pack includes a meal ticket. The regular cost is 5,200, with this coupon that you must print out from the link, it is 4,200 yen; http://famiski.jp/coupon/gunma/hodaigi/ – CLICK the blue button with a printer icon and 印刷する. This coupon is only for those visiting the snow resort with young children.
Season: December 12th 2015 to April 10th 2016
Preschoolers: Lift is FREE
Kids park: FREE, but if you use the snow esculator it costs 700 yen for the day or 100 yen for one time.
Parking: FREE on weekdays
Ski School: for over 3s
Creche: “Snow fairy Nursery/ Creche” accept children from 6 months to 6 years old, 1,600 yen for one hour.
Attraction: They have sleighs with handles
Events: Kids snow festival on January 24th, February 21st, March 13th
Access: Train – FREE shuttle bus from Minakami station on the Joestu Line. Car – 17 kilometres from Minakami interchange on Kanetsu expressway.
On the grounds of Kitain Temple there is a very special building, which is home to some important national treasures. The house protects the only remains of the Edo Castle living quarters, which was once located at the site of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The rooms where moved from the Edo Castle on the order of Shogun Iemitsu, including the room he was born in. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the castle was later destroyed by natural disasters.
The building is a museum of sorts, and you have to pay to enter. The ticket also grants you access to the 500 statues of Rakan. A bonus to the museum building is that the gardens are absolutely magnificent, particularly in Autumn. You can’t enter the gardens, but you can enjoy the view from the terrace of the historic house. With just a smart phone as a camera, you can’t quite see the beautiful red bridge, but in person the view is truly breathtaking. Red bridges have always been synonmous with Japan for me, but it is actually quite rare to see one. If you are in Kawagoe in Autumn, I would recommend paying in to see the gardens and the imperial rooms of the Edo castle.
For those with children, there is a small playground on the temple grounds and lots of places for the children to explore. There is also rest areas, a toilet, vending machines, a little restaurant and a small shop. To the best of my knowledge none of the toilets have nappy changing facilities, but nobody has ever taken exception to me changing babies on a bench or in their buggy! Visitors from home always enjoy a trip to Kitain, particularly when the leaves have changed colour in the first or second week of November.
Kitain Temple is less than an hour from Tokyo. It is a 20 minute walk from Kawagoe Station on the Tobu Tojo Line or 15 minutes from the Seibu Shinjuku Line HonKawagoe Station. You can also get a local bus from either of these stations. By car it is 20 minutes from either the Kawagoe Interchange of the Kanetsu Expressway or from the Kawajima Interchange of the Metropolitan Intercity (Ken-O) Expressway. Parking is available at 500 yen for the day. Car park closes at 16.00.
Access from Kawagoe Station
Koedo Kawagoe bus one day pass allows you unlimited travel on the Koedo Kawagoe buses. It costs 300 yen. In the bus they have a monitor with sightseeing information. Some tourist places give discounts on souvenirs or entrance tickets to people with a one day pass.
Koedo Meguri (Loop) Bus from Kawagoe station. You can buy a one day pass that allows you unlimited travel on the Meguri Bus. It stops at 16 different locations. 104 different shops, offer discount services such as souvenirs, food, and entrance fees to facilities for holders of this day pass. There are announcements in English and Chinese as well as Japanese so foreigners can feel at ease.
I had the great fortune and pleasure to serendipitously see the Emperor and Empress last week. The chances of that happening are almost as slim as winning the lottery. It was night-time and I was stopped from crossing the road by a policeman. I instinctively knew what great fortune I had been bestowed, as I was just at the top of the avenue of Gingko trees in the Koukyogaien National Garden. (Koukyogaien literally means the outer garden of the Imperial Palace). Subsequently the lights were fixed to red for all approaches and the entourage approached, black cars barely visible except for their gleam, against the dark of night. Just as the Emperor passed me (and I like to think because I was waving like a loon and visibly overcome by emotion) the light was turned on in the car and there in front of me was the Emperor and Empress of Japan in clear view. They were impeccable, splendid, breathtaking…imperial. It was the perfect ending to my day at the Palace.
I had started my morning just as fortuitous, with a welcome and unexpected reunion with an old JET buddy from my days in Ibaraki. I was on my way to the Palace Hotel when a mail came in from my old friend. I had plenty of time to spare before my engagement, so we arranged to meet in the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace for a walk and a catch up. Not expecting to meet anyone before my engagement at the Palace, I had a route planned to do myself before meeting up with my Irish family and friends at the Palace Hotel. I adjusted it for a walk-and-talk and we only did a small part of the formidable gardens, but it was more impressive than either of us had anticipated.
I actually walked in from Sakuradamon station over Iwaida bridge on the side of the Hibiya moat. (The yellow line of the left foreground of the above photo). We caught the gardens at the end of the autumnal colours, but the trees and shrubbery were still magnificently resplendent.
The leisurely walk brought us from the KoukyoGaien National gardens to the Imperial Palace East Gardens, home to the Sannomaru Shozokan, a museum of the Imperial Collections. All are public and FREE. You can check the opening hours and schedule of Sannomaru Shozokan and the Imperial Palace East Gardens here: http://www.kunaicho.go.jp/e-event/
In the Imperial Palace East Gardens, I was particularly awed by the Ninomaru gardens. Ninomaru was the area of the secondary circle when it was Edo castle. THe area was converted into a spectacular garden. I ran out of time shortly after we arrived in the Ninomaru gardens and it was onto the Palace Hotel for afternoon tea with dear friends and family (possibly another blog entry!). Next year, I will definitely return to finish the full route and take in more of the spectacular Autumn scenery at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Gate City Plaza in Osaki, Shinagawa Ward, has a free Santa Village until Christmas Day. The Atrium is decorated as a Santa grotto and village. It is free and open to the public daily from 7am to midnight. For the month of December, they also have a special area set up to write your wishes to Santa Claus and put them in a box for him to pick up.
On the 23rd, Santa Claus will personally visit Gate City to pick up the letters. He plans to hang around for most of the day so there will be an opportunity to see him. From 1pm and again from 4pm they will have a family group event with Santa. Separate to that they will have a photo with Santa event at 11am to 1pm and 3pm to 4.30pm. However, if you want to get your photo with Santa at the allocated times, you must request a ticket at the delivery corner of the Atrium. Tickets are limited, so first come, first served. There is also a family singing event in the Atrium that day at noon and 3pm.
Further, information is available in Japanese on the website: http://www.gatecity.jp/plaza/event/