All posts by L M N

Fun for kids of all ages at Kid’s US Land | HIGASHIMATSUYAMA

We are largely an outdoor family, but there are times of the year that we relish indoor play. By and large, summer is spent indoors, first to avoid the rain, then to escape the heat.  As my eldest son (7) and daughter (6) get older it gets harder and harder to find a play center that engages them as much as their younger siblings. Kid’s US Land is one of the few play centers that we can still go to for an extended period as a family. The other is Spocha in Ageo. And like Spocha it has something for everyone in the family. However, I will say that Spocha has more for parents, is much better value for money and five times the size.

Membership details for Kid’s US Land Higashimatsuyama

Kid’s US Land is part of a franchise with over 120 stores throughout Japan. This branch is Seiyu Higashimatsuyama branch, located on the 2nd floor of Seiyu shopping center. Once you become member of one, you can use any branch with the same membership card. The membership card costs 300 yen *each*, but it is an once off payment. You do not have to pay an annual renewal fee like so many other play centers. It is also quick and easy to make the card; they do not require you to fill out any form. You simply have to sign your name to the back of the card you are given. However, each family member must make a card and if you forget a card on a day that you visit, it costs 100 yen to receive a temporary membership card. If you can’t read Japanese, they have information in English at the reception desk.

The first and best known branch of Kid’s US land opened in Koshigaya in February 2013. It was the one of the first of this type of play center to open in Saitama, but many have popped up since. It became particularly well known only months after opening as it was featured on NHK television. It has enjoyed great success since. I remember hearing about it and wishing we could visit, but it would take us two hours one way and so we never did. Now we have not just one, but THREE Kid’s US Land in the West area of Saitama. This branch in Higashimatsuyama opened mid-September 2016.

Not just for kids: parents can relax as US Land too. You can use Massage chairs freely as they are included in the price for adults.

Kid’s US Land is not as suave or charming as nearby Sole or Omiya’s Kid-o-kid or Kidzooona, which have wooden and educational toys. Kid’s US Land is for the most part plastic and so it looks ‘cheaper’, for want of a better word. But it is great fun for kids of all ages and relaxing for parents.  The branch in Higashimatsuyama is not as big as the flagship branch in Koshigaya, but it has plenty for this family of six. It is split into three areas. One large area with most of the play equipment, video arcade games and massage chairs. There is a medium sized area beside the reception counter and a small area beside Seiyu’s branch of Libro Store. Here’s what the areas combined have to offer for children (click on the photo for description):

And for older children (or indeed younger children and parents) there is a good choice of video arcade and coin operated games, which you don’t actually need a coin for as they are included in the price! There is also air hockey and a small billiard table (the latter is not pictured):

For adults:

There are also lots of chairs and tables and you are allowed bring food and drink in from outside. They have convenience food in the Seiyu store downstairs, as well as a couple of take aways in the food court, also on the first floor. Kid’s US Land has a couple of highchairs for babies and toddlers. They also have a buggy that can be used to put a sleeping child. The play area is beside Seiyu’s nursery with changing mats and a nursing room. It is also beside toilets. There is an event space in the medium sized area that has the trampolines and push along rides.  Their events are listed on the branch’s blog. Currently, they have a pin ball event as well as a colouring events where kids can get a sweet in exchange for colouring a picture. The pictures are displayed on one of the walls.

Although the Seiyu Higashimatsuyama Branch of Kid’s US Land might not look as impressive as other play centers and is lacking in “educational” toys, it is tons of fun for kids. I have rated it high as it is suited to children of all ages and has some nice add on’s for parents too. It is suited to families or a group of friends or a Mother (or Father) and child date. The equipment is clean and for the most part well kept (there was one coin operated machine that wasn’t working).  I was also very impressed by the staff member on reception today, she was about the nicest and most helpful staff member I have ever met in any play center ever! (**I have no affiliation to Kid’s US Land and /or Seiyu, I do not get anything in exchange for my endorsements, all opinions expressed are my own honest observations, the information provided was true {to the best of my knowledge} at the time of publishing).

Cost and other information

Everything listed and / or mentioned above is included in the price. It costs 100 yen (before tax) for 15 minutes of play. That is 100 yen for a child older than two (children under two are FREE) and another 100 yen for an adult. If you are planning to stay longer than an hour and 45 minutes on a weekday, it works out cheaper to get the “one day passport”. It is 800 yen per child and 480 yen per adult. On the weekend they don’t have an one day passport for children, just a three hour pack for 980 yen. With all packages and fees you are given a neck strap to wear to identify you have paid in. With the basic price system you pay as you leave the premises and give back the neck strap then.  With the day passport, you pay in advance and you are free to go and come as you please. You can even go home and come back if you like! If you are planning to leave Seiyu though, you can give in your neck strap and hold onto your receipt. The receipt allows you to come back at any time during the same day.

Hours: They are open from 9 am to 8 pm, seven days a week.

URL:
Official US Land website: http://www.kidsusland.com/store/view/65
O
fficial blog: http://ameblo.jp/usland-higashimatsuyama

Access

Parking: In the Seiyu car park and is free.

By train: the nearest train station is Higashimatsuyama Station on the Tobu Tojo Line. Unfortunately, it is a bit far taking at least 20 minutes.  You can take a My Town Meguri 「マイタウン巡回」 bus from the station or a bus bound for Kumagaya 「熊谷」and alight at Kaminuma 「上沼」bus stop. It is about a 3 minute walk from the bus stop.

Another Kid’s US Land opened recently in Kawagoe:
Kid’s US Land opens in Modi | KAWAGOE

Preschooler play area Kids Park in Elumi | KOUNOSU

Another day, another play area! We are on a seek and find quest for even more new (to us) play areas in Saitama. Call it a hobby, or an obsession, it keeps munchkin #4 highly entertained and keeps me on my toes. My overall impression of Kid’s Park is that it is mediocre, however, DD3 LOVED it, so I would recommend it for anyone with a preschooler. I am erring on the side of caution and giving it three (out of five) stars, because while DD3 loved it, it was because it has toys, outlined below, that she is really into right now.

Kids Park is small, so when I first saw it I was quite disappointed by the look of it. However, on further inspection I realised they use the space really well and they have toys that are ideal for toddlers and preschoolers. That includes (please click on the photo for more information);

DD3’s favourite was definitely the fake food in the play kitchen. The majority of it is the type you cut in two; velcro keeps the two pieces together and you can cut through it with a play knife. She loves this type of play food more than anything else right now and that is why she was so excited by this play center. She also really enjoyed the ball pool, kinetic sand and bouncing castle.

“It is okay to bring food and drink into okay”

Like so many of the play centers these days the pricing system is a little convoluted and their advertising is misleading. They currently advertise that you can play for “one coin”, i.e 500 yen, on a weekday. It is misleading because it is 500 yen for the child and another 500 yen for the adult and it is only if you stay longer than an hour and a half. However, that is for the full day and you can come and go as you please. Which is just as well as there are no toilets in the play center! There are toilets in the mall right next door though. You can bring food in and eat in the play area too, but they only have two small tables for eating at.  They also have lockers so you can store your handbag and/or belongings. The general system is 100 yen for 15 minutes, but if you have a Mama and Papa’s card for Saitama you can get 15 minutes free. Children under 1 years old are free. You have to fill out a form to become a member, with your name, address and age and that of the child’s the first time you visit and once a year after that.  It is currently 324 yen to become a member, but iko-yo.net have a coupon you can download that is valid until May 31st that waives this charge. They validate a parking ticket for Dai Ichi car park for THREE hours no matter whether you spend 15 minutes or all day at the play area.

Lockers and little table for eating at

I found Kids Park through Iko-yo.net. I previously wrote, circa 2012, that I didn’t find iko-yo a good source of information. That was because they didn’t list many of the play centers and attractions I had visited with DS and DD1 as it was. Even big ones such as Kidzoona (which they do list now). And I never got “new” information from the site. Since then though they have greatly improved their information for Saitama, particularly in the last year. They are still missing a few places, for example Aruzo Net’s great free play area or Sweets Fantasy Pacc’n in Higashimatsuyama. However,  in the last year, I have found a couple of locations I had never heard of before; for example this play center Kids Park and Niko Niko Garden in Ageo. It was also where I learned that the kids center, (now) Wai Wai, in Aeon Sayama had been revamped and reopened.

 

Official site URLhttp://www.amuseum.jp/store/konosu_kp.html

Access

Kids Park Konosu is located on the 3rd floor of Elumi Shopping Mall right beside Takasaki Line Konosu Station. It is a section in “Amuseum” amusement center. The nearest car park to the play center is the third floor parking.  Amuseum is on the far wall in the far corner to the entrance from the car park.

Elumi is an old mall that is quite average in style and layout, but what it lacks in decor it makes up for in events. Elumi is the shopping center that displays Japan’s tallest hina doll pyramid in Spring. And in December they have a really good Lapland Santa. To name, but a few.

Preschooler fun at Bornelund Kid-o-Kid in Cocoon 2 | OMIYA

Concealed in the back corner of the third floor of Cocoon 2 is a veritable preschooler’s paradise.  Bornelund’s Kid-o-kid recently celebrated its one year anniversary. It still looks like it was only opened in the last few weeks.  The equipment is very well kept, pristine, bright, colourful and educational to boot. It isn’t particularly large, but it is very well laid out. There is a wonderful selection of fun and clever play areas to challenge a growing mind and body.  Great entertainment for children younger than school going age guaranteed!

As a huge fan of Bornelund toys and a regular customer of their Maruhiro branch, I was so excited when I heard Kid-O-Kid was opening last year. I certainly wasn’t disappointed and I love bringing my two year old there even though it is an hour from our house. The atmosphere is soothing with a very relaxed ambiance and the equipment is diverse and ingenious (click on photo for description / details);

However, I haven’t brought my older children there, because  there
really isn’t much to entertain a child older than six for more than half an hour. Children up to 12 years old can enter, but I don’t think children of school going age would find the center engaging enough. I know that with my 7 year old and 6 year old girl they find the much larger Kidzooona‘s play equipment less riveting in the last two years, but at least it has a game corner that they will happily play in while their younger siblings use the more physically challenging equipment. And seen as I am comparing; Kid-o-kid only has a small dress up area called “Play Stage” whereas Kidzooona has a great choice of make-believe play with costumes. What it does have that my 7 year old boy would enjoy is a mechanical building area and both he and his 6 year old sister would also enjoy the trampolines, zorbs and climbing wall.

 

Another thing it is missing is a rest or seating area. They have a couple of vending machines with two miserly seats in front of them. You are not allowed eat in the center either. I like that in Niko Niko Garden  and Kids Spocha in Ageo you can bring in your lunch and eat it in the rest area that also has free tea, coffee and water. Kidzoona also has a rest area with a Mini Stop convenience store selling a selection of bento and sandwiches as well as some hot food.  However, Kid-o-Kid in Saitama Shintoshin has a “parent room” and “milk bar” (facilities for parents with babies) in their “baby garden”; an area for children under 18 months old. You can change nappies in that area, but please note that Kid-o-kid does not have toilets so it is advisable to visit the rest rooms before you enter the center.

 

All that being said, it is very much high on my list of Saitama’s best,  not quite top ten but not far off it either! If we lived closer I would invest in the monthly pass (prices outlined below), but it is a little too far and not ideally suited to my two older children to justify more than an occasional visit.  It is certainly very popular with locals and there is always a long line of folded up buggies in the stroller storage area on weekdays.  I have no hesitation in recommending this as a place to visit with a child younger than six, especially if you are in the area. I would advise visiting on a weekday though as although it is popular and busy, it never feels packed and there is less chance of you being turned away for the center being at capacity.

Information / Details

Hours

Open 10 am to 7 pm with last entry at 6.30 pm, seven days a week.

Cost

It costs 600 yen for children and 500 yen for adults for a half hour of play. For every ten minutes you go over your time you are charged a 100 yen per child. They do not charge extra for an adult in this situation. If you have a Bornelund or Kid-o-kid point card you get a 100 yen off the child’s admission fee. Children from the age of 6 months are charged.

On weekdays they have two different packages you can avail of for a full day of play. The one day free pass costs 1,700 yen for an adult and one child. The weekday free pass is basically a month’s pass, that can be used on weekdays only. It costs 4,400 yen for one adult and one child, and 3,700 yen for every subsequent child. It is interchangeable among family members.  You need to have a Bornelund or Kid-o-kid member card if you want to buy the weekday free pass. Please note, they have a limit on the number of passes they sell daily / monthly and you cannot purchase them on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday.

You can also buy a book of entry tickets for 5000 yen that allows a child (only) enter eleven times, saving you 500 yen, if you have either or the afore mentioned point / member’s cards.

If you sign up for a Kid-O-Kid point card, which costs 100 yen a year, you can earn point each time you visit. You can then exchange points for play time. For 2000 points up to three children can get 30 minutes free play time; 3,200 points allows an hour free play time for up to three children; and 4500 points can be exchanged for a book of tickets. If you visit on your child’s birthday they gift you a half hour free play time, if you are entering on the half hour package.

Other Bornelund in Saitama

Kid-o-Kid in Saitama Shintoshin is the only Bornelund play center of this type in Saitama. There are however other Bornelund stores, some of which have free play areas. Maruhiro in Kawagoe has a decent sized Bornelund store and they have lots of sample toys out for the kids to play with. Tsutaya in Honjo has a small Bornelund corner.  There are Bornelund shops in Isetan Urawa, Sougo Omiya and Lake Town Outlet. The latter has a play center called a Tot Garden, another signature play area of Bornelund. They are typically smaller than a Kid-O-Kid and they are limited to children under school going age (under seven years old).

Contact

Address: 〒330-0843 Saitama-ken, Saitama-shi, Ōmiya-ku, Kishikichō, 4 Chome−4−263-1 Cocoon 2

Phone: 048-782-6207

URL: https://kidokid.bornelund.co.jp/saitamashintoshin/

Access

Approximately a seven minute walk from JR Keihin Tohoku, Takasaki  and Utsunomiya Line’s Saitama Shintoshin Station.

Located very close to the Saitama Shintoshin exit of the Metropolitan Expressway Saitama Shintoshin Route.  Cocoon 2 has parking on its roof as well as in an adjacent car park, Cocoon City parking number 3. Parking is charged at 200 yen per 30 minutes. However, if you spend between a 1000 and 2000 yen in Cocoon city on the same day you get one hour free parking, or two hours free for over 2000 yen. You get three hours free if you are using the cinema.

 

Saitama’s longest roller slide at Miharashi no Oka Park | OGAWA

Nestled in the lush woods near the top of the 291 meter high Sengenyama, is the entrance to Saitama’s longest roller slide. The roller slide in Miharashi no Oka Park in the washi paper making town of Ogawa is 203 meters long.  And if you can manage to slow yourself down long enough to enjoy it, gives a birds eye view of Ogawa Machi and surrounding towns below.

Sengenyama Miharashi No Oka Park was quite far down my list of places I wanted to visit in Saitama. We only ended up visiting the park, because our planned trip on the Steam Locomotive Paleo Express to the family friendly camping site in Nagatoro didn’t work out. When we found ourselves passing through Ogawa we decided to try it out rather than the more enticingly advertised Ogawa Craft Center, as it was a fine day that warranted outdoor play.  When I had previously read about Sengenyama I hadn’t quite grasped its lure. It is pitched as a long roller slide on top of a hill, but that description does it little justice and falls short of identifying the two main appeals of this remote attraction.

For one, it is for all intents and purposes a mountain rather than a hill.  It might not be quite high enough to officially make the classification of a mountain, but it certainly isn’t a hill by the popular definition. To put it into perspective we had to drive a long winding country road with a steep decline on one side to get to the park. The incline at the start of the road was steep enough to concern us that we might not make it to the top. It was reminiscent of a previous adventure to the Gojyou Falls in Hidaka where our car conked out in defiance of the gradient. Secondly, the roller slide is thrilling as much for the speed you gain as to the height above ground you are. The slide is built high enough to pass above the road entrance to the park which at one point is about five meters off the ground.

The slide isn’t the only thing in the park. There are a couple of other things to offer a few hours of fun to a family in the area or passing by on the way to Nagatoro and / or Chichibu as we were. There is a small athletic playground hidden in the woods near the entrance to the slide. Near the bottom of the slide where you get off there is a smaller play area suited to toddlers. The look out tower perched on the clear patch on the hill affords a fantastic unspoiled view of the towns below. Even if you don’t climb the four staircases to the top deck,  you can enjoy a clear view from the foot of the hill. See also facilities below ↓.

Information

Cost

The slide costs money to ride, but it is worth it in my opinion, especially as parking is free. One ride costs 100 yen or you can buy a book of twelve tickets for 1,000 yen. I had read that the cost was 200 yen per adult and 100 yen for children, but on the day we were there they just took a 100 yen ticket when us adults ride. I don’t know if it was a special promotion or a discount for buying a book of tickets, but please note it might cost you 200 yen for an adult riding. My four year old and two year old were not charged for riding with us. Children under six are not allowed ride on their own or with another older child. An adult must accompany them. Children over six can ride on their own. You can buy a specially designed wooden sleigh for 100 yen to use when you ride the slide. We bought two between our family of six and took turns using it. When we were buying the tickets and the cardboard seat the kids were given a chance to rotate a lottery drum. They didn’t get one of the coloured balls that represent a prize, but every child gets a small treat (snack) as a sort of booby prize.

Opening Hours

It is opened Tuesday to Sundays (closed Mondays) from 9.45 am to 4.30 pm from March to May and September to November, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm between June and August, and from 10 am to 3.30 pm from December to February. It closes from the 29th December to the 3rd of January annually.

Contact

Phone: 0493-73-1000

Website: http://www.town.ogawa.saitama.jp/0000000385.html

Facilities

There is a little shop selling ice-cream on the grounds with some outdoor seating and you can also set up a picnic blanket on the green area around the look out tower. There are toilets and vending machines on site.

Trivia

Sengenyama Miharashi no Oka Park’s roller slide is listed at the 7th longest in the Kanto region. The two longest in the whole of Japan are both in the neighbouring prefecture of Ibaraki.

Access

The area also has some hiking routes and if you are coming by public transport the hike up and down is quite nice and manageable for even young children. It takes about 30 minutes. You can get a bus to and from the trail from Ogawa Machi station on the Tobu Tojo Line and the JR East Hachiko Line.  

 

Map:

The Homeland of Totoro @ Sayama Hills | TOKOROZAWA

Kurosuke's House from the official Totoro no Furusato Fund website
Kurosuke’s House from the official Totoro no Furusato (The Homeland of Totoro) Foundation website

“Sayama Hills” is the most well known name for the area around Lake Sayama, a man-made reserviour on the border of Tokyo and Saitama. However, Ghibli fans may well know it better as the Homeland of Totoro. The area has a number of natural habitats and cultural assets that are under protection to preserve not only the nature of the area, but also real life scenes that were the inspiration for the animated movie “Tonari no Totoro” or My Neighbour Totoro.

There is quite a bit of information on the Totoro Foundations Official English webpage, so this post is to share an adaption of a MAP (below) route we took on our family hike in the area. I adapted it to suit those coming by train, because I would advise, where possible, to avoid coming by car. The starting point on the map (shown below) is Seibu KyuJo Mae Station on the RedArrow Ikebukuro Line, Seibu-Sayama Line and Seibu-Yamaguchi Line. We actually did go by car and had to wait half an hour to get into the small car park and were charged for the privilege. Despite the Totoro woods both literally and figuratively “being on the map” these days, the area is not able to cater to large throngs of tourists. And there is little in the way of markers to help you on your course. I can’t help wonder if it is a ploy in attempt to preserve the tranquility and wilderness of the area. And in turn deter anyone, but the hardcore Totoro fans and avid hikers.


At the time of our hike and exploration my four children were aged between 1 and 7 years old. We had the 1 year old in an Out n About buggy, my preferred choice for any off road trekking and hiking. My 7 year old was well able for the journey. My (then) 5 year old was fine for the most part, but she did find the return a difficult challenge.  We needed to break up the journey a couple of times for my 4 year old, she even spent sometime in the buggy, particularly on the return leg.

I made two lethal mistakes on our hike. 1. I hadn’t printed off the map, and 2. my phone wasn’t fully charged. Both issues combined with the lack of phone coverage in the area resulted in us going right off course and adding at least another half hour to our hike. It is also the reason that I have very few of my own photos to share in this article. Due to the afore mentioned lack of signposts, plus the absence of signs of life, we had to wait a long time before we encountered anyone who could set us back on track. It happened to be another family doing a Totoro hike, they at least had the good sense to bring a map. They actually gave us their map as they were on their way back to the station via the lake, which is easier to navigate. Their map had been handed down by another family and another before that. You could tell; you could barely make out the ink on the sheet and it was missing a lot of landmarks. But it did the job and got us back on course.

Including lunch and breaks we spent about six hours hiking the area at a leisurely pace. We had our lunch at a picnic spot near the Totoro Tree and toilets, right on the side of the lake. The lake is a lot more impressive than I had expected.  I imagine it is particularly beautiful in Spring and during the vibrant colours of Autumn. Although we visited in Autumn it was long before the leaves were changing colour so we missed that particular pleasure. The picnic area had a shelter and table and chairs.  It was in full use by locals and fellow tourists. There is a green area beside it where the kids could kick around a ball. If you walk on the footpath one back from the one beside the lake, parallel to the part of the lakeside course marked on the map, there is a huge amount of insects in the long grass beside the path. My kids caught hundreds of grasshoppers and insects… and then let them all go again.

Totoro Forest #3 from the official Totoro Fund website

It took us about three hours to walk from the station area to Kurosuke’s house including break and play times. It took us longer coming back as we intentionally took our time and mucked around a bit to make it easier on the kids. During the hike we explored three of the Totoro Woods, numbers three, one and eleven and passed the Totoro shaped tree. There are temples and shrines along the route as well as lots of natural beauty. You can see some of the places we chose to stop on the Google MyMap shown above. There were another of couple places, such as a wading river near Mikajima Inari shrine, that we explored, but they don’t show up on Google Maps and it is very hard to pin point them.

Totoro Forest #1 from the official Totoro Fund website

Our goal and turn around point was the Kurosoke House. Much to our disappointment, Kurosuke’s house and the Chakouba, a workshop from around the end of the Meiji period, were closed. They have the area sealed off with a rope and you could in theory still enter the courtyard, but we didn’t want to disrespect the Japanese way of things. At least we have an excuse to go back and do a similar hike again. You can’t see much from the perimeter of the grounds, except for the Totoro bus stop, so if you would like to avoid ending up in the same position as we did I advise you visit on one of the three days the grounds are open:

Kuronosuke’s House Details

Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays ONLY, from 10 am to 3 pm. When a public holiday falls on one of those days of the weeks it is NOT open to the public. My research had shown that inside the house there are a number of minature models of scenes from the Tonari no Totoro movie. They also sell original Tonari no Totoro goods such as badges, T-shirts and postcards.

Phone: 04-2947-6047

Address: 〒359-1164 Saitama-ken, Tokorozawa-shi, Mikajima, 3 Chome 1169-1

Cost: officially it is free to enter, but they do welcome donations as this project is not funded by the Government. It was initially made possible by the financial contributions of five key contributers, one of whom was Ghibli co-founder and My Neighbour Totoro creator Hayao Miyazaki himself. (The foundation also welcome volunteers assistance for maintaining the project. )

This is just one of many hiking options for the vast Totoro Foundation area. You can find some on the official Totoro Foundation site and a Google search will pull up many others. The photo below shows a good summation of the routes and attractions in the area. There was a lot we didn’t see on the route we took, but with four young children it was the best option for us. We will go back to check out some of the other woods / forests, there are approximately forty of them in total. We are also determined to get a good look around the Kurosuke House area and maybe even try our hand at some of the Totoro craft workshops they offer from time to time.

From the official Totoro Foundation Website: http://www.totoro.or.jp/

Steam Locomotive Paleo Express | KUMAGAYA TO CHICHIBU

【Information Share】

Featured photo of Steam Locomotive with Cherry blossoms by アラツク is used with permission.

The Steam Locomotive (SL) Paleo Express that runs between Kumagaya and Chichibu is the closest steam locomotive ride to Tokyo. Thanks to the Shinkansen from Tokyo and Ueno stations, it takes less than 40 minutes to get to the Kumagaya station. Shortly after you set off from Kumagaya you are in enveloped in stunning rural scenery. With the hypnotic chug of a steam train on tracks, the feel of the raw power of the engine, the unparalleled scent of SL smoke and the distinctive sound of a SL whistle you will surely never forget this rare opportunity to experience a train journey from bygone years.

by ウツだー。From Wiki Media Commons

On our recent camping trip to Chichibu to see the Moss Phlox, the plan had been that I would take the four kids on the SL from Kumagaya to Nagatoro. The train goes all the way to Mitsumine Station, but Nagatoro is the nearest station to Nagatoro Autocamp where we were glamping. My husband was going to drive to Nagatoro station with the camping goods, after dropping us at Kumagaya. In theory we would have arrived at roughly the same time; the train might be slightly quicker. Things didn’t quite go as planned. We were too late leaving the house to catch the very punctual SL in Kumagaya. Once again, a long awaited ride on a SL has evaded me. I have wanted to ride this particular SL since I first saw it in Nagatoro in 2006. It will happen someday! I want to share the information I collated about the SL ride in the hope it is of interest to others.

Photo by RSA, from Wikimedia Commons Media

The SL train operates on weekends, holidays and for seasonal events, from March to December annually. This year the last run will be Sunday December 10th. It runs once a day; a round trip from Kumagaya Station to Mitsumine Station. It departs from Kumagaya promptly at 10.10 am on a weekend, 10.12 am on a weekday. Please note it only operates on weekdays for holidays and special events. Dates are provided below in the timetable section. On the return leg, the SL leaves Mitsumine Station at 2.03 pm on weekends, 2 pm on weekdays.

The full trip (71.7 Kilometers) takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes one way as it stops for almost 10 minutes at a few different stations. Between the scenery and the unique experience of riding a Steam Locomotive the journey flies by. There are toilets in two of the carriages. You can buy original bento and goods on the SL. The SL Bento is 800 yen. You can keep the bento cover which is an image of the SL train with the train’s mascots on it. The Pork Miso Bento also comes with a keepsake cover, that costs 850 yen.  Some of the original goods include a train with chocolate in it, Paleo cookies, a SL train and mobile phone straps of the SL’s mascots Paleo-kun and Paleo-chan.

Cost, availability, access, special dates and more details below the timetables:

TIMETABLES FOR 2017

Weekend Timetable for the SL PALEO EXPRESS 2017

From Kumagaya

SL Station

To Kumagaya

10.10 am KUMAGAYA 4.18 pm
10.33 am TAKEKAWA 3.58 pm
Arrives 10.51 am YORII
Departs 11.00 am 3.39 pm
Arrives 11.26 am NAGATORO Arrives 3.05 pm
Departs 11.37 am Departs 3.13 pm
11.50 am MINANO 2.55 pm
Arrives 12.07 pm CHICHIBU
Departs 12.15 pm 2.36 pm
12.19 pm OHANABATAKE 2.31 pm
12.50 pm MITSUMINEGUCHI 2.03 pm

Weekday* Timetable SL PALEO EXPRESS 2017

**It only operates on weekdays for public holidays and special occasions

From Kumagaya

SL station

To Kumagaya

10.12 am KUMAGAYA 4.20 pm
10.34 am TAKEKAWA 4.00 pm
Arrives 10.52 am YORII Arrives 3.34 pm
Departs 10.59 am Departs 3.41 pm
Arrives 11.25 am NAGATORO Arrives 3.00 pm
Departs 11.32 am Departs 3.10 pm
11.45 am MINANO 2.50 pm
Arrives 12.03 pm CHICHIBU 
Departs 12.11 pm 2.32 pm
12.15 pm OHANABATAKE 2.27 pm
12.45 pm MITSUMINEGUCHI 2.00 pm

The next weekday operations for 2017 are

  • July 17th, 21st and 28th,
  • August 3rd, 4th, 11th, 14th, 15th 18th, 24th and 25th,
  • September 18th,
  • October 9th,
  • November 14th (Saitama Day),
  • November 23rd and 24th.

Special events are scheduled for May 27th, July 22nd and 23rd, and October 21st and 22nd.

The SL will stop running for 2017 on December 10th.

Cost

The price is the same for adults and children. It costs 720 yen one way for a reserved seat, 510 yen for an unreserved seat on the SL train itself, plus you need to have your base ticket for the section of the line travelled. The base ticket from Kumagaya to Mitsumineguchi costs 950 yen.  The ticket for the SL train is a nice keepsake with a scenic photo of the SL on front.

You can buy a ticket from one month in advance for both reserved and unreserved seats. You can purchase on the day if they are not at full capacity. Only people with a reserved seat are guaranted passage. The passenger cars are made up of 4 people box seats. You can buy a ticket from any station on the line or from JR East Ticket Offices (Higashi Midori no Madoguchi)or at Travel service centers (View Plazas) as well as from JTB, Tobu Travel, Seibu Travel and Kinki Nihon Tourist offices. You can check availability here: http://www.chichibu-railway.co.jp/slreservation/

Contact

URL: http://www.chichibu-railway.co.jp/

Phone: 048-523-3317

 

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Poppo Town, Railway Village in Gunma

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Family Friendly Nagatoro Autocamp | CHICHIBU

Beautiful Chichibu: Nagatoro Autocamp grounds on the Arakawa River

We used to spend almost every weekend each August in the Chichibu area, mainly Yokoze and Nagatoro, before we had kids. It is one of my favourite areas in Saitama due to the abundance of nature. It is a very beautiful part of Saitama, and indeed the Kanto area. And due to its accessibility from and proximity to Tokyo, it offers a weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Some areas are so remote that there isn’t even any phone reception. Blissful!

Nagatoro Line Kudari boat ride down the Arakwa river passing Nagatoro Autocamp with children playing in the river

Chichibu was the perfect choice for our first camping experience with children. We hadn’t been camping in eleven years so it was also a great place to do a bit of reconnaissance for future camps. We chose Nagatoro Autocamp for a number of reasons (outlined below), but mainly because it had piqued our interest when we had passed it once on a boat ride down the Arakawa River. If you have ever had the pleasure of taking the Nagatoro Line river ride, you may have noticed it too as you can see all the tents and families playing riverside.   We decided to ease ourselves into our re-acquaintance with camping and didn’t go for a tent this time. Well actually the choice was made for us as the tent sites were actually booked out! We  chose a cabin or as they call them a bungalow. The cabin we got was extremely basic, so while we might not be able to say we “camped”, we didn’t quite “glamp” either, it was somewhere in between!

We were very lucky to be able to get a booking for Nagatoro Autocamp on short notice. The popular train carriage cabins were all booked out, as were the cabins with air conditioning / heating. What we ended up with was a log cabin that was literally just a floor, a roof and four walls. The latter had windows, with no curtains, and lots of holes and cracks, but it kept the rain off us when a thunderstorm exploded and for the most part kept the insects out. The cabin had a roofed barbecue area with seats and nearby there was an area for washing dishes. Our cabin was the furthest out with the most space around it as it is usually used for dog owners. We were a bit far from toilets and other facilities but we couldn’t complain. We had a beautiful view of Houraijima Park, specifically some of the famous rocks, and the river back-dropped by a wood with azalea offering bursts of colour. Another advantage of our location is that it was quieter than being in the main camping or cabin areas.

Our isolated bungalow in the far corner of Nagatoro Autocamp

What has Nagatoro Autocamp got to offer?

Some of the reasons Nagatoro Autocamp is suited for (a first) family camping visit(s), especially with babies, toddlers and young children:

  • Baby and nursing room
  • Showers
  • Fridges for rent
  • Playground for small children
  • Reading room with books in a converted train carriage
  • Plenty of clean toilets including barrier free
  • Fuji Mart and Seven Eleven Convenience stores only a 5 minute drive away (mapped on a Google My Map Below)
  • Minano hospital only a 10 minute drive away (mapped on a Google My Map Below)
  • Day camp available
  • BBQ set available
  • The walkways are lit up at night
  • There are washing machines and dryers
  • They rent camping gear including kitchen ware and BBQ goods
  • Onsen 5 minute drive away
  • Accessible by train (more information below, also mapped on the Google My Map below)
  • Different accommodation choices
  • You don’t have to bring your rubbish home; there is a rubbish center
  • Pet friendly
  • Dog run
  • You can grape pick in season in neighbouring vineyard
  • Water play
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Canoeing nearby
  • Suitable for large groups
  • Vending machines selling drinks, including one with hot coffee
  • Free wifi ****There are two ways to avail of the free wifi in Nagatoro. One is for Japanese and residents of Japan. Download the “Japan connected free wi-fi” App, open it and record your details. When you get to Nagatoro open the app and you will receive a 60 minute free wifi connection. There is no limit on the amount of times you use. The other method is for visitors to Japan. When you arrive in Nagatoro go to the information desk and present your passport to get a ID and pass for the free wifi. You can use it for two weeks.

Accommodation Choices

  • Tent Site
  • Bungalow
  • Train Carriage Bungalow
  • Glamping
  • Hotel
Glamping bungalow

I don’t think the cabin we got is value for money for what you get. Especially considering that before we had to start paying for the children we could stay in a lodge in Tokinosumika (Gotemba) with a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and beds for the same price.  The camp sites are much better value. Please see the official website for accurate up-to-date prices. I can only guess that the campsite is a little more expensive than others due to its location and popularity.

All in all, while we were very happy with our experience, there is something we can’t put our finger on that was missing for us. The accessibility is convenient, the riverside location really is excellent, the facilities are better than most and it truly is very family friendly. We may go back someday, but we’ve a lot more camping grounds to try out in the meantime. It may appeal to us even more after comparing it to its competition. 🙂 And while it isn’t in my top ten family get away locations, I have no hesitations in recommending it as a suitable place for a first family camping experience in the Greater Tokyo Area.

 

Accessibility

Nagatoro Station

Nagatoro Station is on the Chichibu Tetsudo and Steam Locomotive Paleo Express lines. It is about 2 hours from central Tokyo.  The main connecting stations to get the Chichibu Tetsudo line are Hanyu station on the Tobu Isesaki Line, Kumagaya Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen / JR Takasaki lines, Yorii station on the Tobu Tojo / JR Hachiko lines and Ohanabatake station on the Seibu Chichibu line.

Nagatoro Autocamp is about a ten minute drive by taxi, but it is almost the same on foot (about 13 minutes) as there is a foot bridge you can use to cut the journey if you are walking.

Car information and map below inserted article.


Steam Locomotive Paleo Express | KUMAGAYA TO CHICHIBU

【Information Share】 Featured photo of Steam Locomotive with Cherry blossoms by アラツク is used with permission. The Steam Locomotive (SL) Paleo Express that runs between Kumagaya and Chichibu is the c…

Source: insaitama.com/information-share-steam-locomotive-paleo-express-kumagaya-to-chichibu/


By Car

About 25 minute drive from the Hanazono Interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway. Plenty of parking available at the camp site.

Contact

URL: http://www.nagatoro-camp.com/

PHONE: 0494-66-0640 between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm

 

An additional note on choosing camp sites

We used 3 different camping books as reference to choose a campsite. Each one of them had Nagatoro Autocamp in them, but each one of them also had an error about the facilities at the camp site. One book said that there were no sinks; there are plenty of them and judging by the look of them they’ve been around for many years. One of the books said they don’t have playground equipment; it does. And one of them said that there is no onsen nearby, but not only is there one five minute drive away, it is heavily advertised on the campsite. Two of them were printed in 2017, one in 2016. When in doubt you can ring the campsite to check exactly what facilities they have.

Nearby attractions

30 minute drive away:

Stunning Shibazakura Moss Phlox at Hitsujiyama Park | CHICHIBU

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Stunning Shibazakura Moss Phlox at Hitsujiyama Park | CHICHIBU

The renowned Shibazakura or Moss Phlox of Chichibu’s Hitsujiyama Park are currently in full bloom. Since the 400,000 moss phlox of nine different varieties were planted in 2000 the shibazakura festival of Chichibu has enjoyed increasing seasonal traffic and become one of Saitama’s most famous spring scenes. We visited on Sunday, a couple of days short of full bloom, but standing in the middle of the fields and taking a shot facing Mt Buko you could trick your camera into thinking they are in full bloom!…

If you look closely you can see some of the bare patches, but not enough to leave disappointed. Even though the left side of the center point (photo below), with Mt Buko at your back, is still noticeably short of full bloom. Despite this the kids who were initially more interested in our hike of an old and unused hiking trail in Hinoda, were awed by the splashes of pink, purple and white back dropped by Chichibu’s unusually shaped Mt Buko.

We were lucky that we were staying relatively nearby (Nagatoro Autocamp)  and missed some of the traffic coming into Chichibu. We also used an unknown car park and took an unused hiking trail to get to the top of the plateau. The regular route and car park are frustratingly busy at this time and year and not for the impatient. We passed the overflow of the overflow car park before 10 am and already there was a queue to get in AND to get out. The traffic around the area was at a standstill and there was just people everywhere. Some coming from the station, some from this 500 yen for the day car park. The second overflow car park is so far from the park that they offer a free shuttle bus from the location to the shibazakura end of the park. However, if you come from the station the distance is just as far and on foot.

I got an overwhelming impression that park management just aren’t able for the thousands that descend on the otherwise quiet park. The whole area was a mess. Apart from having to queue to park and then to get the bus, you then have to queue for facilities such as toilets and eateries. The eating area which is full of stands of festival food is significantly short on seating. We thought we would escape the crowds by eating at 11 am, but there wasn’t a seat to be found, until we met a kind server at an ice-cream stand. He gave us a loan of the chairs he had for his staff to rest.

The shibazakura are truly spectacular and worth enduring the pandemonium, but if you visit during Golden Week it is very difficult to get a photo without people in it. In fact, as people line up along the side of the flower beds, you even have to wait to get a photo at all. Tomorrow sees the start of the second part of Golden Week and the flowers will be in their prime. The crowds will be just as bad, if not worse, than Sunday gone. However, in my opinion, it is totally worth the trip and the waiting game to witness the flowers first hand. If it all possible come by train and arrive for 8 am. (See access below).

The park itself has a lot to offer and is family friendly. Apart from the moss phlox there are other flowers in the park, including tulips which are also currently in bloom. Beside the moss phlox fields, and included in the cover charge, is the small sheep farm. Hitsujiyama means sheep mountain and was named as you would expect for the sheep in the area. Before World War II the area was a prime prefectural sheep breeding ground. If you are visiting outside of Moss Phlox season all of the park is free in. There is also a riding school in the park and a great athletic playground.

Information

The park is open 24 hours, but the car parks and facilities are open from 8 am to 5 pm. If you are using a hiking trail, please note that the area is known for bears.

Entry fee (Peak season only):

300 yen for adults, free for children. 250 yen per person for a group of over twenty.

Address:

〒368-0023 Saitama-ken, Chichibu-shi, Ōmiya, 6360

Phone:

0494-21-2277

URL:

chichibuji.gr.jp

Access:

Approximately 15 minute walk from Seibu-Chichibu Station, serviced by the Chichibu Tetsudo, Redarrow (Ikebukuro line) and Seibu-Chichibu lines. The Redarrow is the quickest from Tokyo (Ikebukuro station) taking 1 hour and 28 minutes.

Approximately 20 minutes from Seibu-Chichibu and Chichibu Tetsudo line’s Ohanabatake Station. You can take the acclaimed Steam Locomotive Paleo Express.  From Kumagaya it takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to Ohanabatake station on the Chichibu Tetsudo line.

Approximately 25 minute walk from Seibu-chichibu line and redarrow (Ikebukuro) line’s Yokoze station.

Approximately 20 minutes drive from Minano-Yorii Toll Road. Parking is 500 yen per day during peak season.

 

Camping ground mentioned in this article (about 30 minute drive from the park):

Family Friendly Nagatoro Autocamp | CHICHIBU

We used to spend almost every weekend in the Chichibu area, mainly Yokoze and Nagatoro, before we had kids. It is one of my favourite areas in Saitama due to the abundance of nature. It is a very b…

Source: insaitama.com/family-friendly-nagatoro-autocamp-chichibu/

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Events and Freebies Golden Week 2017 | SAITAMA

Its that wonderful time of the year again when we can live without either heating or air conditioning. When spring is in the air, but summer is just around the corner. Golden Week is very aptly named ; between the weather and the events it really is a golden time of the year!

The entire population may very well get out and about at some point during Golden Week. And while traffic is bad and queues are inevitable, there is so much to make an outing worthwhile during this celebratory period. Here is a round up of some of the events and free entry locations available in Saitama this Golden Week 2017.

Free In Locations

(mapped below list)

Special Events

 

Kids Events at the Center for Environmental Science in Saitama (CESS)

A number of events are planned over Golden Week at CESS. Each day of Golden week (April 29th, 30th, May 3rd, 4th and 5th) they are showing a film and have an orienteering event. Other special events include:

Cardboard Town at Sakura Environmental Center | SAITAMA CITY

From April 29th to May 7th (except for Monday the 1st of May) you can enjoy a FREE cardboard exhibition for children at the Saitama City Sakura Environmental Center. Map and contact details in the …

Source: insaitama.com/event/cardboard-town-at-sakura-environmental-center-saitama-city/

The 8th Annual World Bonsai Convention | SAITAMA CITY

  All media from the official website:  Please scroll down to grey box for times, URLs, map and more details.

Source: insaitama.com/event/the-8th-annual-world-bonsai-convention-saitama-city/

 

Please see the event section for even more events over Golden Week. 

Monolith: Bouldering gym with kids wall | KAWAGOE

“Great indoor location for a half day of climbing fun for the family”

Bouldering in Kawagoe

Located on the border of Kawajima Town on route 254, Monolith, Kawagoe’s newest bouldering gym, opened about 18 months ago. It has enjoyed a regular trade since the very beginning. One of the appeals of this gym for me is that the staff are very friendly and helpful. I meet the same people there over and over again and there is a sense of community among the users.

Indeed, one of the reasons I think people frequently go back to Monolith, is because the staff are so approachable and chatty.  They are willing and able to give guidance to new climbers without additional charge. They provide tips and encouragement in tackling a climbing route.  The climbing routes are colour co-ordinated. You can start with the simplest route and work your way up to more and more difficult ones. You use grips of the same colour for both your hands and feet to climb the wall. You can of course climb freely too, using any of the grips to monkey your way up the wall, but for a first timer it is actually easier to use the coloured system to climb safely. The easiest route can usually be conquered after one or two visits. As the routes get harder so does the time it takes to successfully clear them. Only the very advanced climbers can tackle the more awkwardly shaped walls with curves and over hangs.  I am in awe of the long term climbers who can use their balance and strength to climb upside down with only the smallest grips to keep them in place.

The staff are also great for keeping an eye on and helping young climbers in their kids section. Children over 4 years old are able to climb.  The kids wall is cornered off behind a low wall with flapping doors and can be seen from the adult climbing walls. So you can climb in the adult’s section while your kids are climbing in the kids section.  If your kids are capable they can also use the adult walls. However, adults cannot use the kid’s walls.  The walls for children aren’t too high and only sloping very slightly on one wall. They have safety mats down making it a safe place for young children to try their hand at bouldering.  They offer children’s climbing courses and club, at an extra charge, on Saturdays.

The whole gym still looks brand spanking new. It is reminiscent of a warehouse from both the outside and in. All the walls are in the one space on the first floor. They don’t go particularly high; if you want high the bouldering gym near Kawagoe station is where you want to go. However, what they lack in height they make up for in complexity and diversity. They change the courses frequently to keep things interesting for regular customers. There is a changing room on the 2nd floor of the premises. There is a rest spot on the first floor with vending machines. There is also a rest area outside with ashtrays. The toilets are pristine and they have a foot bath for washing your feet.

The first time you visit you need to sign up to become a member. It is a one off payment of 2,800 yen; 1800 yen for becoming a member and 1000 yen for the membership card. After that the cost per visit depends on the length you want to climb and the day of the week. Generally speaking it is 1,600 yen for about 3 hours or 2,000 yen for a full day. Children using the kids area are charged 1000 yen for the whole day, or you can pay extra for them to use the regular climbing walls. You need to rent climbing shoes and chalk too. It costs 300 yen per visit. If you plan to use the gym regularly a month pass will probably work out cheaper for you. If you bouldering for a full day you can come and go as you please.

If you are just looking for somewhere for children to climb I recommend the free climbing wall in Kitamoto’s Children Center.

Access

Located on route 254 near the old Toysrus which has since closed. It is about 6 minutes by car from the Kawajima Interchange of the Ken-O expressway. There is plenty of parking and it is free.

By public transport you would need to take a bus bound for “Hachimandanshi” from Kawagoe Station east exit bus terminal. The buses are quite infrequent.  Please see map below URL.

URL: http://boulderinggym.jp/