All posts by L M N

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/

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/

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/

Cherry blossoms and Swimming School | HIGASHIMATSUYAMA

Beautiful cherry trees + cleanest pool water in Saitama

Price: Approximately 5150 yen per month

When we were starting our oldest in swimming classes we looked at a number of pools in the Ageo – Kawagoe – Hiki district – Higashimatsuyama area of Saitama. We settled on one of the swimming schools in Higashimatsuyama. There are two with the same name: “Higashimatsuyama Swimming School”. The one we attended is easy to recognise from its brightly coloured detached building with a rainbow motif.

The reason we chose this school over the others is threefold:

  1. The building is a bright, airy building with lots of windows and natural light. The high ceilings and glass walls on 2 sides with the large rainbow motif in the center wall do a lot to calm the most nervous of children and creates a comfortable setting for them. The changing rooms are also colourful . There is a sauna in the women’s changing rooms so that the kids can keep warm while they change. There are lockers with keys and open lockers for storing your belongings. There is a sauna in the women’s changing room. There are ports for a hair dryer, but you need to bring your own. The school buses are also brightly painted with a rainbow on the side.
  2. They claim the water is the cleanest in Saitama and it is not disputed. In our experience it is very clean and the kids never picked up any water related skin conditions. The changing rooms, the upstairs viewing area and toilets on both floors are very clean and well maintained.
  3. My kids really loved it here, whereas other swimming pools we went to they weren’t keen. The front desk staff aren’t overly friendly, but they are courteous and professional. Most of the coaches are very nice, helpful and personable. None of the front desk staff speak English and everything is conducted in Japanese, but one of the coaches speaks a little English.  There is a higher number of administration staff here than in other schools we’ve been too.

Other things that I personally liked about this school is that it is reasonably priced and they often have campaigns for zero yen entry fee (without this campaign it costs a month’s fee to sign up). You can watch your children swimming from the 2nd floor or through the windows from the main car park. There are vending machines selling drinks and ice-cream on the 2nd floor in the spacious viewing area.   They decorate the school for seasonal holidays such as Christmas and Halloween. Santa visits for Christmas and gives the kids presents. Once a year they take professional photos under water and poolside that you can opt to buy.

My main complaint about this swimming school, is (that bar the very 1st level) there are 8 kids to 1 teacher in the preschool class, which I think is too much for young beginners. For the very first level there is 4 or 5 to a teacher. In the elementary school age group there are even more. It averages about 12 to one instructor. Depending on the instructor sometimes kids spend almost as much time out of water as they do in it.

The pool opens Monday to Saturday for classes. The classes are at set times depending on age group. There are 2 periods for preschoolers and 2 for primary school aged children. Children of school going age can sign up to use the swimming school bus, for a fee. There is no public bus stop near the school. By car: it is off route 407. There is plenty of free parking. One of the car parks is beside the school’s lake with beautiful cherry blossom trees.

Cherry Blossoms at Higashimatsuyama Swimming School

There is a lake beside the swimming school with stunning cherry trees on all four sides. The trees are quite mature and really magnificent. One of my all time favourite cherry trees is in this small lake area beside the school.  The swimming school’s car park is right by one side of the lake. You often see people parking there just to roam around the lake and admire the cherry blossoms. While the area might not be worth a trip to all by itself, it is a nice place to stop off on your way to or from Yakyu Inari which is 5 minutes up the road in the car.

The most beautiful cherry blossom tree I have seen to date. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

 Nearby:

Yakyu Inari Shrine, the Baseball Shrine| Higashimatsuyama

Yakyu Inari Shrine is located in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama, just 1 hour and 10 minutes from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo line.  It is one of many shrines to the God Inari. However, what makes it spec…

Source: insaitama.com/yakyu-inari-shrine-the-baseball-shrine-higashimatsuyama/

The abbreviated version of this review appears on City-Cost.com

Katsusehara Memorial Park: enclosed playground close to station | FUJIMI

Katsusehara Memorial park in Fujimi is a great park for hanami (cherry blossom picnic) and play dates with toddlers. It was one of my favourite parks for meeting my own friends for a good chat when all four of my kids were under six. The main reason is that the playground is enclosed by a colourful fence with heavy gates. The heavy gates afford an added safety for small children and allow adults to chat in peace without having to worry about children running off. It is a small park too, so you can keep an eye on children easier than in a large park.

There isn’t a lot in the playground, but just enough for smaller children. It is best suited to toddlers and preschoolers. Equipment in Katsusehara memorial park includes spring rides and a climbing/slide combo piece. There is a sandpit too, which is a big hit. There are sinks beside the sandpit to wash your hands and it also doubles as a drinking fountain with a sprout at the top of the basin. In a separate area of the small park there is a flying fox which is popular with older children. Beside that is a roller slide which is also popular with older children, younger ones too. There is a large open space in the park, which is in the middle of a residential area, which is always in use for football, soccer, throwing ball etc. The park is very well maintained and it is a popular place to picnic.

It is also a popular park for locals to celebrate cherry blossom season and enjoy “hanami”. We too enjoyed many a hanami here, with our last ever at that park in spring of 2016, as my eldest has now outgrown this park. It is a particularly good spot for hanami if you are on the Tobu Tojo line and have small children. There aren’t a huge amount of sakura (cherry blossom) trees, but enough to enjoy hanami and they are very pretty, some more mature than others. They typically bloom the very end of March and early April. Katsusehara Memorial Park is beside a cheap supermarket which sells bento boxes and onigiri which you can bring to the park and eat.

 

There is no official parking, some people park along the side of the road, but this is frowned upon. There is coin parking nearby. It is close to Tobu Tojo Line Fujimino station. It is open 24 hours. There are toilets in the park, right beside the enclosed playground.

A map of Sakura Cherry Blossom Locations | SAITAMA

A map of most of the key locations for hanami and / or sakura cherry blossom viewing in the Saitama area. Please click on the location for further information. If you have a blog post or photo of any location on the map (or indeed any location not on the map but in Saitama) that you would like added, please do feel free to contact me. I will add your photo and / or post and link it back to your website or blog. Also, if there is somewhere you feel should be added to this map and you are willing to share its location, please do leave a comment or contact me directly.

All the best for this beautiful spring and sakura season. 🙂

A cheap coffee and play date at McCafe and PlayLand | KAWAGOE

Last week the Kawagoe Kinome branch of McDonalds re-opened as a much better, classier, family friendly branch of McDonalds. The new branch has a McCafé by Barista and a Playland, McDonald’s hallmark free children’s play area.


The free children’s play area is in an enclosed sound proof family room on the 2nd floor, that has low tables with soft chairs for children as well as regular tables and chairs. There is an elevator to the 2nd floor so you can bring your stroller with you easily. The play area is small, basically climbing and a slide, but for an irregular visit it would provide entertainment for children aged between one and eight years old. They do request that only children in lower grades of elementary school and younger use this play area. The space is free to use if you have purchased food or drink from either the McDonalds or the McCafe.

The McCafe area is on the first floor beside the regular McDonalds. It has a good selection of hot drinks and doughnuts. You can bring your coffee and / or snack upstairs. Their selection is reasonably priced.

There are other services of interest in this branch also, such as free wifi and ports for charging devices. I also like that it is completely smoke free, even the car park. There is a smart drive through, as well as parking for about 20 cars. This branch is conveniently located on route 254 close to Kamifukuoka and minutes drive to Minami Furuya Station.


According to the McDonalds directory for Saitama, this branch is the only one with both a McCafe and a playland. There are other plenty other branches that have either a McCafe or a playland. There are quite a few Playland branches in Saitama including locations such as Ageo, Shiki, Tokorozawa, Kawaguchi, Koshigaya, Kumagaya, Honjo, Iwatsuki, Moroyama, Konosu, Ogawa and quite a few in Saitama City.  More about their playlands: http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/family/playland/

Watching Sumo Practice | TOKYO

I have a number of guests coming to visit over the next couple of months. I usually travel to Tokyo with guests and / or to meet friends visiting from overseas. With next month’s visitors I will do the usual Asakusa trail, but this time I wanted to add on a trip to some Sumo stables, so I have been researching which would be best for our plans. I fixed on one in Oshiage. I wanted to share the information as I know many people are interested in finding some where that they can watch sumo wrestlers in training when there isn’t a tournament on.*

I have not been to this type of sumo stable yet, but when I worked in the Ibaraki Board of Education, I had the pleasure of visiting a Agricultural High School with a sumo club.  I was very blessed to have the pleasure of touring many parts of this high school, but the highlight was watching the students of the sumo club in training and practice.  The school is only one of a handful that have such a club. It is not possible for lay people to visit this club without a connection to the school and so I assumed it was the same for the stables in Tokyo. However, I was wrong and in recent years it has become very popular to watch sumo wrestlers training hard during practice.

For my upcoming tours, I have decided on Azumazeki stable in Oshiage as it fits nicely with a day tour of Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree. The stable is run by former wrestler Ushiomaru.  The sumo wrestlers train everyday there is not a tournament, and in the morning between 7 am and 10.30 am they open up the stables for public viewing. If their is a tournament somewhere outside of Tokyo the stables will not be open to the public on the days of those tournaments.  It is free and no reservation is required, however, if you have a group, they request you ring in advance.

They have three principle conditions and some other guidelines to entering the stable: ① you must wear a face mask, ② you must not talk and ③ no flash photography is allowed. And I should mention as it might not be obvious to visitors from outside of Japan: you are not allowed enter the ring nor stand on the markers of the ring. They also request that you turn off your phone and that you don’t bring food or drink into the stable. They do not discourage children, but as they have a rule of no sound, they request you are respectful of that. Finally, they request that you do not drive to the stables as they do not have a parking lot and as it would cause an inconvenience to neighbours.

 

From greenshinto.com

At the end of practice they plant what is called a “gohei”. A gohei is a small wooden staff with the white shinto paper adorning it. In the sumo stable they plant it in a pile of sand in the middle of the ring. They then sprinkle the ring and gohei with salt. This custom is carried out to purify the ring, but also to pray for the safety of the sumo wrestlers.

Information

Address: 4-6-4 Higashikomagata, Sumida, Ward, Tokyo

Phone: 03-3625-0033

Hours: 7 am to 10.30 am

Fee: FREE

Language: JAPANESE ONLY

Other stables: There are about another 40 or so stables you can visit in the area, but a lot of them require that you ring in advance. Arashio Stable does not require you ring in advance and they have an English webpage. However, they no longer allow people inside to watch; you have to watch through windows from outside.

Access

4 minute walk from Honjo-Azumabashi Station on  the Toei Asakusa Line.

11 minute walk from exit B2 of the Oshiage Station.

*If you are planning a trip to Japan in the hope of seeing a Sumo Tournament,  please note that Sumo Tournaments only happen during odd months, i.e the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 11 months of the year. The January, May and September tournaments are in Tokyo. The March tournament is in Osaka, the July tournament is in Aichi and the November tournament is in Fukuoka.

**Featured image is from Azumazeki Beya Stable’s Facebook page**

 

Saitama Snaps Showcase: “An Earthly Paradise” |CHICHIBU

Source ST Planner Yahoo Blog

Source: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/stplanners/39944521.html

I am trying a new section on the blog to showcase beautiful areas of Saitama, that I just haven’t had and won’t have the time to visit in the near future. One of the places at the top of my “must visit at the end of March” list is Ouchizawa Hanamono No Sato, nicknamed by locals as “An earthly paradise”. It is famous within Saitama for the beautiful pink buds of the flower peaches, visible from end of March to early April.

The Saitama Prefectural Department of Industy and labor, Tourism Division, shared information last year. It includes information about other flora and fauna in the area too:

Information:

Location: Ouchizawa, Higashi Chichibu, Chichibu District

Expected viewing season: late March ~ early April

Number of blooms: About 5000

Access by public transport: Eagle Bus from either Ogawamachi Station or Yorii Station

Access by car: About 30 minutes from the Ranzan Ogawa Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway. Parking is free and there are about 30 spots.

Places to bring children to visit animals in Tokyo | GREATER TOKYO AREA

2017 version.
This is a master list of the zoos, farms, aquariums and other places with animals in the Tokyo area that are suited to children. You will also find a handful of locations that are actually outside Tokyo, but considered part of the Greater Tokyo area and renowned as places worth commuting to from Tokyo. This list is suited as a guide to both families living here and those traveling to Japan for a holiday. Each location is linked to either their official website or a webpage with further information. All locations are mapped on a Google My Map at the bottom of the article.

Zoos, Farms & Animal related

Animal Cafe

Aquariums