Category Archives: 4 Star ★★★★☆

Su Lab, the Kendama Cafe and Shop | KAWAGOE

Kendama for sale in SU LAB Kawagoe

I was ecstatic in the fleeting belief that I had made a really special new “find” today. My bubble was soon burst, when a quick search revealed that it wasn’t as much a new find rather than the good fortune to stumble upon a well established and celebrated speciality café. But while I may not be “breaking news” it still is one to get excited about, if you haven’t already heard about it.  I am not sure whether to call it a theme cafe or a sports cafe or maybe even a shop with a cafe in it. Whatever you want to call it, Sulab, the Kendama Cafe in Kawagoe, certainly is a fun and unique space that will appeal to people of all ages, especially those into the kendama street sport.

3 out of 4 my kids in front of the wall of kendama you can borrow to play with.

For those that are into the (somewhat) traditional Japanese toy, this cafe is probably already on their radar. Sulab not only sell Kendama, they make them too. And the brand name is famous worldwide.  According to some articles I read online, people come from all over the world to visit the small shop and cafe in Kawagoe. The pockmarks on the floor are testament to the throngs of people who’ve paved the shop’s floor.  The wall of kendama for sale had noticeable empty spaces where beautiful handmade kendama had a transient place, before swiftly finding a new home.

Wall of kendama you can borrow to play with

Apart from the wall with kendama for sale, there is a wall of kendama you can borrow to play with in the cafe. They also have a large box of kendama for playing, outside on a picnic table.In order to play with the kendama you just have to buy a drink. They have kendama for left handed as well as right handed people. For a group of adults visiting everyone must buy a drink, but for a family you can just buy a couple of drinks if you aren’t staying too long. In fact, they say for the first visit you don’t have to buy anything at all. It was quite busy when we visited so I didn’t feel comfortable not ordering anything so I got a coffee for myself and a soft drink for the kids to share. Please note that there aren’t many places to sit, most of the space is used for playing. There are only three two-seater tables and three seats at a counter. Apart from that there are shelves to hold drinks for those who are standing and playing. Outside there are two seats and one picnic table with benches. Considering you get to play indefinitely the drinks are quite reasonable; 500 yen for the first non-alcholic drink for an adult, 650 yen for alcohol and 350 yen for a child’s drink. Any subsequent drink you buy is cheaper. They have quite a good choice of drinks considering the type of place it is. Their food is very limited, basically just toast or a toasted sandwich. 

The customers in the cafe were such a mixed bag. There were other families like us, as well as a father and teenage son pair, two adult friends, plus a number of older grade primary school boys and girls, and a couple of kids who seemed to be middle school age. I wasn’t sure how my younger kids would like it, but they really enjoyed it too. The two year old sat with me while I had my coffee, but she did play with a Doraemon motif kendama for quite sometime. The four year old, six year old and seven year old, played the whole time we were there. The six year old was quite taken with the kendama painted like Hello Kitty. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Two of them helped my kids learn some new tricks on the kendama while I relaxed over my coffee. My seven year old son in particular learned quite a few new tricks and graded up in the short time we were there. The other Mother there was very friendly and all too happy to small talk with me. The older kids looked out for the younger kids. It struck me that this would be a really good place for short term visitors to Japan with children to introduce their kids to Japanese children their own age and enjoy each other’s company in the universal language of play!

Kendama painted as Hello Kitty (Kitty-chan) in SU LAB kendama cafe in Kawagoe

After reading a number of articles online about the shop, it would seem that it is always busy. They organise tournaments and demo classes and even have English language events from time to time. I know my kids enjoyed it more than I had expected and we’ve already planned a trip back to play in the near future. I may even go with some girlfriends at night sometime and enjoy a few bevvies: it might improve my own skills which are currently severely lacking! Whether you are living in Kawagoe or visiting it, I can recommend this cafe / shop as “somewhere different” to visit and enjoy a traditional Japanese toy in a friendly and congenial environment.

History of Kendama

I subsequently found this interesting blog post on the history of kendama on another WordPress site:
https://ikendama.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/first-blog-post/

Information and Access

Opening hours: Friday to Wednesday (closed Thursday) from 11 am to 9 pm.

There is one unisex toilet. There is an ashtray outside. No parking, but there is a space for bikes outside the shop.

Contacts:

Tel: 049-214-4276

Sulab, website and online shop

http://sulab.theshop.jp/

You can buy non-branded Kendama on Amazon at this affiliated link**:

Kendama on Amazon (affiliated link)

 

Sulab on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/SULabphotostudio/

Sulab on Twitter

https://twitter.com/su_lab_studio

SU LAB is only a few minutes walk from JR Kawagoe Station, Tobu Tojo Kawagoe Station and Seibu Shinjuku Hon-Kawagoe Station.

From Ikebukuro it is only 31 minutes to Kawagoe on the Tobu Tojo Line. You can also get to Kawagoe direct from Shinjuku and Akabane in about 45 minutes.

Route and prices for getting to SU LAB in Kawagoe from Ikebukuro, Akabane and Shinjuku in Tokyo. From Hyperdia.com:

From Omiya it only takes 22 minutes to get to Kawagoe on the JR Kawagoe line. Fare and route from Hyperdia.com:

 

Insaitama.com as of June 9th 2017 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.jp

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!

This post contains external links to Amazon.co.jp under the Amazon affiliate program. **

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.

Bornelund toys on Amazon.co.jp**:

One of Bornelund’s signature toys: Magformers

Bornelund Bosch Toy Tool Box

Full list of Bornelund toys on Amazon.co.jp:

Amazon Affiliate link to Bornelund toy list.

 

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.

 

**As of June 9th 2017 Insaitama.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.jp

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:

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

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 shibazakur…

Source: insaitama.com/stunning-shibazakura-moss-phlox-at-hitsujiyama-park-chichibu/

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/

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 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/

Free Shoyu Factory Tour & Cafe Kura at Matsumoto Soy Sauce | KAWAGOE

Japanese food expert and FUSED soy sauce owner Fiona Uyema visits Matsumoto Shop and factory

Where in Kawagoe to bring a visiting famous Japanese food chef and author?  This is the question that faced me when I was bringing Fiona Uyema, Ireland’s leading Japanese food expert and owner of Fused Japanese sauces, on a tour of Kawagoe in Autumn 2015.

I brought her to a few different places, but the tour of the 250 year old Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory was one of the highlights of the three day tour.  Fiona had a particular interest in the factory as she was developing her own soy sauce brand “Fused” to be launched in Ireland. Fused is available in retail shops around Ireland or you can buy  online here: http://fusedbyfionauyema.com/product-tag/japanese-soy-sauce/. Fiona was visiting with her family and I had my own kids with me. The tour was surprisingly interesting for the older kids in our party, at that time aged between 0 and 6 years old.  The tour is conducted in Japanese and it is actually very short, around 20 minutes, but it is an interesting experience and totally free!

The gathering area for taking the tour is in front of the Matsumoto shop, the retail part of Matsumoto Soy Sauce.  When we visited there wasn’t that many people as it was shortly after the tours had been opened to the public and word hadn’t quite got around yet. At that time they only offered the tour on weekends and public holidays at 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. However, due to the increasing popularity of the tour, they now also offer the tour on weekdays at 1 pm. Please note that on occasion the tour isn’t available and / or if it is too packed you might not get a spot. If you have more than 10 in your group you can ring the shop on a weekday and ask to arrange a private tour. You walk up a narrow alley to get to the factory. If you have a stroller you can use a separate entrance, or you can park your stroller and carry your child.

Matsumoto Soy Sauce Factory and Shop is part of a larger complex with a few different names, one I hear most often is Kamonrakuza, which seems to be the group name for Blue Moon glass blowing and glass art workshops, the Koedo Kagamiyama sake factory and shop, and the gallery in the complex.  There is a Soba restaurant beside Matsumoto Shop. There is also a nice café, Cafe Kura, in the complex too, which we visited after the factory tour and I have visited a couple of times since.

Cafe Kura is a nice place for a quiet coffee and cake. They also do a reasonably priced lunch set. They don’t have much in the way of food for children though, but on every visit I have found they are very accommodating to children. They have children’s cutlery and crockery so if you are ordering a lunch you can share it with your child.  When it is quiet the staff don’t mind the kids running around and rearranging the tables!  The place has more of a romantic feel and seems to most popular with young couples or pairs of friends.  The cafe (and the whole complex) are off the main tourist strip so its quieter and more ambient than other areas in the Kawagoe tourist district. Cafe Kura is open from 10 am to 6 pm (lunch 11.30 am to 2 pm) Thursdays to Tuesdays, closed on Wednesdays. There is parking beside the cafe (see access details below).

Access and Hours

Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory and shop are off the beaten track of Kawagoe.   It is part of the main warehouse district, but it is back one block from the main tourist strip, with little else touristy directly around it. Even though at the top of the same road there is the famous Kayshiya Yokocho (sweet street/candy alley) district and Gyodenji, most people miss the factory because they turn at the giant chameleon on the 5 yen coin to get to / from the main tourist strip. If you keep walking down from Kashiya Yokocho toward Hon-Kawagoe station you will hit the factory on your right hand side. Walking up from the station, if you turn left at Mameya Kawagoe at Naka-cho and cross over the road and take the first main right, the factory is on your left just past a coin parking lot. It is a 10 minute walk. If you are coming by car, they have free parking for about 7 cars. There is also a coin parking beside it. Please note that it is a one-way system, you must enter the road from the bottom at the Times Kawagoe Parking Lot on Naka-cho, you can’t enter from the kashiya yokocho end. Please see map at bottom.

Hours

Matsumoto Shop: 9 am to 6 pm
Factory Tour: 1 pm on weekdays, 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm on weekends

The rest of the facilities such as Blue Moon and the gallery have separate operating hours and are closed on Wednesdays.

Contact

Matsumoto and all its facilities apart from the cafe

URL: http://www.hatsukari.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

Phone: 049-222-0432

Cafe Kura

URL: http://www.cafe-kura.com/

Phone: 049-224-7881

Map

Niko Niko Garden Renewal Open in Festa | AGEO

Value Plaza Ageo is an old style department store and walking into it you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d gone through a time slip to the 1980s. It is a cold and stark building, both indoors and out. And first impressions would likely put you off. The same can be said of Festa (video arcade), where Niko Niko Garden is. All I can hope is that you won’t be turned off by the cheap and run down feel of the video arcade and walk to the back corner where the entrance to Niko Niko Garden is. You won’t regret it!

Niko Niko Garden was recently revamped and re-opened. It is a play / fun center for children from 0 to 8 years old. I was never in the old version, so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement there is, but I can say that the current play center is well worth a visit with small children. Not only do they have a decent selection of things to play with, it is also really good value. On a weekday you can play ALL day for 500 yen per child and 200 yen per adult.  On the weekend it is 800 yen per child and 200 yen per adult. There are very few places one adult and one child can play indoors all day (on the weekend) for just one note (1000 yen).  I use the term play for adults lightly: unlike nearby Spocha, there isn’t actually anything for adults to “play” with. However, there are things about Niko Niko Garden that will appeal to a parent or supervising adult…

The play area is all in one area, bar one corner you can see all of the play area from the seating area. The seating area has tables and zaibuton where you can chill while your kids play.  A lot of the play area is quite safe for anyone over two and is set up in such a way that a child can, in theory, play by themselves while you relax in the rest area. There is also one area that even a one year old can play with minimum supervision. In the seating area there is free coffee, tea and water you can help yourself to. You are allowed bring in your own food and eat it this area, but they don’t actually sell food. There is even a microwave so you can heat food. They do have a couple of vending machines: one with kids drinks, mainly anpanman juices. They are more reasonably priced than elsewhere at only 80 yen per juice. There is also a vending machine that sells soft drinks and  bottle / can coffee for about 130 yen per drink. There is a selection of magazines you can borrow in the seating area and they even have some free massage chairs for patron’s use. There is a TV on mute in this area.

Free lockers in rest area

For the kids they have:

  • a balloon room
  • 3 bouncy castles / inflated play area, 2 of which have climbing and slides
  • a large ball pool with a slide into it
  • a zorb
  • two play kitchen areas
  • play kitchen toys: food, crockery etc
  • two wooden table train sets
  • plarail
  • cars
  • kinetic sand corner
  • lego blocks
  • magnetic pieces for making ramps for balls to roll down
  • play houses
  • mechanical moving horses and zebras
  • push along rides
  • piano
  • toddler play stations
  • wooden bead mazes for toddlers

Apart from the play equipment and toys the fun center also organise a couple of events a day. Today they had an origami event where one of the staff taught the kids how to make various animals out of origami paper. You can join if you are interested and you don’t have to stay for the whole time, you can come and go as you please. The same goes for the fun center.

Information

System

You buy a ticket from a machine and then show it to a staff member at the desk. The machine has 4 options, only 3 of which are available on weekdays, as outlined in the costs below; the numbers circled ① to ④. At the counter you need to fill out a small form with your name and number and “agree” to their disclaimer. You are given a tag to wear around your neck that this card is placed into. The entry cover charge is for the whole day, but you can come and go as often or as little as you want.  When you leave the play center to take a break, but plan to go back in, you leave that name tag in a basket at the counter. You pick it up again when you are returning to the play center. When you are leaving for the day you hand the neck tag back to the reception desk.

After the counter you can open the little gate to go into the center. You take your shoes off here and put them in a shoe box. If you have a buggy / stroller with you, you leave it here. In the rest / sitting area there are free lockers you can use to store your valuables. They have no toilets in the facility so you do need to leave if you want to use the toilets. The nearest are beside the elevator in Value Plaza. There is one changing mat in the play center for babies and toddlers. If you didn’t bring lunch with you, you can either go out to eat or buy food in Value Plaza (or go further afield if you prefer) and bring it in to eat. There is a food court in Value Plaza and it is near the fun center.  It has a First Kitchen, a curry shop and a couple of other stores including one of only five Dipper Dan in Saitama! First Kitchen currently have a “one coin” lunch; a burger, chips and drink set for just 500 yen. They have a kids menu too and it comes with a “free” toy that kids pick from a (small) selection.

Hours and Cost

Niko Niko Garden is open seven days a week from 10 am to 7.30 pm. Last entry is 7 pm. Apart from the excellent value “free time” passes you can also pay for a ①twenty minute slot which costs 300 yen per child on weekdays or weekends. As per above, the ②free time passes are 500 yen per child on weekdays and 800 yen on weekends. On the weekends they have an ③additional package for one hour for 500 yen per child. ④For adults it is always 200 yen per adult, no matter what package you go for.

 

Access

Value Plaza is in the South East area of Ageo, off Route 51 and Nakasendo, on the border of the Omiya area in Kita-Ku, Saitama City.  The nearest landmark is Ageo Sports Park.  Niko Niko Garden isn’t on maps, but you should find Value Plaza no problem. It is on route 164, literally along the Takasaki Line train tracks. However, there isn’t actually a train station nearby. The nearest station is Ageo Station which is a good 25 minute walk away.

Phone: 048-772-7888

Address: 〒362-0034, 3 Chome-1 Atago, Ageo-shi, Saitama-ken 362-0034

Webpage: no official site, the site for Festa is: festa-web.com