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.
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 Baristaand 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/
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.
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.
Matsumoto and all its facilities apart from the cafe
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.
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
two play kitchen areas
play kitchen toys: food, crockery etc
two wooden table train sets
kinetic sand corner
magnetic pieces for making ramps for balls to roll down
mechanical moving horses and zebras
push along rides
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.
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.
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.
In this article: the low down on Maruhiro – free play, roof top Ferris wheel and rides, video arcade, family facilities, kid friendly restaurant, cute animal shaped desserts, tax free shopping, special information for attending the Kawagoe Festivals with kids, and Lapland Santa!
Maruhiro in Kawagoe, a prestigious department store on the main shopping street Crea Mall, is surprisingly enjoyable for small children. There are two main reasons; the fun center on the roof and the play area in the toy store. There are other factors which contribute to its suitability for a half day out for families, outlined below. Plus it is a key spot to consider if you are attending any of the larger Kawagoe Festivals with kids.
The toy store of Maruhiro is located on the 6th floor. They have a Bornelund in the toy store area, which sells beautiful wooden educational toys. They are also a distributor of the fantastic British board games giant Orchard Toys, my personal favourite toy brand for children under six. There is a Sanrio shop here. This branch of Sanrio sells mainly bento goods and trinkets. They have some Hello Kitty toys and one rail of clothes. Bornelund, Sanrio and the general toy store have play areas with sample toys out for kids to enjoy. Each shelving area also has some toys you can try too. They have everything from arts and crafts to zoo animals. My girls enjoy the musical instruments such as mini piano as well as the dolls houses and play kitchens. My son loves to build with the magformers and similar building kids. Bornelund toys are a bit on the pricey side, but they are extremely high quality and educational to boot. The toys in the play area are about the same as most toy stores, maybe a little more expensive than they are in Toysrus. They have a good range considering that the toy area isn’t that big.
Off one side of this toy area, between Bornelund and Sanrio there is a comfortable baby and toddler room. It has seats and tables, a couple of highchairs, a microwave and hot water dispenser. Basically, everything you would need (bar the food and cutlery) to feed a small child. There are nappy changing mats here too and a nursing area. There are general toilets beside this room for both men and women, and a toilet for wheelchair users. The toilets in the women’s have “baby-keeps”, like a highchair except built into the wall, to hold baby while you use the facilities!
Also, on this floor are some restaurants. They are all fairly mediocre and some more popular than others. Two worth mentioning are: Olive House as one to avoid, and Gin Yuba for their super value kids meal. The latter, Gin Yuba, offers Kyoto Cuisine presented in the Teishoku form; Japanese style set meals. It is named after its main staple; Yuba, a product made from soybeans. The selection on the lunch menu is quite decent. They don’t have English menus, but there are good photos on the Japanese menus so you can order easily from them. You can also see their full menu on their website. The Guru Navi Japan Restaurant Guide site offers reservation support in English for this restaurant. Currently, their kids meal is half price. Only 250 yen for a fairly healthy and filling meal served on a shinkansen plate. It comes with a drink and you can chose one toy from a small selection. The regular lunches come with a complimentary serving of tea and they provide water for free too. When you order the lunch the main part is served to you at the table and you are given a rectangle shaped tray with 3 sections so that you can help yourself to 3 side dishes of your choice from a selection on a table near the door. Another reason I like this restaurant when I have the kids with me is because you can get a private room and it is Japanese style. So you don’t need any high chairs, the kids can sit on the floor and they can relax in their own private space.
Conveniently located the floor above is the video arcade and mini amusement park, Wanpaku Land, with a rooftop Ferris Wheel! I will warn you: the rooftop amusement area doesn’t look much. Maruhiro is continuously upgrading and improving their facilities and interior design. However, I don’t think they’ve touched the roof, where Wanpaku Land is, since it opened almost 70 years ago. The amusement area on the roof may have had a few licks of paint over the years, but it looks very dated in spite of it. There are a few fun elements to the amusement area, especially for toddlers and to lesser extent preschoolers.
The Ferris wheel is small, but it is safe and takes just the right length of time to rotate for a small child. There are some great views from the carriage, although as it is completely caged it is hard to get a good photo of Kawagoe from the sky. The ferris wheel is free for children under six and if you pick up a voucher at one of the cash registers on the 6th floor an adult can ride it for just 100 yen. There is a small roller coaster for small children on beside the Ferris wheel. Again it is free for children under six. It costs 300 yen for adults which is a bit of a rip off, but the view is worth it. There are other rides in the area of the roof too. There is a small video arcade type section inside with games, rides, UFO catchers and slot machines for kids. The area is free to enter, but you need to pay for each machine. The games and rides inside are reasonably priced. They have some Anpanman and Yokai Watch games. And a UFO catcher that dispenses Poo shaped teddies! Beside this area there is a pet shop, not a particularly nice one if I am to be honest.
For foreigners visiting Kawagoe to do some shopping or long termers in Japan who like point cards another area of interest is the fourth floor. Here they have a large customer service area that handles tax back claims and applications for point cards. At Christmas time, the fifth floor is where you want to go to visit the real Santa from Lapland. If you would like to buy some food and / or food gifts, chocolates, alcohol or other food / drink speciality items, the basement is where you will find a choice of delectable delights. My kids love the owl shaped cakes by JuchHeim Die Meister.
Finally, I want to mention Maruhiro as a key point to visit if you are coming to the Kawagoe festivals with kids. Particularly, the mammoth Autumn Kawagoe Festival. We have been attending the festival for years and have found their toy Kujibiki to be about the best of all the Kujibiki stalls throughout the festival. Kujibiki is a type of lottery used in festivals. There are a number of ways it is played; the end result is the same – a piece of paper reveals what, if anything, you have won. Usually the paper has a number or symbol on it that is matched to a group of toys with the same number or symbol. You then get to pick what you would like out of the selection. We have never won at the Maruhiro lottery and it doesn’t matter, because… No matter what you draw in the toy lottery at Maruhiro you get a really good present to take away. It is well worth the money (if you want to play the game) because the gifts are the nicest I have seen as a booby prize for a lottery draw. Due to this reason though, it is always crowded. It is good fun to watch while you queue. Another reason this is a good spot to stop by with kids during the festival is that they turn the car park, at the back of the department store, into an amusement area. They have bouncy castles and other attractions. There is also a rest area here.
Parking for Maruhiro is charged, but if you spend over a 1,000 yen you get an hour free. If you spend over 10,000 you get three hours free. The store opens from 10 am to 7 pm seven days a week, except for the days that Maruhiro takes off. You will need to check the Maruhiro schedule for the up-to-date information as it is not a fixed schedule. The closest station is Seibu Shinjuku Line’s Hon-Kawagoe station. JR and Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe station are within walking distance too. There are shopping carts suitable for babies and toddlers and you can also borrow a buggy / stroller. They have wheelchairs to borrow too. Most of the toilets are between floor and so not suited to those with buggies / strollers or in a wheelchair. They have a wheelchair friendly toilet on the 1st floor and on the 6th floor. There are annexes to Maruhiro with lots of different shops and facilities too.
I love the kids space in the Libro Books in Lalaport, Fujimi. It is bright and colourful, with a high ceiling made from mirrors. There is a little archway entrance on one side, only big enough for small kids. They have comfy stools for parents to use, while the kids play with the decent selection of toys they have out. They stock Bornelund and other educational toys of which there is a generous amount of samples out for the kids to play with freely. They also have many sample books including interactive books for the kids to play with and try out.
They have a great selection of children’s books, even translated foreign authors. They even stock translated versions of a children’s author from my home country, Ireland. You don’t see Chris Haughton’s children’s books in many other places. They have a good selection of interactive books; books with songs, music and aural stories or books with physical activities such as driving a car or scanning shopping cards. They also have a great selection of activity books with pull out origami or crafts. The bad news is that all of their children’s books and activity books, even the ones by foreign authors, are in Japanese only. Some of the games they sell do come with English instructions. In the adult section they have a fair selection of magazines covering all genres. The travel magazine section isn’t as extensive as other book shops I frequent.
The shop is located on the first floor of Lalaport Fujimi. Parking is shared with Lalaport and is free. The nearest car parks are six and seven, but you have to come in from the 2nd floor and get an elevator or escalator down a floor. The staff are pleasant and helpful, but I don’t think they speak English.
We stumbled across this park by accident while taking a respite from visiting a relative in nearby Saitama Iriyo Center. Unless you find it by accident as we did, you would need a car and a satnav (GPS) to get to this rural park in Nishi-ku (Saitama). It is a relatively new park, but the access roads are very old and very rural. If you are in the area with young kids, or are looking for a place to barbecue, it is worth a visit.
There are two areas with playground equipment. As you come in to the main parking, in front of the baseball pitch, there is a combination equipment piece with climbing and slides among other things. There are also spring rides. In the picnic area there is another combination unit with climbing and a slide. There is also a sand pit. There are also some net climbing equipment. Near the main parking there is the “Center House” which manages the park. There are meeting rooms there that you can book to use. There are clean toilets there. The barbecue area is very popular. It costs 700 yen to book a pit / seating area for one day. The barbecue area is open for use from April to November. They have a multi-purpose ground, which is marked out for baseball, and a soccer pitch. You can book either of them. The latter costs money.
Parking is free and abundant. It is spread out though. There are a few spots in front of the baseball pitch and front playground, but the main car park is past the pitches. This parking is a bit of a walk to the barbecue area. The car park is open from 9 am to 5.15 pm.
The park is located in Nishi Ward of Saitama City, but it is close to both Ageo and Kawagoe.
Saitama Museum of Rivers is located in Yorii town. It is home to the largest water mill in Japan. It has a number of facilities available under the general admission price including their main educational hall where children can learn about rivers in general as well as river dams, transport,
trivia, the role of rivers through history and specific information about the rivers in Saitama. You can also pay extra to enjoy the “waku waku land“, water adventure park, or watch a film in their adventure theater, which is a virtual simulated theater.
General admission gives you access to the museum itself (including outdoor displays and some events), the small aquarium on the lower ground floor, wading and splash pools and a unique music pad that jets water as you play with your feet. The museum runs a number of events and interactive displays as well as housing a library. The workshop room in the main display area often has free crafts for the kids to enjoy.
In the aquarium the children are free to touch and hold turtles. The water in the splash pool is only 5 cm high so suitable for small children. They are allowed enter with nappies / diapers. The splash pools are open from the last week in March until mid- November. There is plenty of green space to rest or set up a picnic. They added a climbing wall in the area in front of the turtle aquarium this year. There is a shop and restaurant on the premises. There are changing cubicles and lockers beside the free splash pool.
General admission is reasonable at 410
yen per adult and 200 yen for children over the age of 15. Young children and teenagers up to 15 years old are free in.
WAKU WAKU LAND
For an additional charge you can enjoy the water adventure park for one hour. About half the equipment is on water, but the kids don’t necessarily have to get wet, but I do recommend you bring a spare pair of clothes. It costs 210 yen per adult, 100 yen per child from 4 to 15 years old. Children under 4 years old are free. The times are fixed. There are 7 sessions during the summer at 9.30, 10.40, 11.50, 13.00, 14.10, 15.20 and 16.30.
Photo Gallery of some of the equipment in the water adventure playground.
For further information and up-to-date prices and schedules please see the official website –
For those coming by car the phone number for your Satnav is 048-581-733 or the address is 39 Kozono, Yorii Town, Saitama. It is 7 minutes from the Hanazono exit of the Kanetsu expressway. Parking is 300 yen for the day.
Another interesting museum in the Kanto area centered around a water theme is the Tokyo Water Science Museum in Koto-ku. From “Best Living Japan”:
The Tokyo Water Science Museum – Free Hands-on Educational Fun!
The Tokyo Water Science Museum is a great FREE hands-on, educational museum – a great spot to take the kids on a hot, rainy or cold day. The museum takes