Category Archives: FACTORY TOURS

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

Experience Asakusa

Information Share

“Where can I try some unique Japanese cultural experiences in Tokyo?”

We often get asked a variation of “where can I enjoy some real Japanese experiences in Tokyo?” on the Facebook Japan Travel, Friendly Discussion Group. Unfortunately, the search field and files section of Facebook Groups is still somewhat limited and the information cannot be easily found.  I’m sharing suggestions here, that I have given, in the hope that it is more easily accessible for future queries of a similar nature. These places advertise that they have English speaking staff.

This is for the Asakusa area only. If you would like to share other places for the benefit of others,  that would be greatly appreciated. 🙂  Please scroll down to the bottom of the article to see each place mapped on Google with address and other information.

Disclaimer: I have NO affiliation to any of these establishments, nor do I get anything for promoting them! All images are taken from the official websites for each shop or service.

Taiko Drums

Image taken from the official website: http://www.taiko-center.co.jp/english/class/images/tokyo/tokyo-class_03.jpg

The traditional drum in Japan is called a Taiko.  For many the sound of a taiko drum is synonmous with summer festivals.  The Taiko Lab in Asakusa offers a rare chance to experience Taiko drums without signing up for months of classes.  You need to book in advance and they will try to cater to the date and time that suits you best. The application for this is handled by the Taiko Centre (English information): http://www.taiko-center.co.jp/english/class/tokyo-class.html

Information about Taiko Labhttp://www.taiko-center.com/taiko-lab%E3%81%AE%E3%81%94%E6%A1%88%E5%86%85/ Choose the English option from the drop-down box on the right.

Kanji

Kanji is the Japanese writing using Chinese characters.  At Kanji House in Asakusa you can get your name written for you, or join a class, or even take a guided tour. The tour involves a local guide and a kanji calligraphy writing of your name to take home! They have staff and guides who speak English  and most of their clients are foreigners.

Image taken from the official website: http://kanji-house.com/assets/images/top3.png

If you want to try your hand at writing a kanji of your choice you can do a calligraphy class for 30 minutes.  They do require that you make  a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. They have full information in English on their website: http://kanji-house.com/service_price.html  and the reservation form is here: http://kanji-house.com/contact.html

Origami

The age old and majestic paper folding craft is a fun (and therapeutic) activity, offering a glimpse into the Japanese custom of precision and detail.  The afore mentioned Kanji House also offers an origami class for just 500 yen (summer 2016 price) for 30 minutes. Information available in English on their website: http://kanji-house.com/service_price.html . Reservation form: http://kanji-house.com/contact.html

Dressing up in Kimono

Dressing up in a kimono is something unique to Japanese culture. Kosode near to Asakusa subway station offer kimono rental, dressing and hair styling for both men and women. They have yukata (summer kimono) in the hot months too. They have information and a booking form in English on their website: http://paull.jp/asakusa/english/index.php

Moku Hanga Print

Moku Hanga is a technique used in ukiyo-e, a genre of art. Mokuhankan is a relatively new shop offering woodblock prints. The owner is a England born Canadian. You can experience his tutelage in an hour long workshop. You can book from a calendar on their English content website: http://mokuhankan.com/parties/index.php

Replica Food Production Workshop

Showroom of Replica Food made from wax

Replica Food are wax samples of what a restaurant’s (/shop’s) food looks like, displayed in the restaurants window. Ganso Shokuhin Sample Shop Kappabashi Showroom displays a great selection of replica food. Even better: you can book to try your hand at making your own replica food samples. Information in English on their website: http://www.ganso-sample.com/en/shop/kappabashi/

However, you need to book for the workshop by phone at 0120-17-1839.  The workshops are held at 11am, 2pm and 4pm and take between 60 and 75 minutes. It costs 2,160 yen per person (summer 2016 price).

Jidaiya

Jidaiya is a fantastic service offering a range of typical and age old Japanese experiences. Here is a list of some of them;

Rickshaw Ride

Photo taken from the official website: http://www.jidaiya.biz/taikenmono_e.html#taikenmono0

Kago (basket palanquin) Ride

Photo taken from the official website: http://www.jidaiya.biz/taikenmono_e.html#taikenmono0

Tea Ceremony

Paper Lantern making

Photo taken from the official website: http://www.jidaiya.biz/taikenmono_e.html#taikenmono0

Fan Throwing Game

Photo taken from the official website: http://www.jidaiya.biz/taikenmono_e.html#taikenmono0

Japanese Traditional Entertainment and Performances

Information for all of these can be found on their English webpage:

http://www.jidaiya.biz/taikenmono_e.html#taikenmono2

 

All of the places listed above are perfect, if you want to try some real hands-on experiences during your stay in Japan.  Most of these places advise booking in advance.  Below you can see the locations of each place marked on a google map.

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Make your own POCKY at Free Factory Tour | Glico Pia East

Glico Pia East Factory Tour Pocky (13)Chances are, if you live in Saitama, you have heard about the famous Glico Pia East factory tour, aka the Pocky tour. It remains top of the list of free factory tours in Saitama (2015, down to #2 in 2017) and one of the best for the whole Kanto region (Greater Tokyo area). Due to its popularity, it is still necessary to book in advance, but the good news is that the wait has been reduced from a year to a few months. We were able to get a booking 4 months in advance.

 

It was on my wish list since it opened its doors in 2012, but I was advised to wait until the kids were in primary school to go. In 2015, I just couldn’t wait any longer so I booked it for the whole family. At the time the kids were 5, 4, 2 and 0! (We visited again during Spring Break 2017). Much to my delight, everyone, myself included, enjoyed the tour much more than we thought we would. The tour is 70 minutes long and includes a brief video, museum tour, tour of 2 lines of products and an interactive quiz game in a futuristic gaming room. In fact, the whole tour building has a futuristic feel.



Apart from the short video at the start, the kids were completely intrigued by the tour. In the museum they have a display of 1,500 mini toys that used to be given with one of their products. They also have an old-fashioned vending machine, which my son was chosen to try out with an old 5 yen coin that is no longer in circulation. In that area of the museum they have the brand symbol of the running man, synonymous with “that” billboard in Osaka which is somewhat of a tourist attraction these days! The beautifully presented tour guides explain each element in detail and allocate time for taking photos. There are some parts of the tour where photos are not allowed, which they inform you of. The tour is in Japanese, but the whole tour is quite visual so I would not say it is essential to completely understand the language. (Japanese is required to book the tour).  After the museum tour you move onto the factory element, where they show you two different line productions of Glico products. Following that you are led to the gaming room, where pairs sit at a table with buzzers of different colours representing different answers in an a, b or c type interactive game. The kids really loved that.

After the interactive quiz the free part of the tour is over. You can, however, pay 500 yen per person to enjoy decorating your own giant Pocky. It is important to note that on a very busy day they limit the number of people who can do the make-your-own-Pocky. It is decided at the very start of the tour who gets to do it.  They prioritise primary school students in higher grades. We were very lucky that our 5, 4 and 2 year old were able to participate on the day we went. They absolutely loved decorating their own giant-sized Pocky and it was definitely the highlight of the morning for them.  You are given a box to place your Pocky to take home and a bag of goodies with Glico products and inflatable Pocky (picture below Pocky Ad)!

You can buy giant Pocky on Amazon. This is an Amazon affiliate link, which means if you buy Pocky through this link I will get a (very very small) percentage of the purchase, which will be used to contribute to the cost of self-hosting. :-)
 

Glico Pia East Factory Tour Pocky (2)

The factory is less than an hour from Tokyo and thanks to the extension of the Ken-O expressway, the factory is very accessible from other prefectures in Kanto too.  It is just 2 kilometres from the Okegawa-Kano exit of the Ken-O expressway. By public transport you can take a 12 minute bus ride bound for Glico Pia East from Kitamoto Station on the JR Takasaki line.

 

INFORMATION

OPEN: Saturday to Thursday (closed on Fridays)

TOUR TIMES: 9.30, 11.00, 12.30, 14.00

BOOKING: 048-593-8811 or online:

URL: https://www.glico.com/jp/enjoy/experience/glicopiaeast

ADDRESS: 〒364-0013 Saitama Prefecture, Kitamoto, 中丸9丁目55

 

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

Edo period Candy craft in Kawagoe

4-Candy craft (2)

Today, we went to watch the Candy Man in Kawagoe! He is a performance artist, who sculpts candy into different shapes, characters and forms, in an art form known as Amezaiku, in Japan. Above you can see a unicorn made out of candy.

Sculpting candy in art
Sculpting candy in to art, Amezaiku, candy craft artist Suzuki

The Candy Man Suzuki, one of only a few traditional candy folk artists practising regularly in Japan, performs in the Sweet Street (or Candy Alley) of Kawagoe(川越菓子屋横町)。  Kawagoe is referred to as Little Edo and this candy craft dates back to the Edo period. Suzuki uses a taffy like mixture, similar to corn syrup, which is made from rice and malt. It is called Mizuame in Japanese, which translates to “water candy”.  Suzuki shapes the candy, while it is still hot, into different animals and objects. It costs 300 yen for a sculpted candy.  Part of the pleasure of the sweet, is watching it being sculpted and formed,  and bantering with the creator as he works.  Sometimes he will take requests. You can see him at work in this video I found on Youtube:

Blowing candy
Blowing candy

One of the appeals of this type of candy street stall, is that you can make your own blowing candy for just 100 yen (less than one Euro). Suzuki prepares the hot glutinous starch syrup placing it on a straw. You blow into it to give it a ball like shape. If you fail to blow into shape before it hardens, he will fix it into a ame no tori, candy bird, for you, by snipping and shaping.  This could be why the candy was called ame no tori during the edo period.  He uses a traditional Japanese scissors for snipping and paints on food colouring for the finished effect.  Pictured below is the ame no tori, candy bird, he made for my eldest daughter.

Ame no Tori, Candy bird
Ame no Tori, Candy bird




Candy man Suzuki works from a traditional portable stall on the sweet street in Kawagoe, Saitama. However, you can also visit a candycraft workshop in Sendagi, Tokyo.  Great information in English available here: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/contents/shopping/movie/candycrafts/INT13011202

For more about the art and an insight into an Amezaiku artist, you can read about the Internationally acclaimed Takahiro Mizuki.  There are some great photos on that webpage too. In English: http://www.amezaiku.com/eng/index2.html and In French: http://www.amezaiku.com/fr/index3.html  For more on the history, there is a fairly detailed piece on Tofugu http://www.tofugu.com/2015/01/06/amezaiku-japanese-candy-creatures-made-fire-sugar/

The candy man usually practices in Candy Street which is in Motomachi. The tourist buses will bring you close:

Access from Kawagoe Station

Koedo Kawagoe bus one day pass allows you unlimited travel on the Koedo Kawagoe buses. It costs 300 yen. In the bus they have a monitor with sightseeing information.  Some tourist places give discounts on souvenirs or entrance tickets to people with a one day pass.
Koedo Kawagoe Loop Bus

Koedo Meguri (Loop) Bus from Kawagoe station. You can buy a one day pass that allows you unlimited travel on the Meguri Bus. It stops at 16 different locations. 104 different shops, offer discount services such as souvenirs, food, and entrance fees to facilities for holders of this day pass. There are announcements in English and Chinese as well as Japanese so foreigners can feel at ease.

More information here:
http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html

Kawagoe Access by train from Tokyo and Omiya

  • 31 minutes from Ikebukuro on a express train on the Tobu Tojo Line. 470 yen
  • 44 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku on a Red Arrow Limited Express. 420 yen for the express ticket, plus base fare.
  • 66 minutes from Shinjuku or 62 minutes from Takadanobaba on Seibu Shinjuku Line.  You can buy one round trip ticket for 700 yen for either of those stations.
  • 54 minutes from JR Shinjuku on a rapid train of the Saikyo/Kawagoe line. 760 yen.
  • 28 minutes on a regular train from Omiya on the Saikyo/Kawagoe Line or 22 minutes on the rapid train.
  • The Fukutoshin and Yurakucho subways connect to the Tobu Tojo line at Wako-shi. Some of them go all the way to Kawagoe (and beyond) too.

Access by Car

About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.

About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.