Category Archives: Family friendly Japan

Natural Cafe Sora | YOSHIMI

The standard of restaurants and cafes is so high in Japan, that it is hard to find a restaurant that makes a strong indelible impression on me. Often it is only the unforgivably bad or exceptionally good ones that stand out among the crowd. Today, I found one of the latter: I dare say it is my new FAVOURITE restaurant in the whole of Saitama.

I would love to give it the accolade of the best restaurant in Saitama, but, it is not perfect and there are a few notable things it is missing, which are mentioned below.  However, the positives far outweigh the negatives and the number of people there today, despite the VERY remote location, is sheer testament to the quality and service of this gem in rural Yoshimi.

Very Family and Child Friendly

Kids meal. The Curry dish on its own is available without pre-ordering, but if you want the set you need to order on the phone in advance. Photo courtesy of J. Tamura. Thank you very much JT <3

Natural Cafe Sora is divided into two parts. Downstairs the center area and the area on the right of the restaurant are dedicated to families and people with children. The left hand side and upstairs are allocated to singles or people with friends, maybe even some come on a date! The rooms upstairs can be booked for private gatherings. In the adult only side of the restaurant, divided from the family area by a wall with an indoor window, they have tables and counter seats. The counter along the window looks out into the garden.

The family area has two styles of seating; Western style with tables and chairs, and Japanese style low tables and you sit on the tatami floor. Both areas have tables that can be moved or removed, but generally speaking each area would fit three families. In the Western area they have high chairs and a high-lo chair for children and babies. In the Japanese area children can either sit on the floor or in bumbos.

They have a very nice children’s menu, but it requires booking. If you want one of their dishes with character faces you need to ring and book in advance. Without booking a child’s meal in advance the selection is a bit limited, but, unless you have allergies, you will find something on the menu for a child. You can also share what you are eating and they have an area with children’s bowls, plates, cups, spoons and forks that you can use freely.

The Japanese room is where the toys and books are, but you can bring toys to the table and play with them in the Western area. The selection is quite good and entertained my two year old for hours. There were older children there today too who were playing contently or reading what they had on offer. They also have handmade clothes, toys and trinkets for sale displayed in this area.  Outside they have a swing, tarzan rope, wooden stepping stones and small climbing unit with slide. The latter is suited to toddlers. There are also tricycles and push along rides that you can use freely.

Healthy fresh food

Most of the vegetables are farmed on the land. The lunch dishes come with a sizable portion of fresh colourful salad with at least 5 different types of vegetables. I had the burger dish today, which is a burger in a gratin dish with a great selection of vegetables covered in cheese and roasted. It was absolutely divine. You can choose to have rice or bread with your lunch dish. The bread came fresh out of the oven.  My youngest had the kid’s curry.  It is homemade with pumpkin, renkon, broccoli and carrots in the curry and it comes with sausages cut into animals.

 

The menu is in Japanese only, but when I mentioned to the staff that I hoped to come back with some English speaking friends, she said that if I booked she would make us up an English menu. ♥ To be honest, as they have photos in the menu and the staff are so patient and kind I told her it wouldn’t be necessary.

Kids meal that was booked in advance on the phone. Photo courtesy of J. Tamura. Thank you JT

One thing I should mention is that they do not fully cater to people with allergies. They are very helpful and accommodating though and are willing to accommodate some allergies, such as dairy or egg, but unfortunately not gluten intolerance. They did also say it is okay to bring food with you for a child who has allergies. The menu isn’t that extensive, but it is a nice selection. Lunch is served between 11 am and 2 pm, but there is some food you can get outside that period. They have a good selection of drinks too including 100% juice. You can just order a drink if you would prefer not to eat.

General Information

You take your shoes off in the porch and enter in your socks or bare feet. I didn’t notice any slippers, except in the bathroom where they have toilet slippers. The restroom area is very spacious with a toilet for men, one for women, a spare and a small toilet for children. The restaurant was very warm and had quite a cosy and comfortable feel to it. The decor is rustic with lots of natural wood and there is a very relaxed atmosphere.  They had some soft lullaby type music on in the background.

You can make reservations in advance, as late as the morning you wish to go too. The tatami room seems to be the most popular as that was fully booked out today. Although not entirely necessary, I do recommend that if you are going with children to book in advance and remember to book for the special children’s meals too.

There is seating outside that you can use all year round. The main section is on a dais and has a partial cover over it. There are also some benches and garden type furniture in the courtyard. The biggest thing the restaurant has going against it is that it is not wheelchair friendly. They do not have an entrance or a toilet for people with lower mobility or in wheelchairs.  Some of the tables outside could in theory be used by a person in a wheelchair, but the paving is a little uneven and so maybe not ideal. And the main seating area on the dais does not have a ramp up to it. On Google Maps somebody gave the restaurant only one star and I can’t help wondering, if this was the reason.

I do not know if there is any smoking allowed. I didn’t see any ashtrays outside and there was no smell of smoke in the restaurant.

Doll display up in Sora restaurant Yoshimi, for Girls Day on March 3rd

The restaurant really is in the middle of nowhere, but it is on a cycle course! There is no train line near it and the only landmark nearby is Yoshimi’s swan lake or a driving range. You drive up someone’s driveway to get to the restaurant and down a narrow road that turns into another driveway. You would be forgiven to think you have gone the wrong way! I did see a bus stop about a five minute walk away from the restaurant, but not a bus (or car for that matter!) in sight.

Opening hours: 11 am to 4 pm from Wednesday to Sunday, lunch is from 11 am to 2 pm.

Phone: 0493-54-5583

Address: 〒355-0156 Saitama-ken, Hiki-gun, Yoshimi-machi, Nagayatsu 759

URL: http://ameblo.jp/naturalcafe-sora/

Access by car

(Google Map at bottom of article).

  • 15 minutes drive from Tobu Tojo Line’s Higashimatsuyama station.
  • 20 minutes drive from JR Takasaki Line’s Konosu or Kumagaya stations.
  • 20 minutes drive from the Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway.
  • 15 minutes drive from the Kawajima Interchange of the Ken-o expressway.

Free parking for about six cars right in front of the restaurant, plus an overflow car park for a further ten and three spots to the side of the restaurant for larger sized vehicles.

 

Natural Cafe Sora in rural Yoshimi is suited to all types of groups from individuals, to a group of friends, to families and maybe even a couple on a date! It is supposedly popular with cyclists and bikers. If you are a cyclist or biker or indeed you have a car and are within commutable distance, I really recommend it as a rest stop on a cycle or drive or for a nice family lunch or date with your kids 🙂

 

Other attractions in Yoshimi:

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

One of our first adventures this year, brought  us to the 100 caves of Yoshimi. The caves are tombs and there are actually 216 of them.  It was our first time to visit the caves and an attraction o…

Source: insaitama.com/100-caves-of-yoshimi-saitama/

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

When I first came to Japan it was as an exchange student with 6 of my friends from my University in Ireland. One of my friends famously said “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve see…

Source: insaitama.com/iwamuro-kannon-yoshimi/

Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground

We hadn’t visited Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground for a while, so I was surprised to discover some of the kids’ favourite equipment in this park has been removed. They have put …

Source: insaitama.com/yoshimi-athletic-ground/

Hanasaki Water Park | Kazo

Facility Map of Hanasaki Park
We have only been to Hanasaki Water Park once, due to the distance from our house, but it made quite an impression on me. It isn’t a huge park, but there is a lot to do in the relatively small area. So much so, I recommend it as one of those parks that it is worth a journey to, even just once. That is, if you are in Saitama!

POOLS AND BIKES

There are two main attractions of this park. One is the water park, which is available from mid July to end of August. It has a number of different pools, including one for kids, and a Jacuzzi . You can also rent floats, pool beds and a boat for a separate charge. The other main attraction is the bike hire which includes some pretty unusual and fun bikes. The bikes are charged by the hour for the number of people that can ride them. They have quirky bikes for one, tandems for two (of course!), even a car bike, for want of a better description. Its a bike in the shape of a car, or maybe a car that you cycle! Oh…maybe we call them pedal cars – please comment if you know the answer! Whatever you call it; its great fun. The kids loved this the most.




ATTRACTIONS GALORE!

The park has a lot to offer other than the most popular attractions. The playground has a great big combination piece of equipment. Beside it there are some spring rides and small slides suited to small children. They also have stepping stones, climbing rungs, a little house and other pieces of equipment. There is a large gasebo beside the play area with benches and a couple of tables. Nearby is a wading river that opens early June. The BBQ area can be used during that time too. There is also a scenic river on the far side of the park lined with magnificent conifer (meta sequoia) trees. There is a walkway beside with a wooden path over a type of lotus pond, with other beautiful scenery in different seasons.  There is a lake with pedal AND swan boats for hire. The pools are used as fishing ponds out of season (don’t want to think about that too much!).  The battery cars in the pool area are accessible most of the year. They have putter golf and sports grounds. There is a small flower garden maze and a wide open grass area.  There is even a restaurant, but it closes during off season.  You can find up-to-date costs for each activity on the website, which is linked below.

So you see, it is a park worth visiting at some point, even out of summer season.  If you do plan to go during the summer, please see the up-to-date charges on the website, linked below. The park also recommends that you arrive early to get a parking spot, particularly on Saturdays when the park is at its busiest.

INFORMATION

**Please note that some of the services are not available on Mondays, except during the 6 weeks of summer holidays**

Bicycle costs at Hanasaki Park
Costs to hire the bikes, Putter Golf and Table Tennis at Hanasaki Water Park in 2015

Please see the website for up-to-date costs.

Address: 1722 Mizubuka, Kazo, Saitama

Tel: 0480-65-7155

URL: http://www.parks.or.jp/kazohanasaki/about.html (Japanese only)

Access

Train: About a 15 minute walk from Tobu Isesaki Line Hanasaki Station

Car: Approximately 3 kilometers from Kazo Interchange of the ken-o expressway.
Parking: Free out of pool season, but once the pool opens it costs 820 yen for the day. Spaces for up to 1,200 cars. Between April and September the car park is open from 8am to 6.30pm. From October to March it closes at 5.30pm.




【Spo-cha】|Ageo

I’ve been talking favourites on the Facebook page this week and today’s showcase is very much up there on the best of the best list. Indeed, Kids Spo-cha is actually my children’s favourite indoor play area in the whole of Saitama. I love it, because it is part of the regular Spo-cha so even adults can play. An added bonus is that even for a family of 6 it is cheap, if you avail of their special packages.

So what is Spo-cha?


Spo-cha is a sports and play centre area within some of the ROUND1 sports entertainment centres. ROUND1 is synonymous with bowling, but in fact even their most basic centres have a variety of actitivies on offer. Then there are branches with Spocha and a select few with Kids Spocha and some with a kids corner. Kids Spocha is a whole centre of fun for young children, within the regular spocha.  Spocha is available in about 46 branches of ROUND1, of which just over half have a kids spocha and another 16 have a kids corner throughout the whole of Japan. We are very lucky to have THREE Kids Spo-cha here in Saitama. Our nearest one is in AGEO, beside Hiratsuka park. It has 3 floors of sports and entertainment with relaxation areas. Some of the sports you can enjoy at Ageo’s Spo-cha include rollerblading, tennis, billiards, putter golf, archery, shooting, bubble soccer, batting practise, darts and rodeo, to name but a few. The play area for young children has an athletic zone with climbing slides, ball pools, tricycle track and yu-land cubic balloons, a dream bomber and even a karaoke room.  There is something for all my kids who are 6, 5, 3 and 1 years old.

 

The system seems confusing at first, but once you physically get there it all makes perfect sense. I recommend the 3 hour package for your first time. And the great news for anyone with a child aged between 2 and 6 years old is that they offer the whole family the same price of 680 yen per person for 3 hours.  If no-one in the family is aged between 2 and 6 the price is about 500 yen more per person, but they do have other special offers, some included below. Kids under 2 are free. Apart from all the sports and amusements you can enjoy without limit within the 3 hours, access to the relax rooms and a reading room are included. For an added fee you can get drink bar too and there is a restaurant there if you want to purchase food. You are also welcome to bring in your own food. They have lockers for storing your belongings.

More information in English including how the system works, is available on their website (linked Round1 English PDF). Some of their current special offers (January 2016):

Access: Free shuttle bus from the East exit of JR Takasaki Line Ageo Station.

For more information please see:

ROUND1 WEBSITE【ラウンドワン】スポッチャ|スポッチャ早朝割


 

#saitamawithkids #archery #shooting #rollerblading

Answers to “Where can I play archery in Japan?” “Where can I rollerblade in Japan?”

A new kid’s cafe in Saitama: Pomme Cafe, Ario in Ageo

**This post was initially posted on my blogger in September 2015.**

I remember desperately searching for an “oyako” (parent and child) restaurant when my eldest was a baby. I was utterly disappointed to find the nearest and possibly ONLY kid’s cafe in Saitama at that time was in Omiya. Not so close to where I live. Fast forward 6 years and there has been a steady rise in the number of “kid’s cafe” or “parent and child restaurants” throughout Saitama, some have even graced rural Saitama with their presence.

During “Silver Week”, a group of public holidays in September in honour of the silver community, my kids and I stumbled upon a new kid’s cafe in Ario in Ageo. Pomme Cafe.Cafe which is part of a larger chain of “Omurice” (rice omelette) restaurants. The cafe has been there since Ario opened its doors in 2013, but it was recently renovated and reformed into an “oyako” restaurant. It reopened it’s doors last Thursday, the 17th of September. It has a lovely play area, clean facilities, friendly staff and isn’t too expensive, but I will say that the menu is limited and is not the healthiest I’ve seen.

The small play area is just inside the door and is free for patrons to use. It has a slide, some soft building blocks, puzzles and books.

Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (1)

 

The basic rules of the “Kid’s corner” are displayed; ①take off your shoes, ②No running, ③Play nicely!

Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (6)

The kid’s menu is basic with 5 dishes, but only 1 drink; Orange Juice. (They provide water for free). However, they also provide kid’s sized plates and bowls, for those that prefer to share a dish with their child.

Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (2)

Each kid’s meal comes with a free toy. They get to choose one from a selection of plastic toys, stickers and hair accessories.

Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (5)

My eldest ordered “Omu-rice” with chicken nuggets, fried shrimp a piece of lettuce and apple jelly.

Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (4)

Despite the lack of healthy food, my overall impression was good. The bill for 3 kid’s plates and a “drink bar” (all you can drink, non-alcohol ) for me was just over 2000 yen, which is reasonable. The kids really enjoyed the play area and the atmosphere was very relaxed. It got very busy after we arrived and a queue formed out the door, but we never once felt rushed or pressured to hurry and move on. They have facilities to wash your hands and lots of children’s bumper seats and high chairs, adding to the convenience for people with kids. The staff are friendly and helpful.

You can find more information in Japanese on both Ario’s website and Pomme Cafe.Cafe’s websites. (Yes, there is two “cafe”s in the official name!!)

Access

Gingko Trees at Ukishima Inari Shrine | Kawagoe

Ukishima Inari Shrine is a little shrine you pass on the walking route from Miyoshino Shrine and Kitain Temple.

 

2 Ukushima 1

The grounds of the shrine have a beautiful water feature and old stone bridge, which unfortunately have been blemished with a vulgar white fence.

Ukushimainari 1
2 Ukushima 2

I have passed it a few times in other seasons and just took a mental note of a playground on the grounds.

KIMG4901

KIMG4886

2 Ukushima

 

However, on passing it on my most recent Kawagoe walking tour, the resplendent Gingko Trees brandished their Autumn glory sparking an interest in this rarely mentioned shrine.

Ukushimainari 2

#NaBloPoMo Post #29

 

Lunch at preschool

My best friend Fiona inspired this post as she is a “foodie”!  More on her to come, but for now Sunday’s special for the month of NaBloPoMo is a “slice of life” (pardon the pun) type snippet on preschool life in Japan. Preschool in Japan is 3 years long. I have 2 children in preschool, one in the final year and one in the middle year. Our school is unusual for a preschool in that it has school lunch most days. Lunch is provided at most primary schools, but it is not usually provided at preschool.

The lunch at my kid’s preschool is provided by a company that specialises in these type of pre-made meals, not just for school, but for companies also. Before the start of a calendar month, I get a menu home with the month’s menu which includes allergen information, calories, salt content and protein values. Each day, I can view their school lunch on the lunch company’s Facebook page. At public primary school level, lunch is subsidised by the Government. Although, our preschool is private and therefore not subsidised, it doesn’t cost much more than the primary school lunches due to the economies of scale of the lunch company system.

Preschool Lunch 1

Once a year my kids preschool invites parents to enjoy the school lunch with their children. I visited just a few weeks ago to have lunch with my son, while my husband had lunch with my eldest daughter. In a situation where only one parent can attend and there are siblings involved, the older sibling joins the younger sibling to have lunch with the parent. This was my 3rd year to have school lunch at the kid’s preschool and each time it has been really delicious. The photo from that school lunch is the “featured photo” above. Hereafter, a gallery of photos of the school lunches my kids enjoyed this past week. There is no photo for November 4th as that was one of the rare days they had to bring their own school lunch.

Do your kids have school lunch? Yes: do they like it? No: do you wish they had it? Please do comment. Thank you!

Ebi shumai Maubo tofu November 2nd hamburger and pasta November 3rd corn on the cob liver sausage hijiki November 6th

Mama Smile Making Mama Smile UPDATED

Update Summer 2016.

Mama Smile was in Ario as a “pop-up” play centre.

I regret to inform you it has now closed.  🙁

 


 

NaBloPoMo_2015My Tuesday feature during the month of NaBloPoMo could win the cheesiest title award; “Choose-day”, EEK!! Showcasing a place of my choice in Saitama.  Today, it is one of my favourite play centres for the wee ones, my 3 year old and 1 year old.  This post was originally posted on blogger.

Mama Smile is the, very aptly named, latest play centre addition to Ario in Ageo. It opened June 20th of this year, 2015.  They have an hourly or daily rate for kids. Babies over 6 months old are charged, but there is plenty for them to play with, it’s worth it.  The charges change depending on package and day of the week, so please check the website for up-to-date prices. Parents are fixed at 300 yen in, BUT included in that is all you can drink tea/coffee and a selection of soft drinks. You can bring your own food in and there are little tables where you can sit and relax while the kids play. They even have a microwave for heating your food. AND they offer free charges to your phone…  Now you already know why it is called Mama Smile. 🙂

Below are photos of most of the things on offer to kids, not pictured is a play house, a large screen TV showing kids programs, the books, colouring table and some of the individual toys. Scroll right down for our 2 favourites; both not present in any other play centre I have been to.

Our favourite two. The horse moves if you move as you would on a horse. It’s pretty cool. As is the fuelling station.

The day I went my eldest was in preschool and I had my three girls, who at the time were 4.5 years old, 3 years old and 10 months old.  I opted for the hour package which at the time was 500 yen per child. It was great value. My 4.5 year old thoroughly enjoyed herself, but I know that the novelty helped keep her entertained. For her age group a couple of well spread out visits in a year are ideal.  However, for the 3 year old and now 1 year old, I envision us going quite often. There is a lot to keep their age entertained and engaged. They also have events and seasonal colouring pages that change each month.  More information is available on the official website (Japanese only) http://mamasmile.jp/

For the Ario branch (Japanese only) http://www.ario-ageo.jp/web/event/8a320ddf-6aeb-41dc-ba94-e0bcd4c84b60.html

**This was originally posted on my blogger in September**

NaBloPoMo Post #2: Manhole Monday

NaBloPoMo Post #1: NaBloPoMo

 

Special Tomica ・ Plarail Event

Benibana Walk in Okegawa have a special 2 day event this weekend that will be a hit with small children. On the ground floor in the centre court they are hosting an “all-you-can-play” (translated from Japanese 遊び放題) Tomica and Plarail play area that is FREE for kids. In conjunction with this fun event, Apita are offering 20% of all Tomica and plarail toys during the hours of the play area. The opening hours are 11am to 6pm on Saturday the 31st and 10am to 6pm on Sunday November 1st.

トミカ・プラレールの巨大ジオラマがやってくる!最新のおもちゃが遊び放題!すべて“無料”で楽しめるベニバナウォーク桶川の特別イベント♪ 【スペシャル企画】イベント期間中、アピタ桶川店のおもちゃ売り場のトミカとプラレール商品が、レジにて20%OFF ※「トミカ」「プラレール」は株式会社タカラトミーの登録商標です。※写真はイメージです。実際のジオラマとは異なります。

Source: イベント情報 | ベニバナウォーク桶川

Halloween costume contest with prizes, in Kitamoto

The Kitamoto Higashi Chuo Stores and Commerce and industry associations bring you an Halloween costume contest with a top prize worth winning; 2 tickets to a theme park in Uruyasu (Disney I would guess). The runner up prize is equally tantalising; a 10,000 yen voucher for JTB. Contest entry is free, but limited to the 1st one hundred entries.

Apart from the contest there is parade and trick or treating. All takes place just outside the east side of Kitamoto station along the main thoroughfare. It starts at 10am and will finish around 3pm. It sounds like a fun day out for a family.

The phone number for queries about the contest, Japanese only, is 048-593-7576.  More information is on a tourist page for Kitamoto, in Japanese: http://www.city.kitamoto.saitama.jp/kanko/oshirase/1433238745160.html

商店会

Source: 100円商店街(ハロウィン仮装コンテスト&ハロウィンアート作品展示)/北本市

The family toilet!

The Irish in me can’t believe I am blogging about toilets. In Ireland, all things toilet are considered crude and crass. I think I may be in Japan too long, where neither the loo nor poo is considered taboo! A typical Japanese public family toilet really is worth showcasing, though, especially in this series of posts about the family friendly utilities (if you’ll pardon the pun) readily available in Japan.

Family bathroom

The above type of family toilet, with a child size loo and an automated regular toilet, complete with heated seat and inbuilt bidet options (I kid you not), is quite common in this area of Japan.  The baby keep my daughter is sitting in is a standard feature of most public toilets built in the last 10 years or so. I live in hope that these will  catch on someday in Europe! They are such a simple idea and so practical. The seat folds up when it’s not in use and it can be used from the time a baby can support their own head.

The below toilet is possibly the best family toilet I have ever encountered. Apart from the automated toilet, infant toilet, baby keep, hand basin and changing bed pictured, there is also an urinal, an ostomate sink, an automated sink, a flip down platform for use in changing clothes (so you don’t have to stand on the floor) , automatic lighting and an emergency button.

Kitamoto Childrens Park Family Toilet So you see, Japanese family toilets really are worth blogging about!

For those in Japan, have you seen any family toilet that could top this? For those outside of Japan, are there baby keeps in your country? Or has anyone ever seen a baby keep anywhere other than Japan?