“Great indoor location for a half day of climbing fun for the family”
Located on the border of Kawajima Town on route 254, Monolith, Kawagoe’s newest bouldering gym, opened about 18 months ago. It has enjoyed a regular trade since the very beginning. One of the appeals of this gym for me is that the staff are very friendly and helpful. I meet the same people there over and over again and there is a sense of community among the users.
Indeed, one of the reasons I think people frequently go back to Monolith, is because the staff are so approachable and chatty. They are willing and able to give guidance to new climbers without additional charge. They provide tips and encouragement in tackling a climbing route. The climbing routes are colour co-ordinated. You can start with the simplest route and work your way up to more and more difficult ones. You use grips of the same colour for both your hands and feet to climb the wall. You can of course climb freely too, using any of the grips to monkey your way up the wall, but for a first timer it is actually easier to use the coloured system to climb safely. The easiest route can usually be conquered after one or two visits. As the routes get harder so does the time it takes to successfully clear them. Only the very advanced climbers can tackle the more awkwardly shaped walls with curves and over hangs. I am in awe of the long term climbers who can use their balance and strength to climb upside down with only the smallest grips to keep them in place.
The staff are also great for keeping an eye on and helping young climbers in their kids section. Children over 4 years old are able to climb. The kids wall is cornered off behind a low wall with flapping doors and can be seen from the adult climbing walls. So you can climb in the adult’s section while your kids are climbing in the kids section. If your kids are capable they can also use the adult walls. However, adults cannot use the kid’s walls. The walls for children aren’t too high and only sloping very slightly on one wall. They have safety mats down making it a safe place for young children to try their hand at bouldering. They offer children’s climbing courses and club, at an extra charge, on Saturdays.
The whole gym still looks brand spanking new. It is reminiscent of a warehouse from both the outside and in. All the walls are in the one space on the first floor. They don’t go particularly high; if you want high the bouldering gym near Kawagoe station is where you want to go. However, what they lack in height they make up for in complexity and diversity. They change the courses frequently to keep things interesting for regular customers. There is a changing room on the 2nd floor of the premises. There is a rest spot on the first floor with vending machines. There is also a rest area outside with ashtrays. The toilets are pristine and they have a foot bath for washing your feet.
The first time you visit you need to sign up to become a member. It is a one off payment of 2,800 yen; 1800 yen for becoming a member and 1000 yen for the membership card. After that the cost per visit depends on the length you want to climb and the day of the week. Generally speaking it is 1,600 yen for about 3 hours or 2,000 yen for a full day. Children using the kids area are charged 1000 yen for the whole day, or you can pay extra for them to use the regular climbing walls. You need to rent climbing shoes and chalk too. It costs 300 yen per visit. If you plan to use the gym regularly a month pass will probably work out cheaper for you. If you bouldering for a full day you can come and go as you please.
It was certainly a first for me to discover a free play center in a Real Estate Agency. Sure, lots of real estate agencies (plus car sales showrooms, dentists, phone shops…you name it), have play areas in Japan. But this is a full on PLAY CENTER, not just a play area. Please scroll down the bottom for information about the Real Estate Agency Matsubori.**
After reading about Aruzo Land online, I went to check it out with my youngest today. I chose today when my eldest was at primary school, as one of the stipulations of use is that children of school going age (over six years old) can’t use the play area. I wasn’t sure what to expect, the photos look great but sometimes photos can be misleading. Thankfully, they weren’t, nor were the raving reviews the play center gets online. I figured if something is too good to be true, it probably is, but I was wrong. I had fully expected to have to give my contact details and receive Aruzo Net Real Estate information in the post or via email, in exchange for free access to a play center. But thankfully there is none of that. It is what it is; a play center that is entirely free to use with no strings attached.
The space is on the 2nd floor of the Matsubori Retail Agency. I went in the wrong door by mistake and the staff were very friendly and kind. One of them explained to me that it was the next door and up the stairs; she even escorted me all the way and told us to “have a nice time”. The man in the office beside the center was as equally nice and told us to “take your time and enjoy” and waved us in. You don’t have to write your name like you do in a jidokan (community play center), you just walk on in freely. You do need to take your shoes off beside the mats that mark the start of the play area.
The space is really large, open and airy. As you come in the front door there is a large air trampoline. Beside it on matted flooring there are three zorbs and large shapes for playing and / or building. To the left of this area is a spacious play room with a large play kitchen, a play shop, a kids sitting area, a beaded maze, a wooden car, a wooden train play table, a drawing table, books / magazines collection, small trampolines, a rocking horse, a variety of building toys and a wall of cogs. It is a very comfortable space and lots of room for kids to run around. The ceiling is even painted like the sky. There is a “high-lo” chair you can borrow for babies. It is in the hallway outside the play space where there is also a bench and vending machine. If you want to eat or drink this is where you do it as you can do neither in the play center. There are toilets and a nappy changing unit off this hallway.
I have mentioned that children over six can’t enter the play center and that you can’t eat in the center, but there are also two other rules or stipulations you must follow in using this center. One is that on busy days you only stay an hour so that other families can also have an opportunity to use this space. The other is that if you accidentally come to visit on a day that the center is closed and have paid to park in the coin parking that they will not reimburse your money. Both very fair rules really in my humble opinion.
I was torn between giving this play center four or five stars, but in fairness given that it is FREE and provided with no strings attached the company really do deserve the five stars. I know that it is genius marketing, but still – to provide an area with a such a decent FREE play center with no expectations from its users says a lot of good about this company. And the staff definitely reinforce this positive image. Also there is free wifi. So thank you Aruzo Net! However, why I contemplated taking a star away is twofold. One, I do think children up until 8 years old would really enjoy this play center for a short play, and it is a pity that the cut off is 6 years old. Of course, I am thinking of my own family situation, but I genuinely think that children of 7 and 8 years old could play here happily for an hour and without being a danger to other children. Two, if you come by car you have to use coin parking that costs 100 yen for 40 minutes, so essentially it is not entirely free. However, I personally do not think this is a lot of money and I feel it is totally worth it. For me an hour and 20 minutes play for 3 children and myself works out at a very cheap 200 yen total.
The center is available Thursdays to Tuesdays, from 10 am to 4 pm. It is closed every Wednesday. They close another couple of days a month too. You will have to check online or ring in advance to find out when. For this month the dates of closure are Thursday the 16th of March and Saturday the 25th of March (2017).
The Higashimatsuyama branch of Aruzo is located close to Tobu Tojo Line Higashimatsuyama Station. It is about an eight minute walk.
Edited to add: on a subsequent visit I noticed there is an elevator in the front lobby on the left hand side. I also noticed that some people had parked their buggies in the lobby and others parked their strollers in the entrance area of the play center.
On the Tobu Tojo Line they have branches in Kawagoe, Kawagoe City, Kasumigaseki, Tsurugashima, Wakaba, Sakado, Kita-sakado, Takasaka, Higashimatsuyama, Shinrin Koen, Tsukinowa, Musashi Ranzan and Ogawamachi. On the Tobu Ogose Line they have offices in Ipponmatsu, Nishi-oya, Kawakado, Bushu Nagase, Higashi-moro, Bushu-karasawa and Ogose. On the Takasaki line they have branches in Omiya, Miyahara, Ageo, Kita-Ageo, Okegawa, Kitamoto, Konosu, Kita-konosu, Fukiage, Gyoda and Kumagaya. I can’t vouch for the condition of the apartments they rent or the value for money or anything to do with their Retail Agency, BUT I can say from the experience I have had with their staff in Higashi matsuyama and the cleanliness of the branch there, that it is a company I would consider should I ever find myself in need of a renting a property.
Tsubaki no Kura is a Kura Dai-kukan (Traditional Japanese storehouse space) that has been transformed into a shop that sells Japanese condiments, souvenirs, textiles, sake, Power stones, shrine goods and has a FOOT SPA CAFE and displays art. It is one of my personal favourite spots in Kawagoe and always a stop off when I am bringing people on guided tours of the area. I also like to stop into the cafe, detailed below the shop guide, even when I am on my own to bathe my feet as I enjoy a quiet drink.
This storehouse has one of the tallest heights of the Japanese warehouses in Kawagoe at nine meters high. You feel the impact as you enter the store where the front section is the original storehouse height. To add to the majesty there is some beautiful traditional Japanese art from Mr. Eiki Kimura on display in this front lobby area and you can see the red torii on the renovated second floor behind. Tsubaki no Kura is home to three unique stores and the reception for the outdoor foot spa cafe and zen garden.
Kura the Japanese for the traditional type Japanese warehouses. The tourist area of Kawagoe is famous for the amount of ancient warehouses they have. This particular warehouse is named after camellia “Tsubaki“. It is a really unique, colourful and fun space to explore. The art, the indoor torii as well as a shinto tree add to the ambiance and colour. There is such a mix of products and over hundred different types of souvenirs that you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring all the shop has to offer.
Tsubaki No Kura Shops
①Kaya sells a number of different type of modern Japanese souvenirs made from traditional Japanese textiles. The large textile banners you see in the shop with classic depictions of Japanese art by modern methods, are made by Kaya. They sell wash cloths, clothes, tapestry, purses, Japanese loincloths, rain covers, socks, even smart phone covers. And that is to name but a few of their original goods.
②Tsubaki Ya Shouten sells regional Japanese food stuff such as sauces and snacks. Both Kaya and Tsubaki Ya Shouten are on the first floor.
③Iwakura is on the second floor. The shop is decorated with torii (red shrine gates) and there is a tree in the centre of a room presented like the sacred trees at shrines with white shinto paper adorning it. They also have a mini shrine and a place to tie fortunes, just like at a shrine. This floor sells power and precious stones as well as goods made from the same; mainly bracelets but some necklaces too. They have lacquered goods such as chopsticks and mirrors, small bags made in traditional Japanese fashion, and glass ware too. There is a little theater down the back of the area with seats to watch educational videos. There is stairs from this seating area which leads to the back of the first floor where the reception for Tsubakiya is.
This is a great spot to take a break and “refresh”, as the Japanese say, while touring around Kawagoe. Enjoy a foot spa with your tea, coffee, soft drink or beer outside in a tranquil zen garden with beautiful Japanese parasols. You can taste a speciality of Kawagoe, sweet potato, in the form of a light treat, or an original ginger ale made from kochi ginger. The beer is also the famous local Coedo beer. They have cocktails too. The small cafe, seating only 8 people, is very popular so it is very common to queue to enjoy the experience and the view.
Average Price: from 400 yen for a beverage, from 680 yen for alcohol, from 350 yen for a snack
The main URL (above) has some English, but information in store and the websites for the individual shops within the warehouse are all in Japanese only.
Hours: 10 am to 7 pm on weekdays and until 8 pm on weekends
Tsubaki No Kura Access
This shop is on the main tourist strip and is serviced by tourist and public buses. There is no parking for the shop, but there are plenty of coin parking lots in Kawagoe.
Getting to Kawagoe from Tokyo / 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.
About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.
About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.
From Kawagoe Station
If you are walking it takes about 20 minutes from Kawagoe Station and about 10 minutes from Hon-Kawagoe station. You can also take a bus:
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, broughtÂ us to the 100 caves of Yoshimi. The caves are tombs and there are actually 216 of them.Â It was our first time to visitÂ the caves and an attraction oâ¦
The Saitama Children’s Zoo in Takasaka, Higashimatsuyama, is fantastic value for money and one of the best days out for children in Saitama prefecture. The zoo is spread over a large area and there is so much to do, see and experience, that you would definitely need to allocate a full day for a trip to this zoo. Apart from the animals, they have a large athletic playground beside a smaller playground, a Beatrix Potter museum with a small playground, a dinosaur corner, a small amusement area with battery cars and rides, a splash pool in the summer and there is an indoor play area with a climbing area outside (please see Children’s Castle below). Throughout the zoo they have photo props, interactive educational corners with quizzes and challenges for the kids, as well as plenty of rest areas, toilets and places that sell food.
In the petting area the children have an opportunity to get up close and personal with farm and domestic animals. Three times a day at 10.30am, 1pm and 3pm they bring out guinea pigs and rabbits for the children to hold and pet. Sometimes they have baby chicks or snakes, too. When the hour long session is over they have an animal parade where the guinea pigs walk down a long bridge back to their home. Outside of petting hour there is still an opportunity to get to close to farm animals as you can walk freely among pigs, goats and ducks. They provide brushes so you can brush down the animals and there are pooper-scoopers so that the kids can sweep up the animal’s poop. This is all included in the entrance price to the zoo.
Next to the petting area is the cows. At 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm it is possible to try milking the cows under the supervision of the zoo staff. It is included in the price.
Passed the cows there is the penguin area which is relatively new. For 300 yen you can feed the penguins, but they limit the number to 30 people a day. You can buy a ticket from 30 minutes before the feeding times which are 10.15am and 1.30pm.
For 200 yen children over the age of 4 can ride a pony in the paddock beside the stables, which is close to the main entrance of the zoo. This experience is possible between 10.30 and 11.30 am and again between 1 and 3pm. For adults the price is 300 yen.
On weekends it is possible to feed the goats between 2.30 and 3.15pm, it costs 100 yen for a cup of feed.
On weekends it is possible to feed the ponies between 3.15 and 3.45pm, it costs 100 yen for a cup of feed.
On the first Sunday of the month they have a class about animals from 2.30pm.
Every month on the 2nd Sunday you can try your hand at butter making for just 200 yen. You need to book in advance.
Every month on the 3rd Sunday they have an “Enrichment day”. Each time they discuss a different animal in detail.
Every Saturday they have a craft class.
On weekends they have tours of the giraffe’s paddock.
On the 2nd Saturday of each month they have story time; please see the “Children’s Castle” below.
Zoo train which costs 200 yen to ride once or 300 yen to use throughout the day.
One thing I really love about this zoo is that even though we go quite a lot, there is always something different to try. Throughout the year the classes mentioned above as well as the special events change quite frequently. It is best to check the website for up-to-date information and a full list of what’s on offer. Here are some of the more regular seasonal attractions:
Capybara onsen – Winter
2016 the Capybara onsen will start from November 19th until the end of March 2017. The first 12 people there at 14.30 will be able to get up close and personal and dip your feet in a foot onsen. On December 18th they will be giving gifts to the animals.
Australian animal Fair – Spring
Sheep shearing – Spring
Cherry blossoms – Spring
Splash pool – Summer
Night zoo – Summer
Autumn leaves – Autumn
New Year cards photo opportunity – Autumn / Winter
2016 Capybara Onsen, Art Festival and Gift giving day information:
For an extra 100 yen the kids can enjoy an indoor play area with a library room and talking tree. On the 1st floor they have a special tree that tells stories and plays music. Behind that is a ball pool with boats on top of the balls. Beside that is a cinema room with educational videos. There is a climbing tunnel from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor and also a ramp that is wide enough for a wheelchair and strollers. The kids can take a slide back from from the mezzanine to the first floor. On the 2nd floor there is a padded play area with wooden toys and building toys. There is a snake slide and frog cave in the padded area too. Beside it is the library room. Here is where they have the story time once a month.
Hours: 9.30am to 5pm except winter when it closes at 4.30pm. Costs: 510 yen for adults, 210 yen for children between 6 and 15. Free for children under 6. CLOSED ON MONDAYS all year round (except national holidays) and on Tuesdays too during the month of January.
Parking: For 800 cars, costs 600 yen per day. At weekends during peak season, there is an overflow car park. There are also some unofficial parking areas beside the overflow car park that open on busy days and cost 500 yen a day.
Today, we visited a greenhouse type strawberry picking farm in Sakado. This farm has been on my radar since I saw a small write-up about it in a Walker magazine. I was glad we went to check it out. In previous years, we’ve picked our strawberries and ate them and headed home or onto another nearby location. Today, we spent the whole afternoon at the Shimura Strawberry Farm and Flower Fields. Half an hour was spent picking and eating the delicious strawberries, the rest was spent enjoying the free extra services of the fruit picking farm (gallery below). They have a number of different greenhouses. The reception is in “Dai Ichi”, where you take off your shoes and put on slippers. We picked in Dai Ni today, which is connected to the main greenhouse for ease of movement.
Within “Dai 2” there are 3 different types of strawberries you can choose from. All were sweet and delicious. They use bees in the greenhouse for pollination, but they are not dangerous. The beds are raised making them easier to pick and less likely to have mold. My 1 year old was easily able to navigate the aisles and even pick her own strawberries. Like most greenhouses it was very warm; one good reason to pick in winter. Of all the strawberry picking greenhouse farms I have been to, I like this one the most. It was excellent value for money given that my kids enjoyed playing indoors and outdoors before and after picking. I could sip complimentary tea and green tea, available to all customers, while the kids played. Its location is good for anyone who drives as it is so close to the highway. It is on the Ken-o highway, Sakado exit, very close to the Tsurgashima Interchange for the Kanetsu expressway making it accessible not only to people in Saitama, but other areas of Kanto too. There isn’t much in the immediate area though (nearby attractions below), but they do have a fish farm next door and flower fields, the latter of which is free to anyone. We enjoyed a walk up the embankment. You can sometimes see swans and Tsuru, Japanese crane, in the surrounding rice paddies too; we were particularly lucky to see a whole flock of swans!
SEASON: January to
OPENING HOURS: from 10am, generally Tuesday to Sunday
For lists of places to strawberry pick in Japan, please scroll to the bottom of the article. For more information on the strawberry picking system in Japan and some farms in Kanto, please see: http://kajapan.org/places/strawberry-picking-in-kanto/
Over the years, I have written quite a lot of articles about Strawberry Picking in Japan. It is not that we pick strawberries a lot, it is just that when I first researched strawberry picking in Saitama there was no information in English. I subsequently realised that there was limited information for the whole of the Kanto region and I wanted to fill the void. Thus, I had found a niche and it has served me well… or rather, I have served it well!
Search terms: This article will be of interest to people looking for a strawberry picking area with a play area. Other potential search terms will be something different in saitama, rainy day outing in saitama, things to do on a rainy day, keeping warm in winter, winter activities or winter outings with kids, ideas of things to do as a family, family outing from Tokyo, commutable from Tokyo, educational fun with kids, easy outings for children, things to do with children, fruit picking with children, things to do with children in Japan, strawberry picking Japan.
Shinrin park (also known as Musashi Kyuryo National Goverment Park) is vast, 304 hectares to be precise. To put that in perspective; 65 times the size of Tokyo Dome! There is an entrance fee for children over the age of 6 and parking is charged, but it is well worth the money as there are lots of things to do and see for people of all ages. They also host special events most weekends and during holidays, which often cost extra money.
Due to the size of the park there are different exits, each with their own parking lot. The adventure playground, giant ball play area and the musashi kids dome are close to each other and accessed from the West entrance. They are all walkable from the entrance and from each other. In the summer, there is a splash pool which is near the adventure playground. The West entrance adminisitration building at that entrance has a shop, seating area, nursing room, nappy changing area, microwave and toilets including a wheelchair accessible toilet. The “ponpoko mountain”, Japan’s largest trampoline, is at least a 20 minute walk away. That, the botanical gardens, restaurant and seasonal illumination are accessible from the Central Gate. The popular tree climbing event is close to this entrance too. The plum blossom and cherry blossom groves are closest to the South Entrance. The Dog Run is closest to the North Entrance.
The adventure playground has 23 different pieces of equipment, including the very popular pirates ship.
The Musashi Kids Dome is a colorful play area for kids of all ages. There are quirky slides, climbing chambers, a ball pool, spring rides and more.
Giant Ball play area
Giant balls are put out on a fine day. They are beside the Musashi Kids dome and close to the athletic / adventure playground. They are free to use.
Japan’s largest outdoor mountain trampoline is quite a walk from any entrance, but the central gate is probably the closest. Kids must be over 3 years old to play on the main trampoline, but they have a smaller one beside it that even smaller kids can play on.
The walk between entrances is quite long, so if you prefer to use an easier mode of transport, the park has some on offer. You can’t bring your own bikes into the park, but you can rent a bike. It is 410 yen to rent an adult bike or mamachari for 3 hours, 200 yen for children. They have designated cycling courses. The easiest is the park bus that goes between the gates of the park and stops at popular spots en route. It costs 210 yen for an adult per ride or you can buy a day pass for 400 yen. Small buggies / strollers are available to borrow for free. They have segway tours too, but you have to be over 16 to use them and must use them in a tour group.
During the summer there is a 2500m2 paddling and wading pool as well as mist and fountains. The water depth ranges from 5 to 30cm. You can enjoy as early as April and they run to mid October. They close the waterplay area some Tuesdays and Wednesdays for cleaning. They have lockers, but no changing rooms. Nappies (diapers) are allowed, but the pool type, water nappies, are not. There is a tuck shop beside the wading pools, that sells ice cream and kaki-kori.
This park is beautiful all year round, but especially during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
There are many activities and attractions on offer all year round as well as seasonal attractions and events. During January the park closes the 3rd and 4th Monday. Opening hours are 9.30-17.30. The phone number is 0493-57-2111. Please visit their website, for further information in English about access and entrance and parking fees; http://www.shinrinkoen.jp/english/
Check the plum blossom and cherry blossom schedule and find some events in Shinrin Park in this schedule of events for Saitama.
In this article: A full day of fun in one shopping center
Games and free play inAeon
Hours of fun at Kidzoona: one of Saitama’s best indoor play centers
Dog Therapy at P’s First!
UFO catchers and slot machines at Molly Fantasy Video Arcade
Cheap and cheerful in-store Ministop lunch
You could easily spend a full day hanging out on the 3rd floor of Aeon in the Nisshin area of Omiya – ask me how I know! We arrived at 10 am to go to the popular kids fun centre Kidzooona, but the queue to get in was longer than I’ve ever seen it, so we decided to play in Aeon first.
Right beside where you queue for Kidzooona there is a freeplay area for smaller children as well as game machines for older children. They have lots of sample toys out in this area as well as a large wooden train set (not pictured).
The games are popular with lower grades of elementary school aged children. They have a good range including games from some of the more popular TV cartoon’s games such as Yokai Watch, Pokemon and Dragonball.
The kids played for the full 3 of hours, after which we had our lunch on the Aeon side of Ministop. The Ministop has a seating area both in the Kidzooonaplay centre as well as in Aeon, beside the free play area. We sat on the Aeon side as our time was up in Kidzoona. It is advised to buy your lunch early from Ministop as they don’t have a huge quantity of their lunches and sometimes sell out. They have pre-made sandwiches, bento and noodles as well as a small selection of yoghurts, salads and snacks. You can also buy hot food; basically fast food such as chips (french fries).
After lunch the kids played in the Molly Fantasy video arcade corner to the left of Kidzoona (with Kidzoona at your back) and beside the toilets for Kidzoona.
Finally, we went to P’s Firstfor some free animal therapy! This is the only pet shop I know of in Saitama that allows you hold the dogs, even if you are not there to buy one. The cinema was planned, but the kids were too tired after hours of fun. It was home to bed for us!
The visit referred to in this article was on a Sunday, which is one of there busiest days. I have often brought the kids to Aeon in Omiya over holiday periods too, mainly spring break and during summer holidays. During those periods the play center Kidzoona is busier than a regular weekday, but it is not, in my experience, as busy as weekends. It is a nice day out for young children over the school holidays.
On this floor that has Kidzoona, Aeon play area, Molly fantasy video arcade and P’s First there are children’s toilets, regular toilets and a baby room. The other floors have almost everything you would need for personal and home shopping, such as food, clothes, shoes, pet goods, baby goods, home-ware and toiletries. The cinema is on the fourth floor.
There is a wheelchair accessible entrance and parking. Pets are welcome in part of the store. Some floors operate under different hours, but the main opening hours are 9 am to 10 pm. The grocery area opens earlier and runs later and Kidzoona opens later and finishes earlier. Parking is free and plentiful. The parking levels are different to the shop levels. If you park at level four in the car park it brings you into the 3rd floor of the shop, right beside P’s First.
Address: 2 Chome-574-1 Kushihikicho, Kita Ward, Saitama, Saitama Prefecture 331-0825
Saitama has a large number of superb free children’s (community/ play) centres, called jidokan or jido centre “jidose” (児童館・児童センター）. Many mothers agree that Ageo’s kodomo-no-shiro, “children’s castle”, is among the best. In terms of size, equipment and diversity, I would personally rank it as number 1. My children go regularly and they have never tired of it. There is plenty of play equipment, toys and games as well as various rooms including a library, a gym hall and a workshop. Each floor has a rest area with vending machines and toilets. There is a dedicated baby room on the ground floor with free guidance on scheduled days. Also on the ground floor there is a play area restricted to babies and toddlers two and under. There is a large space outside to play as well as a playground in the adjacent park.
Ageo’s Kodomo no Shiro, Children’s Castle in Photos
As you come in from reception the ground floor boasts lots of climbing equipment and slides.
Off to the right of this is a rest area where there are vending machines and bathrooms, including a family bathroom. There is also a space to play games that you can borrow from reception.
The baby room with consultancy is located beside the game and rest area. The baby and toddler play room is at the back of the ground floor on the left handside.
Also, on the ground floor is a gym hall (not pictured) and the exit to the open space and sandpit. From the car park you can see an outdoor playground, but you need to go out of the community centre to access it.
One of the rooms upstairs changes toys periodically. For example, one week they might have “mamagoto” (playing house) toys, another they might have baskets of blocks and foam jigsaw.
There are other rooms including a library and a workshop upstairs that are not pictured.
ADDRESS: Japan, 〒362-0047 埼玉県上尾市今泉272
272 Imaizumi, Ageo City, Saitama 362-0047
PHONE NUMBER: 048-783-0888
ACCESS: Located near the Ario in Ageo. Free parking. By public transport; you can get a bus from JR Takasaki line West exit for 西上尾第二団地 (Nishi Ageo dai ni danchi) and alight at the “Kodomo no shiro mae” bus stop.
Multi-purpose park with Campsite, BBQ, Zoo, Fishing, Sport facilities, Athletic Playground, Multi-use Playground, Beautiful Flora and Fauna.
Chikozan Park in Sayama is close to the controversial proposed site of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Golf Tournament. It is a beautiful vast park with lots of attractions for all types and ages.
There are two playgrounds in the park. Both are set in a wooded area which affords plenty of shade and protection from the elements. They are beside each other too, so kids can run between both and enjoy a couple of hours of fun. The athletic playground was undergoing work for our last 3 visits since the start of the year, but according to the website it is back open for public use. Update February 2017: most of the old equipment of the athletic playground has been removed and they are currently putting in new equipment. Two of the new pieces and one of the old are currently open for use.
The general playground is colourful with some unique equipment. About a 15 minute walk from these playgrounds is the zoo (more information on the zoo: Chikozan Park Zoo). Past the zoo is a marsh with a boardwalk running through it leading to the BBQ area and camping grounds. The camping grounds also has 2 wooden cottages, which are very reasonable to rent. There is other accommodation in Chikozan in the Welfare Center. The welfare center takes care of the BBQ facilities and this is where you can order BBQ food sets. You can barbecue from March.
Sporting facilities include a large sports hall with table tennis, training room, running course, martial arts dojo and many more. There are tennis courts near the children’s zoo. There is a club house in this area. Beside the tennis courts there is a family restaurant. It is a Japanese style restaurant with a raised tatami section which is useful with small kids. The kid’s meal is reasonably priced and quite nice too (pictured below).
The park and its parking are free, but you do need to pay into the zoo (which is very reasonable) and to use some of the facilities such as the tennis courts and camping grounds. You can book online, however their website is in Japanese only. I particularly recommend Autumn and Cherry Blossom season as a prime time to visit Chikozan park. There is one garden in the park with a number of Cherry Blossoms around a lake. The zoo also has some lovely cherry blossoms pictured below.
Parts of the park can be accessed at all times, but the car parks and various facilities have varying opening and closing times. Generally speaking the park is most accessible between 9 am and 4.30 pm. There are toilets in various locations in the park.
For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the area of Sayama may well be a pre-games training camp host for RUGBY. The training camp grounds are at Secom Rugby Field very near this park.
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