Category Archives: Japan life

Setsubun: catching beans for good luck at Kitain Temple | KAWAGOE

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. People celebrate annually with traditional ceremonies in both homes and temples. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or bean throwing. A lot of families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple to do it with a crowd. Today, we did both.

When you carry out setsubun at home, the aim is to chase the ONI (ogres) away. It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but it is just a ritual to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year.  The oni represent evil and bad luck. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at an ogre, which is often the head of the household dressed up in traditional garb!  Most preschools and children community centers also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.  I’ve previously written about our experiences of chasing the demon away while celebrating Setsubun at home.

When celebrated at a temple,  temple staff and honoured guests throw beans into the crowds from a dais.  It is not unusual for the temples to also throw things other than beans. In some places they throw fortunes or amulets or money or a combination of these. Tokyo has some temples that are famous for sumo wrestlers and / or celebrities throwing money to the excited crowds. Most temples conduct rituals before the bean throwing ceremony.  Some temples also have a performance by Oni, Japanese ogres or demons. The oni in Japan usually have one or two horns and wear animal print shorts. They are most often depicted as being red, but the most famous setsubun festival in Kazo, Saitama has 3 oni; one red, one blue and one black. There are many temples that conduct setsubun and mamemaki ceremonies throughout Saitama. We went to one of the biggest; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. This year was the kids first to participate in a ceremony of this type. They were dubious at first, but they quickly joined in on the commotion and were thrilled with their haul. They recounted the affair to their grandparents with great animation and excitement.

The video shows the dais. You can hear the emcee chanting. The last thing he says is "Fuku ha uchi" which invites luck and signifies the start of the bean throwing. I turned off the camera so I would have a chance to catch some of the goodies. :-)

One of the reasons I didn’t bring them to such a ceremony up until now was because I was worried that the crowds would be intimidating, even dangerous. However, I found today that people were quite careful of children for the most part, plus they made periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  However, just before the ceremony ended the throwers accumulated on our end of the dais with huge boxes of goods (not beans) to throw, so there was a sudden surge in the crowd. That was a little frightening for my 2 year old, but she was okay in my arms. It was actually a wonderful feeling when there were dozens of little packets falling from the sky and enveloping us in a feeling of richness! However, the scramble to pick up the fallen packets was both surprising and amusing. The kind Ojiichan (older man) beside us suddenly became an oni himself as he whipped a packet from under my hand. Another stood on a packet so that my six year old couldn’t pick it up! The generous Obaachan (older woman) beside us who had passed us packets of beans was slipping unseen numbers of packets into her pockets and handbag. Despite those incidents we got a good hoard and the kindness of the Ojiichan and Obaachan returned as they complimented my kids on their stash and their devout participation. Much to my surprise I felt totally exhilarated after the whole experience.

    

Apart from the various ceremonies that were conducted there were other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain today. They had some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants, but what interested me most were the various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. As we entered Kitain from the car park we stopped to look at the Daruma at the first stall. The very friendly, personable and informative owner told us many things about the goods he was selling. While we were there a man bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Eur0). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  Sanbonjime is the custom of clapping your hands rhythmically 3 times for 3 claps and one final clap to signify fulfillment. They only do this type of Tejime (ceremonial rhythmic clapping) when they sell their biggest sized Daruma. Passersby stopped to observe and exclaim enthusiastically. It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we may have received some good karma from it!

I have always enjoyed Setsubun as much for what it represents as the fun and vivaciousness of the celebration.  Now that the kids are old enough to enjoy the bean throwing ceremonies at temples, it just adds to the whole experience.  It completes the day for them too, as the celebration in the house is over quite quickly. The preparation of the masks and the aftermath of thrown beans take exponentially longer than the bean throwing ceremony itself! The kids love making the masks, feasting on the ehomaki, the traditional sushi rolls or makizushi and throwing the beans and eating them. (They say that if you eat the same number of beans as your age you will have good health for the year. ) However, I think after today’s experience,  what they are most anticipating now is the bean throwing ceremony at Kitain Temple Kawagoe. 🙂

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details and other seasonal information:
http://insaitama.com/autumn-leaves-at-edo-castle-remains-kitain-temple/


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:

 

Saving Tip Saitama | Moteco FREE magazine with coupons, features, food…

MOTECO (8)

There are a number of free magazines in Saitama and most have a coupon or two, but MOTECO is one of the best with lots of great coupons as well as information. As they say themselves; “The book is full of coupon n jobs”.  There are literally dozens of pages of coupons divided by categories such as “gourmet”, “car life”, “beauty” and more. The magazine is in Japanese only, but with many pictures and URLs it may still be useful to non-Japanese speakers.

MOTECO (5)

The magazine is printed by region, so the coupons are relevant to that particular region. My local MOTECO is for the Kawagoe – Tokorozawa area, which includes Sakado and Higashi-matsuyama. The coupons are usually limited to the month of the issue, but there is an issue every month and often the coupons are repeated.  Most of the coupons are limited to the area for restaurants, beauticians, hairdressers, car services and other services and attractions in that general area. Even chain stores coupons are specific to the area, such as the current Subway coupons that stipulate only for use in Kawagoe and Wakaba branches.  Each month, they have a monthly half price feature for a specific restaurant or service.

As well as great coupons, they also have monthly features with information on events, news, cinema, leisure, weddings, restaurants and food.  The latter usually includes some seasonal recipes. This month’s leisure feature is a selection of places to enjoy “Ohanami”, cherry blossom viewing, in Saitama.

Feature on Cherry Blossoms in Moteco Free Magazine
Feature on Cherry Blossoms in Moteco Free Magazine

 

You can pick up your FREE copy of MOTECO in most Tsutaya and Welcia branches as well as some train stations and malls.  Disclaimer: I have no affiliation to this company in anyway!

 

 

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

Mount Takao – TAKAO 599 MUSEUM & TAKAO HOTSPRING

This week’s Tokyo Thursday introduces the very popular mountain area of Takao. The mountain draws thousands each weekend, due to the scenery, the hiking trails, the monkeys, the accessibility and its proximity to Tokyo. I recommend it as a top spot to witness some of the resplendent autumn scenery in the Tokyo area. It is also a good place to enjoy hiking in the Tokyo area.  However, whenever possible, I suggest you avoid visiting on the weekends as it gets incredibly busy.

If you’ve been to Mt Takao recently, you’ll know that the train station had a make-over earlier in the year, and that there are some new attractions at 599 metres. The 2 new facilities have been kept fairly low key, but they are a wonderful addition to the area. In August, the 599 museum opened. It is a beautiful modern, minimalist building, fresh with lots of natural light and airy spaces.  Apart from the wonderful exhibitions it has lots of other things to offer, including a very comfortable space in the 599 cafe. For me as a parent I am very grateful for the play space they created . The museum is only 4 minutes from Takaosanguchi station.They have a very detailed, very enjoyable, informative website completely in English, take a tour for yourself to see all it has to offer:

http://www.takao599museum.jp/?lang=en


The other addition to the area of Mt Takao has only just been opened this past week.  The Takaosanguchi Onsen (Hotsprings) are now open for business and are running a campaign this week to mark the opening. The first 500 visitors (before November 8th) will receive a special commemorative present. They also have a special menu for this opening week. The onsen is open daily from 8am to 11pm. The off season price is 1000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children between 4 and 12 years old. During “kouyou” autumn leaves, Golden Week and other holidays the price is 1,200 yen for adults and 600 yen for children. This onsen is also right beside Takaosanguchi station.

Just two more reasons to visit Mount Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo, this Autumn. Of course, not that Mt Takao needs anymore reasons, given the spectacular scenery that draws millions every year. For more and full detailed information in English on Mt Takao please see the Mt Takao official website:

http://www.takaotozan.co.jp/

Featured image from SONY JAPAN

http://www.sony.jp/otona/4k/k201411.html

Access – information from the official Takao 599 Museum


Source: About the museum | TAKAO 599 MUSEUM

Some more images from the Takao 599 Museum official site

 

 

Source: About the museum | TAKAO 599 MUSEUM

 


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 in one new slide, but I am hoping that they are going to add even more new equipment.  This is what happened in Heisei No Mori park about 6 years ago; they removed an old wooden playground and replaced it with a colourful combination playground.

REMOVED EQUIPMENT

REMAINING EQUIPMENT

NEW EQUIPMENT

New slide in the cornered off playground

SEASONAL FACILITIES

In the summer the paddling pool and wading river in Yoshimi Athletic Grounds are quite nice, although I don’t think it is as well maintained as other parks.

Wading River (out of season) in Yoshimi Sports Park
Wading River (out of season) in Yoshimi Athletic Ground
Paddling pool (out of season) in Yoshimi Sports Park
Paddling pool (out of season) in Yoshimi Athletic Ground

For older children and adults there are some sports facilities, including the running track. For us the main incentive to visit Yoshimi has always been more about the wildlife than the playground equipment, so all was not lost today. We call Yoshimi Athletic Ground the “frog park”, because of the amount of frogs we have caught (and released) there.  We also regularly find praying mantis, grasshoppers, beetles… even a snake once. While 6yo searched for insects, 4yo and 3yo enjoyed picking up acorns and pine cones. This park is great for acorn collecting in particular. The pine cones were a bonus.

WILDLIFE!

Lots of wildlife in Yoshimi Sports Park
Lots of wildlife in Yoshimi Athletic Ground
Picking up acorns and pine cones in Yoshimi park
Picking up acorns and pine cones in Yoshimi Athletic Ground

While Yoshimi Athletic Ground might not be the best park around for small kids, it’s not too bad either. Another draw for us is that it is close to other points of interest, so we can make a day out of our visit to Yoshimi. Less than 5 minutes in the car is Ichigo No Sato, a  roadside station, that has a farmer’s market, stalls and booths, some of which are eateries, an Udon restaurant, a bakery and a lovely little playground. Between both parks is a strawberry picking area. And not far off you can enjoy the unusual 100 Caves of Yoshimi sightseeing spot, which is across the road from Iwamuro Kannon.

CONTACT

RESOURCES

 

More attractions in Yoshimi

Playground at Ichigo no Sato | Yoshimi

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

Strawberry Picking in Yoshimi, Saitama

 

Tokorozawa Festival

The Tokorozawa festival will be held on the 10th and 11th, with the main parade, music and street performances happening on the latter; Sunday the 11th.

On the 10th, most of the activities will be conducted in Motomachi community wide space 元町コミュニティ広場 from 1 to 7pm. On the 11th, the festivites will be conducted around Tokorozawa station area, from 10am to 8pm. On that day you can not drive up the main thoroughfare until after 9pm at night. Among the many things you can enjoy on the 11th, are Taiko drums and yosakoi traditional dance performances, and a parade to traditional music.  There is a bazaar with booths and stalls.

The festival flyer can be viewed (japanese only) here: http://www.tokorozawa-cci.or.jp/matsuri/pamphlet/pamphlet15.pdf

The official website is http://www.tokorozawa-cci.or.jp/matsuri/index.html

#saitamawithkids, #thisweekendinsaitama

Shizuoka, Atami. Sun beach

Written in 2012.

The lasting impression I got of Atami was that, while it is slowly being rejuvenated, it’s  prime was in a past era.  I wasn’t surprised on reading up on it to learn it has been popular as a hot spring resort since the 8th century.  I was surprised, though, to read that it is ranked as one of Japan’s Three Great Hot Springs. We may have been unlucky, but the hot springs we visited were old and decadent.

Atami sun beach Credit Kotaro san. From Wikimedia Commons

It has a huge amount of potential and maybe one day it will thrive again.  For now, it has an interesting mix of old and new, but the beach (and it’s stop on a bullet train route) ensures that it will always be a popular tourist area.

Atami Sun Beach Credit Tomi Makitalo
Atami Sun Beach Credit Tomi Makitalo

The beach in question is called Sun Beach.  It is certainly not the prettiest beach or longest beach in Shizuoka, but it is a nice beach and is ideal for toddlers.  In my experience, it never gets particularly crowded, but I have not been there in the height of summer.  The promenade seems quite new and it was very well maintained.  There was plenty of cleaning staff in the area.  You have to pay to park the car in the sea front car parks and while they weren’t cheap they were worth it for the convenience of being close to the beach with two toddlers and a day’s worth of beach essentials to transport.  Atami beach has plenty of accessible toilets and areas to wash feet.  There are also some showers on the promenade. There are a few restaurants, shops and amusements nearby. One of the highlights for us was the cable car to the top of the cliff, for the view and NOT for the building that is there. Randomly, it is home to an adult museum, which just added to the shadows of despair lurking in this old town.

View from the cable car station Atami Sun Beach, Shizuoka

On balance it was well worth the trip for the beach, the ocean, the views and the holiday feel. The onsens weren’t what they were cracked up to be and the place feels so dilapidated. The cost of the hotel was twice what we would normally pay and the room was substandard. We won’t be rushing back, but we are glad we visited.

View from the cable car, Atami, Shizuoka
View from our hotel, Atami, Shizuoka

Ageo City with toddlers, outdoor locations

Written 2013



Ageo City is one of our favourite cities in Saitama. It has plenty of things to do for children and adults alike. There is so much to do in fact I have split this blog post into two; one on outdoor locations and one on indoor locations. I find Ageo is particularly baby and toddler-friendly. Here is a list of our favourite places to go outdoors in Ageo City with our preschooler, toddler and baby. They are all mapped on a Google MyMap at the bottom of the article.

Maruyama Park

URL: http://www.ageo-kousya.or.jp/park/park1/

Free entry and free parking.

3326 Hirakata, Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, Japan. TEL: 048-781-0163. From JR Ageo Station; Tobu bus for terminal “Maruyama Park”; West Exit No. 6 bus City bus “Gurutto-kun” for hirakata-zyunkan; West Exit. Alight at “Maruyama Koen Minamiguchi” bus stop or “Shizen gakusyu-kan iriguchi” bus stop.
You can find more information in English on my blog post Maruyama Park, Ageo City.  Or view more photos on my blog post #Hanami Spot with Toddlers, Maruyama Park, Ageo City.  You can also view what the autumn leaves look like: Autumn scenery in Saitama, Japan

Enomoto Farm

URL: http://www.enoboku.com/

Free entry and free parking. You can pay to milk cows or for a tour.

736-1 Azeyoshi, Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, Japan. TEL: 048-726-1306. From JR Kita-Ageo Station; Tobu bus for Nishi Ageo Shako, takes about 25 minutes. You can also use the city bus “Guruttokun”. By car 15 minutes from the Iwatsuki Interchange on the Tohoku expressway.

You can find more information in English on my blog post  Hanami Spot with Toddlers, Enomoto Farm, Ageo.

Kamihira Park

URL: http://www.city.ageo.lg.jp/page/46-kamihira-kouen.html

Free entry and free parking.

16 Sugaya, Ageo City, Saitama Prefecture, Japan. TEL: 048-776-8986.  From the East exit of the JR Ageo Station you can get a city bus to the park.

For photos and more information in English, see my blog post Where old meet young, Kamihira Park, Ageo City

Hiratsuka Park

URL: https://www.city.ageo.lg.jp/page/46-hiratuka.html

Free entry and free parking.

1212 Hiratsuka, Ageo City, Saitama. Get the city bus, Gurutto, from the east side of Ageo Station. Alight at Hiratsuka Park.

Saitama Water Park

URL: http://www.parks.or.jp/koen_main/saitama-suijo.html

Free entry to the park, but you have to pay to use the facilities. Parking also costs money, 800 yen in peak season.

2 Chome Hinode, Ageo, Saitama Prefecture 362-0032. Tel: 048-773-6711. Tobu bus from JR Ageo Station headed for Omiya and alight at Ageo Undo Park. It’s about a 10 minute walk. You can use the city bus which stops outside the park, but its a 7 minute walk up to the entrance.

On this blog in English: Summer pools at Saitama Water Park | AGEO

Ageo Exercise Park

URL: http://www.parks.or.jp/koen_main/ageo-undo.html

Free playground and free parking. There are car rides at the playground that cost a 100 yen to use. You have to pay to use the sports facilities.

 


Most of these play areas are easily accessible by car from neighbouring areas of Ageo such as Kitamoto City, Okegawa City, Kawajima Town, Ina Town, the West and Minuma Wards of Saitama and Hasuda City.