I am trying a new section on the blog to showcase beautiful areas of Saitama, that I just haven’t had and won’t have the time to visit in the near future. One of the places at the top of my “must visit at the end of March” list is Ouchizawa Hanamono No Sato, nicknamed by locals as “An earthly paradise”. It is famous within Saitama for the beautiful pink buds of the flower peaches, visible from end of March to early April.
The Saitama Prefectural Department of Industy and labor, Tourism Division, shared information last year. It includes information about other flora and fauna in the area too:
Location: Ouchizawa, Higashi Chichibu, Chichibu District
Expected viewing season: late March ~ early April
Number of blooms: About 5000
Access by public transport: Eagle Bus from either Ogawamachi Station or Yorii Station
Access by car: About 30 minutes from the Ranzan Ogawa Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway. Parking is free and there are about 30 spots.
The first time I went to Mt Takao with my 4 kids, they were all under 7 at the time. The youngest had just turned one. I did the trip sans husband, but thankfully with my best friend, Japanese food writer Fiona Uyema, and her 2 children. I had chosen to take Fiona there, who was visiting from Ireland, after reading a very good write up about the Autumn Leaves in the area. I was very glad we made the trip and was pleasantly surprised at how easy the trip was to manage, even with small children.
When we visited it was bang smack in the middle of prime Autumn Leaf season. I didn’t know it at the time, but the day we chose to go had been reported the previous evening as to be the best day to view the Autumn Leaves in their prime. I think half of Tokyo got in their cars and made the journey to witness the leaves in their prime. The area was extremely busy, we even had to queue to take the exit of the highway. However, it was worth it.
There are a number of different trails you can do, so you can plan according to your children’s ages. 599 Museum supplies good information in English on the trails. Despite being a mountain area, the top of Mt Takao is actually quite easy to navigate with a stroller / buggy. However, if you want to hike the mountain trail, a buggy / stroller is not advisable. Also, there are places at the top of the mountain that you will need to park your stroller if you want to explore further. The easiest way (and most fun for the kids) to get up the mountain is the cable car. Even if it is very crowded, they don’t ask you to fold up your buggy, or at least they didn’t ask me – they told me to leave it open. It maybe that they took pity on me trying to flock my herd, fold a buggy and hold a one year old simultaneously! For older children you can also use the chair lifts.
There are two things that I would point out as potential difficulties with small children. One is that as you are on top of a mountain with a steep decline on one side and limited barriers at the side of the pavement, it can be quite unnerving if the kids walk close to the edge. Obviously, I told them not to, but… well they’re kids, even if they do listen, they forget and they can’t quite sense danger like a Mother can. Two; you have to queue for everything if you go at one of the prime visiting times; tickets, trains, toilets, food… everything. On the way back down if you want to get the last cable car, which goes around 5.30 pm, you need to start queuing up to an hour in advance. Also, another thing to take note off is that it is a couple of degrees colder at 599 meters. When we visited in November we needed winter jackets as the sun started to go down.
There are also lots of eateries, power spots and view points near this station. Near the Takaosan cable car station at the top of the mountain is Kasumi, a popular spot with hikers for a quick bite to eat. They have 2 popular traditional type Japanese treats; Mifuku dango and Tenguyaki. Mifuku dango is a type of charcoaled dango, cooked in a circle around an open charcoal grill (pictured). One dango costs 310 yen. The Tenguyaki is a type of waffle with sweetened black soybean paste inside. A tengu is a legendary long nose goblin that is an intricate part of Japanese religion. One tenguyaki costs 140 yen. They sell ice-cream here too, including a Fly Honeysuckle flavoured ice-cream (pictured).
Takao-san is popular all year round, but it has boom periods which are mainly New Year’s, Cherry Blossom season, peak of summer (to escape the heat) and Autumn leaves season. Another thing that draws people to Mt Takao is that sometimes you can see Diamond Fuji from the Momiji viewing deck of Mt Takao, an opportunity is coming up this month in fact. Diamond Fuji is estimated to be viewable around 4.15 pm on December 17th and possibly a day or two either side of that.
ZOOM IN: NEW YEAR’S DAY
Regarding New Years, it is hard to believe, but people hike up Mt Takao (or take the cable car) on New Year’s eve or very early New Year’s morning in the dark and bitter cold. Accordingly, the cable car runs through the night. In fact the cable car runs from 8 am on December 31st until 6.30 pm on January 1st to accommodate the throes of visitors on one of the popular New Year’s pilgrimages in the Greater Tokyo area.
There are three main incentives to do this:
to see the first sunrise of the year, which is generally around 6.48 am
to see Mt Fuji for the first time in the year (weather permitting of course) and
to participate in Yakuo-in Temple‘s New Year welcoming rituals including “the festival to welcome the light”.
This temple also follows the traditional custom of gonging the Temples Gong 108 times to dispel evil. The Keio Takao San hot spring is open over New Year’s, but from January 1st to 3rd they charge an extra 200 yen, so 1,200 yen per person.
Mt Takao is very accessible by car from Saitama and Tokyo, if you are on the Ken-O expressway. From Tokyo it is quite convenient by train, but unfortunately from Saitama the train is a bit more tricky. By both car and train it takes less than an hour to get to Mt Takao from Tokyo. From Western Saitama it takes about an hour by car or train. The station you use to access Mt Takao is Takaosanguchi on the Keio Takao Line. On weekends and holidays two trains on the Toei Shinjuku Line also continue on to Takaosanguchi station. The exit on the Ken-O expressway is Takaosan. The Mt Takao cable car website has full information on how to access Mt Takao.
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 seen them all” and there is a truth in that. The magnificence of a temple doesn’t always lie in its appearance, but rather in the history and meaning behind a particular temple. Many temples do look very like others and / or some are very plain and, frankly, quite disappointing to the naked eye, but on the flip side there are many that are both aesthetically pleasing and have a fascinating back story. Then there are those that are different; that stand out for either their background or their architecture or both. Iwamuro Kannon is, in my experience, one of those temples.
Located on the side of a cliff right by the side of the road, the temple is intricately positioned between two rock fronts. The ground floor of the temple is actually part of the cliff and the 88 stone statues, which are one appeal of the temple, are housed in caves within the rock. The stone statues are images of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is dedicated to this “Goddess of Mercy”. The building of the temple is a beautiful wooden structure positioned on stilts. There is no door on the temple and you are free to climb the steep stairs to the first floor where you can look out over the Ichino River on the North End. In Spring the Cherry blossoms along that river are stunning and draw quite a large amount of tourists. On the South end you see the steep trail that leads to the site of Matsuyama Castle. The only remnant of the castle is the moat, but you can view a diorama of the castle in one of the museums in the nearby 100 Caves of Yoshimi. You can exit the temple onto the trail at the back of the temple. On your right you will see a ladder leading to another Kannon. On the left a staircase has been dug into the incline, with a chain rope for support, so that you can climb up to and pass under the naturally formed passage that is shaped like a heart.
Once upon a time Iwamuro kannon enjoyed many visitors as the 3rd stop (of 33), and only one in Yoshimi, on a pilgrimage of Kannon statues in the Hiki district. The Kannon are said to have 33 forms they use when helping sentient beings, thus the Hiki West Country pilgrimmage has 33 stops. Nowadays, however, the temple is virtually abandoned, making it pleasingly tranquil. On the south side you are enveloped by nature, but the temple is quite literally on the side of the road on the North end. That road is mainly used to get to the 100 caves and as such isn’t used much in off season periods. The lack of visitors would imply that in recent years it does not enjoy much appreciation, fame or reverence, but it impressed me greatly. It is well worth a stop, in my personal opinion, if you are in the area.
Parking: Shared with the 100 caves of Yoshimi. FREE
By Public Transport
Just over an hour from Tokyo.
Bus from Tōbu Tōjō Line Higashimatsuyama station (from Ikebukuro) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口
Or Bus from JR Takasaki Line Konosu station (from Ueno) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口 from Konosu Sta.
5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.
Where can my kids experience playing in the snow near Tokyo?
The Seibu Amusement Park runs a snow park every winter from early December until the start of March. This season the planned dates are December 3rd until March 5th. Kids can enjoy sliding down the snow on snow tubes, sledges and / or giant inflated slides. They also have buckets and spades for digging tunnels or striders for use on the snow.
Hours and Cost
The schedule varies a lot, but generally speaking it is open Fridays to Mondays and is generally closed Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hours are 10 am to 4 pm. Please check the official website to make sure the snow park is open the day you hope to go: http://www.seibuen-yuuenchi.jp/guide/snow/
Information for this year has not yet been released on their website, but I was able to obtain prices in advance for the pass. The price for entry to both the amusement park and the snow park with sledge rental included is 2100 yen for high school children and adults and 1200 yen for children aged 3 to 12 and adults over 60 years of age. The price to just enter the snow kingdom has not been released yet, but last year’s prices were 1,100 yen for adults, 500 yen for children and 2 years old and under are free.
Access information below the photos.
5 minute walk from Seibu Tamako Line Seibu Yuenchi Station and Seibu Line Seibuen Station.
12 kilometres from Tokorozawa Interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway. Parking for 1200 cars (1300 yen per day).
Sat nav/ GPS: phone number 042-922-1371
Address: 2964 Yamaguchi, Tokorozawa City, Saitama 359-1145
The area of Hidaka is so rich in nature and a beautiful place to enjoy a scenic drive and even some hiking with children. Many years ago, my husband and I used to visit the area often on our way to Chichibu to escape the summer heat. We often stopped at a shrine with a preserved house that I never realised, until our visit last week, is the famous Koma shrine. To be honest, it is not a shrine I rank highly, but they do have great events and if you are in the area it might be worth a quick stop off. I do, however, recommend either walking or driving (on the way to/) from there to the truly magnificent Shoden-in Temple, which is much more aesthetic, especially in Autumn.
On our most recent trip to Hidaka the stops to the afore mentioned religious institutions were last on our route. We had actually started out in neighbouring Hanno with a short hike followed by a splash in the river. Next stop was the Gojyou Waterfalls. Coming from Hanno as you cross over the city border into Hidaka, just at that Seibu Ikebukuro Line Musashi Yokote station is the almost miss-able turn for the Gojyou Waterfall. If you are coming by train, you alight at this station and it is approximately a 30 minute walk sans kids, with them (depending on their age) it could possibly take double due to the steady incline of the 2 kilometre walk. By car, the tricky part is parking. The nearest car park is quite a distance away. We actually drove quite close to the waterfall, but I definitely would not recommend that at all. We made a mistake as we did not realise just how narrow and dangerous the road was, and we actually had to reverse back down the mountain as the car was not able to manage the steep incline as you near the waterfall. The incline at that part is at least 20%, but I would guess nearer 30% and our car literally conked out in defiance. It was terrifying backing down an old narrow mountain road. We ended up parking in a verge on the side of the road much further down the hill. I am not even sure if it was an actual car spot, but it looked like it had been used for the same purpose before.
The sign for the waterfall is posted to a tree, just as the road steepens severely. You come off the easy to walk and/or push an off-road buggy, to a beautiful hiking trail. I recommend you park the stroller at the verge on the other side of the road. You cross a make-shift bridge made from a fallen tree with wood slabs screwed on. The waterfall is not far at all, so young kids can manage it, but they do need to be careful. There is a lot of moss on the ground and on the tree roots and stones. There is a sign to watch out for boar too and we saw a mamushi (poisonous snake) further down the road. There are occasionally bears in the area too. It is not a huge waterfall and the trail back to the road is ridiculously short, but the beauty of the area was worth it for us and it was an easy trail for my kids who are 2 (this month), 4, 5 and 7 years old. We passed many families on our walk as well as a group of boy scouts.
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.
In the Area:
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