Category Archives: Hiking

Saitama’s longest roller slide at Miharashi no Oka Park | OGAWA

Nestled in the lush woods near the top of the 291 meter high Sengenyama, is the entrance to Saitama’s longest roller slide. The roller slide in Miharashi no Oka Park in the washi paper making town of Ogawa is 203 meters long.  And if you can manage to slow yourself down long enough to enjoy it, gives a birds eye view of Ogawa Machi and surrounding towns below.

Sengenyama Miharashi No Oka Park was quite far down my list of places I wanted to visit in Saitama. We only ended up visiting the park, because our planned trip on the Steam Locomotive Paleo Express to the family friendly camping site in Nagatoro didn’t work out. When we found ourselves passing through Ogawa we decided to try it out rather than the more enticingly advertised Ogawa Craft Center, as it was a fine day that warranted outdoor play.  When I had previously read about Sengenyama I hadn’t quite grasped its lure. It is pitched as a long roller slide on top of a hill, but that description does it little justice and falls short of identifying the two main appeals of this remote attraction.

For one, it is for all intents and purposes a mountain rather than a hill.  It might not be quite high enough to officially make the classification of a mountain, but it certainly isn’t a hill by the popular definition. To put it into perspective we had to drive a long winding country road with a steep decline on one side to get to the park. The incline at the start of the road was steep enough to concern us that we might not make it to the top. It was reminiscent of a previous adventure to the Gojyou Falls in Hidaka where our car conked out in defiance of the gradient. Secondly, the roller slide is thrilling as much for the speed you gain as to the height above ground you are. The slide is built high enough to pass above the road entrance to the park which at one point is about five meters off the ground.

The slide isn’t the only thing in the park. There are a couple of other things to offer a few hours of fun to a family in the area or passing by on the way to Nagatoro and / or Chichibu as we were. There is a small athletic playground hidden in the woods near the entrance to the slide. Near the bottom of the slide where you get off there is a smaller play area suited to toddlers. The look out tower perched on the clear patch on the hill affords a fantastic unspoiled view of the towns below. Even if you don’t climb the four staircases to the top deck,  you can enjoy a clear view from the foot of the hill. See also facilities below ↓.

Information

Cost

The slide costs money to ride, but it is worth it in my opinion, especially as parking is free. One ride costs 100 yen or you can buy a book of twelve tickets for 1,000 yen. I had read that the cost was 200 yen per adult and 100 yen for children, but on the day we were there they just took a 100 yen ticket when us adults ride. I don’t know if it was a special promotion or a discount for buying a book of tickets, but please note it might cost you 200 yen for an adult riding. My four year old and two year old were not charged for riding with us. Children under six are not allowed ride on their own or with another older child. An adult must accompany them. Children over six can ride on their own. You can buy a specially designed wooden sleigh for 100 yen to use when you ride the slide. We bought two between our family of six and took turns using it. When we were buying the tickets and the cardboard seat the kids were given a chance to rotate a lottery drum. They didn’t get one of the coloured balls that represent a prize, but every child gets a small treat (snack) as a sort of booby prize.

Opening Hours

It is opened Tuesday to Sundays (closed Mondays) from 9.45 am to 4.30 pm from March to May and September to November, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm between June and August, and from 10 am to 3.30 pm from December to February. It closes from the 29th December to the 3rd of January annually.

Contact

Phone: 0493-73-1000

Website: http://www.town.ogawa.saitama.jp/0000000385.html

Facilities

There is a little shop selling ice-cream on the grounds with some outdoor seating and you can also set up a picnic blanket on the green area around the look out tower. There are toilets and vending machines on site.

Trivia

Sengenyama Miharashi no Oka Park’s roller slide is listed at the 7th longest in the Kanto region. The two longest in the whole of Japan are both in the neighbouring prefecture of Ibaraki.

Access

The area also has some hiking routes and if you are coming by public transport the hike up and down is quite nice and manageable for even young children. It takes about 30 minutes. You can get a bus to and from the trail from Ogawa Machi station on the Tobu Tojo Line and the JR East Hachiko Line.  

 

Map:

The Homeland of Totoro @ Sayama Hills | TOKOROZAWA

Kurosuke's House from the official Totoro no Furusato Fund website
Kurosuke’s House from the official Totoro no Furusato (The Homeland of Totoro) Foundation website

“Sayama Hills” is the most well known name for the area around Lake Sayama, a man-made reserviour on the border of Tokyo and Saitama. However, Ghibli fans may well know it better as the Homeland of Totoro. The area has a number of natural habitats and cultural assets that are under protection to preserve not only the nature of the area, but also real life scenes that were the inspiration for the animated movie “Tonari no Totoro” or My Neighbour Totoro.

There is quite a bit of information on the Totoro Foundations Official English webpage, so this post is to share an adaption of a MAP (below) route we took on our family hike in the area. I adapted it to suit those coming by train, because I would advise, where possible, to avoid coming by car. The starting point on the map (shown below) is Seibu KyuJo Mae Station on the RedArrow Ikebukuro Line, Seibu-Sayama Line and Seibu-Yamaguchi Line. We actually did go by car and had to wait half an hour to get into the small car park and were charged for the privilege. Despite the Totoro woods both literally and figuratively “being on the map” these days, the area is not able to cater to large throngs of tourists. And there is little in the way of markers to help you on your course. I can’t help wonder if it is a ploy in attempt to preserve the tranquility and wilderness of the area. And in turn deter anyone, but the hardcore Totoro fans and avid hikers.


At the time of our hike and exploration my four children were aged between 1 and 7 years old. We had the 1 year old in an Out n About buggy, my preferred choice for any off road trekking and hiking. My 7 year old was well able for the journey. My (then) 5 year old was fine for the most part, but she did find the return a difficult challenge.  We needed to break up the journey a couple of times for my 4 year old, she even spent sometime in the buggy, particularly on the return leg.

I made two lethal mistakes on our hike. 1. I hadn’t printed off the map, and 2. my phone wasn’t fully charged. Both issues combined with the lack of phone coverage in the area resulted in us going right off course and adding at least another half hour to our hike. It is also the reason that I have very few of my own photos to share in this article. Due to the afore mentioned lack of signposts, plus the absence of signs of life, we had to wait a long time before we encountered anyone who could set us back on track. It happened to be another family doing a Totoro hike, they at least had the good sense to bring a map. They actually gave us their map as they were on their way back to the station via the lake, which is easier to navigate. Their map had been handed down by another family and another before that. You could tell; you could barely make out the ink on the sheet and it was missing a lot of landmarks. But it did the job and got us back on course.

Including lunch and breaks we spent about six hours hiking the area at a leisurely pace. We had our lunch at a picnic spot near the Totoro Tree and toilets, right on the side of the lake. The lake is a lot more impressive than I had expected.  I imagine it is particularly beautiful in Spring and during the vibrant colours of Autumn. Although we visited in Autumn it was long before the leaves were changing colour so we missed that particular pleasure. The picnic area had a shelter and table and chairs.  It was in full use by locals and fellow tourists. There is a green area beside it where the kids could kick around a ball. If you walk on the footpath one back from the one beside the lake, parallel to the part of the lakeside course marked on the map, there is a huge amount of insects in the long grass beside the path. My kids caught hundreds of grasshoppers and insects… and then let them all go again.

Totoro Forest #3 from the official Totoro Fund website

It took us about three hours to walk from the station area to Kurosuke’s house including break and play times. It took us longer coming back as we intentionally took our time and mucked around a bit to make it easier on the kids. During the hike we explored three of the Totoro Woods, numbers three, one and eleven and passed the Totoro shaped tree. There are temples and shrines along the route as well as lots of natural beauty. You can see some of the places we chose to stop on the Google MyMap shown above. There were another of couple places, such as a wading river near Mikajima Inari shrine, that we explored, but they don’t show up on Google Maps and it is very hard to pin point them.

Totoro Forest #1 from the official Totoro Fund website

Our goal and turn around point was the Kurosoke House. Much to our disappointment, Kurosuke’s house and the Chakouba, a workshop from around the end of the Meiji period, were closed. They have the area sealed off with a rope and you could in theory still enter the courtyard, but we didn’t want to disrespect the Japanese way of things. At least we have an excuse to go back and do a similar hike again. You can’t see much from the perimeter of the grounds, except for the Totoro bus stop, so if you would like to avoid ending up in the same position as we did I advise you visit on one of the three days the grounds are open:

Kurosuke’s House Details

Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays ONLY, from 10 am to 3 pm. When a public holiday falls on one of those days of the weeks it is NOT open to the public. My research had shown that inside the house there are a number of minature models of scenes from the Tonari no Totoro movie. They also sell original Tonari no Totoro goods such as badges, T-shirts and postcards.

Phone: 04-2947-6047

Address: 〒359-1164 Saitama-ken, Tokorozawa-shi, Mikajima, 3 Chome 1169-1

Cost: officially it is free to enter, but they do welcome donations as this project is not funded by the Government. It was initially made possible by the financial contributions of five key contributers, one of whom was Ghibli co-founder and My Neighbour Totoro creator Hayao Miyazaki himself. (The foundation also welcome volunteers assistance for maintaining the project. )

This is just one of many hiking options for the vast Totoro Foundation area. You can find some on the official Totoro Foundation site and a Google search will pull up many others. The photo below shows a good summation of the routes and attractions in the area. There was a lot we didn’t see on the route we took, but with four young children it was the best option for us. We will go back to check out some of the other woods / forests, there are approximately forty of them in total. We are also determined to get a good look around the Kurosuke House area and maybe even try our hand at some of the Totoro craft workshops they offer from time to time.

From the official Totoro Foundation Website: http://www.totoro.or.jp/

Mt Takao with children (includes New Years data) | HACHIOJI 【TOKYO】

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.

Image from SONY JAPAN

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.

Despite the crowds and the potential danger, I think Mt Takao is an ideal place to bring young children, even babies, for a mountain visit. It is also a great place to introduce young children to hiking. There is a lot to do in the area, especially close to the cable car and train stations. At the bottom, near Kiyotaki Cable Car Station there is the relatively new 599 Museum, nearby and very close to Keio Takao Line Takaosanguchi station there is Keio Takao Hot Springs and a Trick Art Museum. Up the top, near the Takaosan cable car station there is a monkey park.

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:

  1.  to see the first sunrise of the year, which is generally around 6.48 am
  2.  to see Mt Fuji for the first time in the year (weather permitting of course) and
  3. 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.


埼玉県の圏央道の近くに住んでいれば、高尾山は結構近いです。いつでも綺麗ですが、客様が多いときあります。お正月、花見、夏と紅葉の時期です。

 

去年、紅葉のときに行ってきました。先に知りませんでしたけど、天気方法によって、高尾山の紅葉の一番綺麗の日の発表あったそうです。ですから、ものすごく混んでいました。圏央道の高尾山インターチェンジから混みました。しかし、行って良かったです。

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

iwamuro-kannon-12

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.

iwamuro-kannon-9

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.

iwamuro-kannon-5

INFORMATION

Cost: FREE

Parking: Shared with the 100 caves of Yoshimi. FREE

Access:

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.

By Car
5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.

 


If you are interested in learning more about Kannon, there is a very informative and extensive knowledge based shared on:
http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/kannon.shtml

Easy Hike to Gojyou Waterfall | HIDAKA

gojyou-waterfall-hidaka-5

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.

gojyou-waterfall-hidaka-2

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.

 

Contact: 042-989-2111

Map:

“Moomin Valley”, Akebono Children’s Forest | HANNO

Nicknamed “Moomin House” the quirky building pictured is one of three buildings in this free, unique and imaginative theme park for children in Hanno City; Akebono Children’s Forest Park. Once you leave your shoes at the door (which we didn’t on our first visit, cringe) you’re free to roam the house and discover the nooks and crannies.There are 3 floors and a basement to explore. The upper floors have little beds and items laid out to make it look like someone lives there.  There are doors, windows, cubby holes, secret spaces, stair cases and lots more to captivate the littlest of minds. The park is geared to children, but there are few safety measures in place, so I recommend you stay close to your kids as they climb in the main house.  You might also want to watch your own head; I bumped mine a few times!

In the Facility Management building there is a large play area, pictured in the gallery (at the bottom), with handmade toys the kids can play with. The park is open until 5, but the playroom closes at 4. Occasionally, they have events on in this room.  The management building houses the toilets, including one with a baby keep and changing area. You are requested to bring used nappies home with you.

The 3rd building is an information station and reading area with books and a seats (←picture on the left). There is a selection of books including some Moomin stories. They have some great encyclopedia type books about insects and beetles too. Behind this building is one of the nature trails and the route to the waterfall, as well as the tree house pictured below.

Moomin Valley Overview

The park is quite hard to find and I’ve never heard anyone talk about it, so I’m calling it Saitama‘s best kept secret-toddler-friendly-location. However, in a couple of years it will not be so obscure as they are currently building a Moomin Amusement Park METSA, said to be complete by Spring 2018 and maybe even before. It is the first Moomin amusement park to be built outside Finland.

The current park is free in and suitable for rainy days. I noticed an unsightly air conditioning unit out the back of Moomin’s house, so I assuming they use it in the summer.  There is a small shop at the edge of the car park, but they don’t sell much in the way of food.  They do have ice-cream!  There are vending machines halfway up the slope that leads to the park.  Unless you have an all terrain buggy I suggest you leave your stroller in the car, especially if you plan to do any of the hikes or visit the waterfall. It is a lovely area to hike in though, but some of the hiking trails will be lost with the development of METSA.

For anime lovers, this park is used as the back drop in the second season, episode 20, of the anime Yama no susume, “Climb of Encouragement“. You can see the anime images compared with the real life scenery in this blog article here:

http://insaitama.com/visit-real-life-scenery-from-yama-no-susume-climb-of-encouragement-anime-in-hanno-saitama/

You can rent season 2 on Amazon video. This is an affiliate link**.

 

ACCESS

BY CAR

Approximately 20 minutes from both the Sayama-Hidaka and Iruma Interchanges of the Chuo expressway.  The park is situated behind Hanno’s city public gym and hockey courts.  There is a Cainz beside it which is probably the best landmark.  They are on prefectural route 195; 9 kilometres from route 16 if you come of the Chuo Expressway at the Iruma Interchange.  Prefectural road 195 also meets up with route 407 which is the road I took from Sakado.  The road is quite busy and only one lane for a lot of the journey. The car park is in the grounds of Hanno’s Taiikukan.

BY TRAIN

A 20 minute walk from Motokaji 元加治 Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line.

CONTACT

Phone;042-972-7711

Email; akebono@city.hanno.saitama.jp

To extend your playtime in Hanno, just across the road you can enjoy the playground in Asu Sports Park.

**As of June 9th 2017 Insaitama.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.jp