Category Archives: CAFES & RESTAURANTS

Family friendly and/or oyako 親子 cafes and restaurants or eateries with a play area

Su Lab, the Kendama Cafe and Shop | KAWAGOE

Kendama for sale in SU LAB Kawagoe

I was ecstatic in the fleeting belief that I had made a really special new “find” today. My bubble was soon burst, when a quick search revealed that it wasn’t as much a new find rather than the good fortune to stumble upon a well established and celebrated speciality café. But while I may not be “breaking news” it still is one to get excited about, if you haven’t already heard about it.  I am not sure whether to call it a theme cafe or a sports cafe or maybe even a shop with a cafe in it. Whatever you want to call it, Sulab, the Kendama Cafe in Kawagoe, certainly is a fun and unique space that will appeal to people of all ages, especially those into the kendama street sport.

3 out of 4 my kids in front of the wall of kendama you can borrow to play with.

For those that are into the (somewhat) traditional Japanese toy, this cafe is probably already on their radar. Sulab not only sell Kendama, they make them too. And the brand name is famous worldwide.  According to some articles I read online, people come from all over the world to visit the small shop and cafe in Kawagoe. The pockmarks on the floor are testament to the throngs of people who’ve paved the shop’s floor.  The wall of kendama for sale had noticeable empty spaces where beautiful handmade kendama had a transient place, before swiftly finding a new home.

Wall of kendama you can borrow to play with

Apart from the wall with kendama for sale, there is a wall of kendama you can borrow to play with in the cafe. They also have a large box of kendama for playing, outside on a picnic table.In order to play with the kendama you just have to buy a drink. They have kendama for left handed as well as right handed people. For a group of adults visiting everyone must buy a drink, but for a family you can just buy a couple of drinks if you aren’t staying too long. In fact, they say for the first visit you don’t have to buy anything at all. It was quite busy when we visited so I didn’t feel comfortable not ordering anything so I got a coffee for myself and a soft drink for the kids to share. Please note that there aren’t many places to sit, most of the space is used for playing. There are only three two-seater tables and three seats at a counter. Apart from that there are shelves to hold drinks for those who are standing and playing. Outside there are two seats and one picnic table with benches. Considering you get to play indefinitely the drinks are quite reasonable; 500 yen for the first non-alcholic drink for an adult, 650 yen for alcohol and 350 yen for a child’s drink. Any subsequent drink you buy is cheaper. They have quite a good choice of drinks considering the type of place it is. Their food is very limited, basically just toast or a toasted sandwich. 

The customers in the cafe were such a mixed bag. There were other families like us, as well as a father and teenage son pair, two adult friends, plus a number of older grade primary school boys and girls, and a couple of kids who seemed to be middle school age. I wasn’t sure how my younger kids would like it, but they really enjoyed it too. The two year old sat with me while I had my coffee, but she did play with a Doraemon motif kendama for quite sometime. The four year old, six year old and seven year old, played the whole time we were there. The six year old was quite taken with the kendama painted like Hello Kitty. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Two of them helped my kids learn some new tricks on the kendama while I relaxed over my coffee. My seven year old son in particular learned quite a few new tricks and graded up in the short time we were there. The other Mother there was very friendly and all too happy to small talk with me. The older kids looked out for the younger kids. It struck me that this would be a really good place for short term visitors to Japan with children to introduce their kids to Japanese children their own age and enjoy each other’s company in the universal language of play!

Kendama painted as Hello Kitty (Kitty-chan) in SU LAB kendama cafe in Kawagoe

After reading a number of articles online about the shop, it would seem that it is always busy. They organise tournaments and demo classes and even have English language events from time to time. I know my kids enjoyed it more than I had expected and we’ve already planned a trip back to play in the near future. I may even go with some girlfriends at night sometime and enjoy a few bevvies: it might improve my own skills which are currently severely lacking! Whether you are living in Kawagoe or visiting it, I can recommend this cafe / shop as “somewhere different” to visit and enjoy a traditional Japanese toy in a friendly and congenial environment.

History of Kendama

I subsequently found this interesting blog post on the history of kendama on another WordPress site:
https://ikendama.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/first-blog-post/

Information and Access

Opening hours: Friday to Wednesday (closed Thursday) from 11 am to 9 pm.

There is one unisex toilet. There is an ashtray outside. No parking, but there is a space for bikes outside the shop.

Contacts:

Tel: 049-214-4276

Sulab, website and online shop

http://sulab.theshop.jp/

You can buy non-branded Kendama on Amazon at this affiliated link**:

Kendama on Amazon (affiliated link)

 

Sulab on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/SULabphotostudio/

Sulab on Twitter

https://twitter.com/su_lab_studio

SU LAB is only a few minutes walk from JR Kawagoe Station, Tobu Tojo Kawagoe Station and Seibu Shinjuku Hon-Kawagoe Station.

From Ikebukuro it is only 31 minutes to Kawagoe on the Tobu Tojo Line. You can also get to Kawagoe direct from Shinjuku and Akabane in about 45 minutes.

Route and prices for getting to SU LAB in Kawagoe from Ikebukuro, Akabane and Shinjuku in Tokyo. From Hyperdia.com:

From Omiya it only takes 22 minutes to get to Kawagoe on the JR Kawagoe line. Fare and route from Hyperdia.com:

 

Insaitama.com as of June 9th 2017 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

A cheap coffee and play date at McCafe and PlayLand | KAWAGOE

Last week the Kawagoe Kinome branch of McDonalds re-opened as a much better, classier, family friendly branch of McDonalds. The new branch has a McCafé by Barista and a Playland, McDonald’s hallmark free children’s play area.


The free children’s play area is in an enclosed sound proof family room on the 2nd floor, that has low tables with soft chairs for children as well as regular tables and chairs. There is an elevator to the 2nd floor so you can bring your stroller with you easily. The play area is small, basically climbing and a slide, but for an irregular visit it would provide entertainment for children aged between one and eight years old. They do request that only children in lower grades of elementary school and younger use this play area. The space is free to use if you have purchased food or drink from either the McDonalds or the McCafe.

The McCafe area is on the first floor beside the regular McDonalds. It has a good selection of hot drinks and doughnuts. You can bring your coffee and / or snack upstairs. Their selection is reasonably priced.

There are other services of interest in this branch also, such as free wifi and ports for charging devices. I also like that it is completely smoke free, even the car park. There is a smart drive through, as well as parking for about 20 cars. This branch is conveniently located on route 254 close to Kamifukuoka and minutes drive to Minami Furuya Station.


According to the McDonalds directory for Saitama, this branch is the only one with both a McCafe and a playland. There are other plenty other branches that have either a McCafe or a playland. There are quite a few Playland branches in Saitama including locations such as Ageo, Shiki, Tokorozawa, Kawaguchi, Koshigaya, Kumagaya, Honjo, Iwatsuki, Moroyama, Konosu, Ogawa and quite a few in Saitama City.  More about their playlands: http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/family/playland/

Sayama Municipal Museum and Kome To Cha Cafe | SAYAMA

View of Sayama Inariyama Park from Sayama Municipal museum

Sayama Municipal Museum, Saitama, is a city museum in Sayama Inari Yama Park on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line.  They tend to host a lot of travelling exhibits suitable or designed for children. They have just closed the very excellent pop-up book exhibit and tomorrow the “Heros” exhibit will open. The Fairytales of Andersen will run concurrently for the first three weeks. In the past they have had a number of very successful and popular exhibits for children including a Licca Doll exhibit and a Cardboard Art and play exhibit.

Winding ramp to second floor from 1st floor circular hall

The ground floor circular hall is where they hold most of their travelling exhibits. You can walk up to the second floor from this hall up a winding ramp that circumferences the hall. On the 2nd floor they have a room with their permanent displays. They have an Akebono Elephant (Stegodon aurorae) bones on display in this section. These elephant fossils are said to be between 2 and 1.2 million years old. There are also displays depicting ancient Japan, including a replica of a Jomon period house. They have a tatami tea room in the museum too.

You can collect the museum’s seal for a Stamp rally or a keepsake

The museum is free in for children under 15 years old. High school and university students cost 100 yen and all other adults cost 150 yen. They often have flyers in the lobby with a discount ticket: 60 yen for students over fifteen years old and a 100 yen for adults. Like most of Saitama’s municipal or prefectural buildings, this museum has a museum seal that the kids can stamp onto the back of the museum’s brochure in the allocated space, or on to any piece of paper. This museum often participates in seasonal “stamp rally” run by the prefecture, whereby you collect the seal of a number of different participating bodies in return for a small prize. The museum is buggy / pushchair friendly and they have toilets. There is also a cafe beside the museum called Kome To Cha.

Kome To Cha Café / Restaurant

Kids Lunch at Kome to Cha

The café and restaurant is located beside the entrance to the museum. It is accessible from within the museum, but it also has its own door and an entrance from the park side too. The restaurant changed its name last year from Komorei to Kome To Cha, but it is still called the former by many.

Kakikori at Kome to Cha

The cafe is not particularly big, but it is comfortable and my favourite feature is the large floor to ceiling windows which afford a lovely view of the park. Most of the tables are positioned in such a way that they have a view of the park. Probably their most popular item is the kaki-kori, a typed of shaved ice dessert flavoured with syrup. They have ice-cream too. Their menu is quite limited, but I thought the food was rather nice. They have children’s meals too. They are a little on the small side, but easy for children to manage. The rice was served as rectangle shaped origami with nori on the underside and furikake sprinkled on top. I think the kids meals are best suited to younger children or children that don’t have a great appetite. My preschoolers and toddler really enjoyed their meals.

Opening hours:

The museum is open Tuesday to Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm. It is closed on Mondays.  Cafe / restaurant Kome To Cha is open from 10 am to 4.45 pm, Tuesday to Sundays. Closed Mondays and the fourth Friday of the month.

Address:

23-1 Inariyama, Sayama, Saitama

Access:

The museum is a 3 minute walk from the Inariyama kouen station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line or you can get a bus from the west exit of the Seibu Shinjuku Line Sayama City Station to Inariyama koen.

It is about a 15 minute from the Sayama Interchange of the Ken-o expressway or 20 minutes from the Kawagoe Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway.  The museum and the restaurant share parking and it is free. Spaces are quite limited in the car park beside the museum, so it is not uncommon to have to wait for a parking space to come free.  However, you can also use the park’s car park and walk over.

Phone:

For both museum and cafe: 04-2955-3804

URL:

sayama-city-museum.com

**Featured image is from the Cardboard Art Exhibit from 2014

In the area:

Best of Saitama: Chikozan Park | SAYAMA

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 pr…

Source: insaitama.com/chikozan-park-sayama-saitama-best/

Cats Eye Play and Sports Centre | SAYAMA

Cats Eye play and sports centre is very like Spocha in Round 1, just not as classy or clean, and the limited number of staff leave a lot to be desired. There is a smell of stale smoke in the areas …

Source: insaitama.com/cats-eye-play-and-sports-centre-sayama/

Wai Wai Park @ Aeon | SAYAMA

In the food court of Aeon (formerly Carrefour) in Sayama they have a play area for children. If you haven’t been there in more than six months, you might remember a broken down excuse of a pl…

Source: insaitama.com/wai-wai-park-aeon-sayama/

Must visit shop and foot spa cafe “Tsubaki No Kura” | KAWAGOE




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.

Official site: http://www.wa-kaya.jp/

Tsubaki Ya Shouten sells regional Japanese food stuff such as sauces and snacks. Both Kaya and Tsubaki Ya Shouten are on the first floor.

Iwakura 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.

Official Site: http://www.iwakura-stone.jp/

 

 Tsubakiya Foot Spa Cafe

Tsubaki No Kura (11)

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

Tsubaki No Kura Contact and Hours

Phone Number: 049-227-7030

Official site (English available): http://tsubaki-kura.jp/

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 Kawagoe Loop BusKoedo 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

Free Shoyu Factory Tour & Cafe Kura at Matsumoto Soy Sauce | KAWAGOE

Japanese food expert and FUSED soy sauce owner Fiona Uyema visits Matsumoto Shop and factory

Where in Kawagoe to bring a visiting famous Japanese food chef and author?  This is the question that faced me when I was bringing Fiona Uyema, Ireland’s leading Japanese food expert and owner of Fused Japanese sauces, on a tour of Kawagoe in Autumn 2015.

I brought her to a few different places, but the tour of the 250 year old Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory was one of the highlights of the three day tour.  Fiona had a particular interest in the factory as she was developing her own soy sauce brand “Fused” to be launched in Ireland. Fused is available in retail shops around Ireland or you can buy  online here: http://fusedbyfionauyema.com/product-tag/japanese-soy-sauce/. Fiona was visiting with her family and I had my own kids with me. The tour was surprisingly interesting for the older kids in our party, at that time aged between 0 and 6 years old.  The tour is conducted in Japanese and it is actually very short, around 20 minutes, but it is an interesting experience and totally free!

The gathering area for taking the tour is in front of the Matsumoto shop, the retail part of Matsumoto Soy Sauce.  When we visited there wasn’t that many people as it was shortly after the tours had been opened to the public and word hadn’t quite got around yet. At that time they only offered the tour on weekends and public holidays at 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. However, due to the increasing popularity of the tour, they now also offer the tour on weekdays at 1 pm. Please note that on occasion the tour isn’t available and / or if it is too packed you might not get a spot. If you have more than 10 in your group you can ring the shop on a weekday and ask to arrange a private tour. You walk up a narrow alley to get to the factory. If you have a stroller you can use a separate entrance, or you can park your stroller and carry your child.

Matsumoto Soy Sauce Factory and Shop is part of a larger complex with a few different names, one I hear most often is Kamonrakuza, which seems to be the group name for Blue Moon glass blowing and glass art workshops, the Koedo Kagamiyama sake factory and shop, and the gallery in the complex.  There is a Soba restaurant beside Matsumoto Shop. There is also a nice café, Cafe Kura, in the complex too, which we visited after the factory tour and I have visited a couple of times since.

Cafe Kura is a nice place for a quiet coffee and cake. They also do a reasonably priced lunch set. They don’t have much in the way of food for children though, but on every visit I have found they are very accommodating to children. They have children’s cutlery and crockery so if you are ordering a lunch you can share it with your child.  When it is quiet the staff don’t mind the kids running around and rearranging the tables!  The place has more of a romantic feel and seems to most popular with young couples or pairs of friends.  The cafe (and the whole complex) are off the main tourist strip so its quieter and more ambient than other areas in the Kawagoe tourist district. Cafe Kura is open from 10 am to 6 pm (lunch 11.30 am to 2 pm) Thursdays to Tuesdays, closed on Wednesdays. There is parking beside the cafe (see access details below).

Access and Hours

Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory and shop are off the beaten track of Kawagoe.   It is part of the main warehouse district, but it is back one block from the main tourist strip, with little else touristy directly around it. Even though at the top of the same road there is the famous Kayshiya Yokocho (sweet street/candy alley) district and Gyodenji, most people miss the factory because they turn at the giant chameleon on the 5 yen coin to get to / from the main tourist strip. If you keep walking down from Kashiya Yokocho toward Hon-Kawagoe station you will hit the factory on your right hand side. Walking up from the station, if you turn left at Mameya Kawagoe at Naka-cho and cross over the road and take the first main right, the factory is on your left just past a coin parking lot. It is a 10 minute walk. If you are coming by car, they have free parking for about 7 cars. There is also a coin parking beside it. Please note that it is a one-way system, you must enter the road from the bottom at the Times Kawagoe Parking Lot on Naka-cho, you can’t enter from the kashiya yokocho end. Please see map at bottom.

Hours

Matsumoto Shop: 9 am to 6 pm
Factory Tour: 1 pm on weekdays, 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm on weekends

The rest of the facilities such as Blue Moon and the gallery have separate operating hours and are closed on Wednesdays.

Contact

Matsumoto and all its facilities apart from the cafe

URL: http://www.hatsukari.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

Phone: 049-222-0432

Cafe Kura

URL: http://www.cafe-kura.com/

Phone: 049-224-7881

Map

Fun shopping and Festival Hotspot: Maruhiro | KAWAGOE

In this article: the low down on Maruhiro – free play, roof top Ferris wheel and rides, video arcade, family facilities, kid friendly restaurant, cute animal shaped desserts, tax free shopping, special information for attending the Kawagoe Festivals with kids, and Lapland Santa! The post contains external (affiliate) links to Amazon.co.jp marked by **.

Maruhiro in Kawagoe, a prestigious department store on the main shopping street Crea Mall, is surprisingly enjoyable for small children. There are two main reasons; the fun center on the roof and the play area in the toy store. There are other factors which contribute to its suitability for a half day out for families, outlined below. Plus it is a key spot to consider if you are attending any of the larger Kawagoe Festivals with kids.

The toy store of Maruhiro is located on the 6th floor. They have a Bornelund in the toy store area, which sells beautiful wooden educational toys**(External link to Amazon.co.jp). They are also a distributor of the fantastic British board games giant Orchard Toys, my personal favourite toy brand for children under six. Orchard toys** on Amazon.co.jp (affiliate link).

There is a Sanrio shop here. This branch of Sanrio sells mainly bento goods and trinkets. They have some Hello Kitty toys and one rail of clothes. Bornelund, Sanrio and the general toy store have play areas with sample toys out for kids to enjoy. Each shelving area also has some toys you can try too. They have everything from arts and crafts to zoo animals.  My girls enjoy the musical instruments such as mini piano as well as the dolls houses and play kitchens. My son loves to build with the magformers and similar building kids. Bornelund toys are a bit on the pricey side, but they are extremely high quality and educational to boot. The toys in the play area are about the same as most toy stores, maybe a little more expensive than they are in Toysrus. They have a good range considering that the toy area isn’t that big.

Off one side of this toy area, between Bornelund and Sanrio there is a comfortable baby and toddler room. It has seats and tables, a couple of highchairs, a microwave and hot water dispenser. Basically, everything you would need (bar the food and cutlery) to feed a small child. There are nappy changing mats here too and a nursing area. There are general toilets beside this room for both men and women, and a toilet for wheelchair users. The toilets in the women’s have “baby-keeps”, like a highchair except built into the wall, to hold baby while you use the facilities!

Also, on this floor are some restaurants. They are all fairly mediocre and some more popular than others. Two worth mentioning are: Olive House as one to avoid, and Gin Yuba for their super value kids meal. The latter, Gin Yuba, offers Kyoto Cuisine presented in the Teishoku form; Japanese style set meals. It is named after its main staple; Yuba, a product made from soybeans. The selection on the lunch menu is quite decent. They don’t have English menus, but there are good photos on the Japanese menus so you can order easily from them. You can also see their full menu on their website. The Guru Navi Japan Restaurant Guide site offers reservation support in English for this restaurant. Currently, their kids meal is half price. Only 250 yen for a fairly healthy and filling meal served on a shinkansen plate. It comes with a drink and you can chose one toy from a small selection. The regular lunches come with a complimentary serving of tea and they provide water for free too. When you order the lunch the main part is served to you at the table and you are given a rectangle shaped tray with 3 sections so that you can help yourself to 3 side dishes of your choice from a selection on a table near the door. Another reason I like this restaurant when I have the kids with me is because you can get a private room and it is Japanese style. So you don’t need any high chairs, the kids can sit on the floor and they can relax in their own private space.

Conveniently located the floor above is the video arcade and mini amusement park, Wanpaku Land, with a rooftop Ferris Wheel! I will warn you: the rooftop amusement area doesn’t look much. Maruhiro is continuously upgrading and improving their facilities and interior design. However, I don’t think they’ve touched the roof, where Wanpaku Land is, since it opened almost 70 years ago. The amusement area on the roof may have had a few licks of paint over the years, but it looks very dated in spite of it. There are a few fun elements to the amusement area, especially for toddlers and to lesser extent preschoolers.

The Ferris wheel is small, but it is safe and takes just the right length of time to rotate for a small child. There are some great views from the carriage, although as it is completely caged it is hard to get a good photo of Kawagoe from the sky. The ferris wheel is free for children under six and if you pick up a voucher at one of the cash registers on the 6th floor an adult can ride it for just 100 yen. There is a small roller coaster for small children on beside the Ferris wheel. Again it is free for children under six. It costs 300 yen for adults which is a bit of a rip off, but the view is worth it. There are other rides in the area of the roof too. There is a small video arcade type section inside with games, rides, UFO catchers and slot machines for kids. The area is free to enter, but you need to pay for each machine. The games and rides inside are reasonably priced. They have some Anpanman and Yokai Watch games. And a UFO catcher that dispenses Poo shaped teddies! Beside this area there is a pet shop, not a particularly nice one if I am to be honest.

For foreigners visiting Kawagoe to do some shopping or long termers in Japan who like point cards another area of interest is the fourth floor. Here they have a large customer service area that handles tax back claims and applications for point cards. At Christmas time, the fifth floor is where you want to go to visit the real Santa from Lapland.  If you would like to buy some food and / or food gifts, chocolates, alcohol or other food / drink speciality items, the basement is where you will find a choice of delectable delights. My kids love the owl shaped cakes by JuchHeim Die Meister.

Finally, I want to mention Maruhiro as a key point to visit if you are coming to the Kawagoe festivals with kids. Particularly, the mammoth Autumn Kawagoe Festival. We have been attending the festival for years and have found their toy Kujibiki to be about the best of all the Kujibiki stalls throughout the festival. Kujibiki is a type of lottery used in festivals. There are a number of ways it is played; the end result is the same – a piece of paper reveals what, if anything, you have won. Usually the paper has a number or symbol on it that is matched to a group of toys with the same number or symbol. You then get to pick what you would like out of the selection. We have never won at the Maruhiro lottery and it doesn’t matter, because… No matter what you draw in the toy lottery at Maruhiro you get a really good present to take away. It is well worth the money (if you want to play the game) because the gifts are the nicest I have seen as a booby prize for a lottery draw. Due to this reason though, it is always crowded. It is good fun to watch while you queue. Another reason this is a good spot to stop by with kids during the festival is that they turn the car park, at the back of the department store, into an amusement area. They have bouncy castles and other attractions. There is also a rest area here.

Parking for Maruhiro is charged, but if you spend over a 1,000 yen you get an hour free. If you spend over 10,000 you get three hours free.  The store opens from 10 am to 7 pm seven days a week, except for the days that Maruhiro takes off. You will need to check the Maruhiro schedule for the up-to-date information as it is not a fixed schedule. The closest station is Seibu Shinjuku Line’s Hon-Kawagoe station. JR and Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe station are within walking distance too. There are shopping carts suitable for babies and toddlers and you can also borrow a buggy / stroller. They have wheelchairs to borrow too.  Most of the toilets are between floor and so not suited to those with buggies / strollers or in a wheelchair. They have a wheelchair friendly toilet on the 1st floor and on the 6th floor. There are annexes to Maruhiro with lots of different shops and facilities too.

**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

Hatsuneya Garden Cafe【from Google Maps & City-Cost Reviews】 | KAWAGOE

Online Reviews of HATSUNEYA GARDEN CAFE written by yours truly! Sophisticated café suited to a date, a coffee with friends or some tranquil and relaxing alone time.

Local Guide Review on Google Maps:

​https://goo.gl/maps/nV8biizLBeu

And from City-Cost.com:

Chic cafe: A bit of piece and quiet in bustling Kawagoe

One hundred and fifty eight year old Hatsuneya Garden is best known to locals as a wedding hall, but it has a cafe and restaurant also. Both the cafe and restaurant only opened in recent years. The restaurant and the gardens are off limit to the public when there is a wedding on, but the coffee shop is open 7 days a week. You are free to enjoy the garden when there is no wedding on, but be warned – that is barely ever! I have yet to see the acclaimed gardens as every time I have been they have been in use by a private party.

What I like about most about this hidden gem off the main thoroughfare is that the surroundings are very tranquil. The cafe offers peace, serenity, comfort and chic. The menu is quite limited, but it is really only somewhere for a coffee and cake. They usually have about 3 or 4 desserts on offer. They only make a certain amount a day, so it is not uncommon for at least 1 choice to be sold out by early afternoon. The coffee is quite strong and most suited to regular coffee drinkers. They have tea and other beverages if coffee isn’t your thing. The other thing I really love about this cafe is its terrace. The views are particularly great, but there is a nice ambience. Smokers are welcome on the terrace, so if you want a smoke free indulgence I recommend sitting in the comfy seats indoors.

It opens from 11 am to 6 pm. There is parking for nine cars. It is approximately 6 minutes walk to the nearest bus stop. No wheelchair accessible entrance or toilets. Not ideal for children, but they don’t discourage them either.

Natural Cafe Sora | YOSHIMI

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

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

Very Family and Child Friendly

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy fresh food

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

 

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

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

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

General Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phone: 0493-54-5583

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

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

Access by car

(Google Map at bottom of article).

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

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

 

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

 

Other attractions in Yoshimi:

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

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

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

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

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

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

Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground

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

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

Place Review: 3D latte Art Café Chocotea | SAKADO

Stylish café, Warm ambiance, Delicious food and 3D Latte art…

This is a more detailed version of the review of Cafe Chocotea I originally wrote for city-cost.com.

Everything about my experience at Café Chocotea today was positive and gratifying. From the minute I walked in, I got a really good vibe about the place. The decor is bright cozy rustic, the space is colourful and comfortable, the menu is very well thought out and appetising, the selection of coffee and drinks is impressive. The 3D latte art is worth every yenny.

The staff are very welcoming and the barista speaks perfect English. There are 3 menus, which take a little time to read, but the server will explain anything you are not sure about. You can order individual dishes of food, or opt for a lunch set, or just have a coffee or one of their famous 3D lattes. The lunch sets are a panini or an open sandwich with a choice of add-on sides. The scones are as good as at home in Ireland. The food is really good quality and healthy. They have a good choice of drinks. The 3D art takes about 20 minutes to make, but you get a service drink while you are waiting. The barista only makes a limited number of 3D latte art a day and usually restricts it to one per table. The other latte art, that is not 3D, has no restrictions. The soft drinks are served in larger glasses much like a fish bowl!

We got the table near the door which sits four, in 2 very comfortable leather 2 seater sofas. There are 2 two-seater tables beside that. All 3 of these seats have low tables and sitting room type chairs or sofas.  Up a step there is a large table which sits about six. They have a high chair for a baby / toddler in this section. They also have a workbench area for kids. If you have a child with you, they will provide children’s cutlery and crockery when you order food. The place is small, but very relaxed and quiet.  It is a good place to relax over a coffee and a book, but it also a nice place to enjoy a break with your child in tow. They have a selection of books and magazines for patrons to borrow, including some children’s books.

Added in February 2017
On a subsequent visit for a playgroup meeting there were 4 adults and 4 children. The owner was very accommodating to our various needs. We were able to relax and there was no pressure to leave the table. We were there for about three hours. I was very impressed with the level of service and kindness of the staff.

Stairs outside, beside car park, to toilet

The café is not wheelchair friendly and the toilet is outside and up a steep stairs, with no changing mat, but other than that there is nothing else you can fault about this local gem.

 

Access

The nearest station is Tobu Tojo Line’s Sakado station. It is about an 8 minute walk. Kita-Sakado station is also relatively close. It is about a 15 minute walk.

By car it is approximately 7 minutes from the Tsurugashima exit of the Kanetsu Expressway. There is free parking out the back of the café, down a narrow alley.

Original on City-Cost.com

Review – Café Chocotea in Japan. Everything about my experience at Café Chocotea today was positive and gratifying. From the minute I walked in, I got a really good vibe about the place. The d

Source: Place Review: Café Chocotea, Sakado-shi, Saitama | City-Cost

Shishimai Lion Dance at New Year’s | KAWAGOE

January is one of my favourite months in Japan.  It is one of the driest months of the year and probably the sunniest in Winter.  Between the weather and the festive atmosphere, as New Year’s is as big in Japan as Christmas is in Ireland,  Japan is a great place to be in the first weeks of the New Year.

Shishimai lion dance performer

There are so many New Year traditions, customs and practices in Japan. Some are celebrated on New Year’s day itself, but many can still be celebrated throughout the month of January. I previously wrote about my love of the Daruma doll custom, due to it being the first New Year tradition I ever practised in Japan, but my actual favourite custom is that of Shishimai.

Shishimai bites at the head for good luck

Shishimai is a lion dance. A person dresses up in a red mask usually made of lacquered wood, with white straggly hair and wearing a green gown. The mask often has a lower jaw that can be articulated. The green gown sometimes has 2 people under it, one who wears the mask and one who manipulates the movements of the tail end.  The dance is performed at various events throughout the year, but New Year’s is the most popular time for the dance.  It is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck, especially if the lion bites your head.

New Year food at Fukutomi Kawagoe

Every year you can see Lion Dance performers at various Shinto temples, but we like to enjoy the experience at my favourite kaiseki restaurant in Kawagoe; Fukutomi.  The rooms in the kaiseki are private and the lion dance performer and his companion (whose role I am not sure of!) come into the room accompanied by a traditional Japanese flute player. When my older two were smaller they were terrified of the Shishimai, but they have become accustomed over the years. The Lion Dance performer bites at the heads of the adults, or children who are not too scared, to bring extra luck for the coming year. It is a very interesting and unique experience.

One temple you can enjoy a Shishimai performance in Saitama is Choshiguchi Katori Shrine in Kasukabe. It is held 3 times a year, the winter performance for 2017 is being held on January 15th. It is a free event. It is a particularly captivating performance and has been designated an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

What New Year’s customs do you enjoy in your home country or the country you are currently living in?