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!
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. They are also a distributor of the fantastic British board games giant Orchard Toys, my personal favourite toy brand for children under six. 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.