Category Archives: Winter

Includes posts about Santa, Christmas, Illumination, Snow, Skiing, Sleighing and all other things winter

Naritasan Temple (& Rilakkuma amulets) | KAWAGOE

Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple is a branch of the Naritasan Shinsoji Buddhist Temple of Narita, Chiba. It has a very interesting, but complex history with many layers of detail.  The founder Ishikawa Tomegoro, with the financial backing of wealthy locals, restored what was previously the ruined Hongyoin Temple to be the first branch of Narita’s Shinsoji Temple.  

The story goes that Ishikawa, a farmer, lost his eyesight and tried to commit suicide. When he was unsuccessful after three attempts he believed it was sign from the Gods and entered the Buddhist priesthood. He regained his sight and the temple is now a popular place to pray for poor eyesight and general eye health. After touring all round Japan he finally settled in Kawagoe at a Shinto Shrine (Hachiman Shrine) where a temple to the Fudo Myo-o, the Wisdom King Acala , a protective Deity, had been established.  That Acala Temple was then moved to what today is the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin.  Unfortunately there is very little comprehensive information in English to direct you to, but there is a little on the Kawagoe Koedo Naritasan page.

The Kawagoe branch of Naritasan Shinsoji Temple is represented by the Ofuda-sama, the common name for Fudo Myo-o, at the North Gate.  The North Gate is the one to right of the main building as you face it. It is beside a turtle pond.

Here you will find a statue with lots of baby paraphernalia laid to the God and to Jizo for Mizuko, literally water baby, which are babies that have passed away. Jizo are the most venerated bodhisattva in Japan, are believed to be a the equivalent of a patron saint, in Christian beliefs, of dead children.

You can write a prayer plaque for 500 yen to leave for the soul of a passed away child. The temple also offer other services for a lost child, miscarriage or abortion.

There are many other statues and prayer points on the temple grounds.  Including an area to worship Ebisuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Kawagoe. There is a popular 6 kilometre pilgrimmage of the seven temples of which each worship one of the seven lucky Gods. They even have an area where you can get your God stamp for that temple! Naritasan is the 4th stop on the pilgrimage. Ebisuten is the God of purity of unselfishness and the symbol of good luck and happiness. The temple sell Ebisuten Ema, which are votive prayer plaques, that you can write your prayer or request on and hang from a designated prayer plaque area.

The temple sell a number of other Ema, prayer plaques, and omamori, a type of amulet / talisman. One of the more popular ema is that for eyesight, due to the background of Ishikawa and his regained sight. To me a Japanese omamori is a hybrid of an amulet and talisman. From my understanding, an omamori has both the protective power of an amulet and the good luck of a talisman. Naritasan is most famous for their traffic safety omamori. Currently, they are receiving attention for their Rilakkuma omamori. Rilakkuma which means relaxed bear in Japanese, is a popular fictional character and its merchandise is very popular. These amulets / talisman also seem to be very popular although 200 yen more expensive than most at 700 yen a piece.

Despite its interesting background and the amount of prayer spots in the temple, Naritasan is not as well known as its neighbouring temple of Kitain. Kitain is one of Kawagoe’s most famous and popular tourist spots. It is also a station on the Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage.  Perhaps in modern society Kawagoe Naritasan is actually most famous for its antique and flea market which is held on the grounds of the temple on the 28th of every month.  It is said to be one of the best antique and flea markets in the Kanto area and always draws crowds.

Access

On Foot

  • 13 minute walk from the Seibu Shinjuku Line Honkawagoe Station
  • 22 minute walk from the JR Kawagoe Line and the Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe station
  • 17 minute walk from the Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe-shi station

By Bus

You can take a bus from both Kawagoe and HonKawagoe for Minami Furuya station (南古谷駅行き)and alight at Naritasan Mae bus stop「成田山前バス停」

You can take the Tobu Koedo Loop Bus from Tobu Tojo and JR lines Kawagoe station and alight at Naritasan Mae bus stop
「成田山前バス停」

You can take the Eagle Bus Coedo Loop Bus  from Tobu Tojo Line and JR LIne Kawagoe station and Hon Kawagoe stations to Kitain Temple 「喜多院バス停」 . It is about a 2 minute walk from that bus stop.

By Car

  • 15 minute drive from Kawagoe Interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway.
  • 20 minute drive from the Kawajima Interchange of the Ken-O Expressway.
  • Free Parking for about 20 cars

Kawagoe Access by train from Tokyo and 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.

Kawagoe Access from Tokyo by Car

About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.

About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.

Links

Kawagoe Naritasan Official Site:
http://www.kawagoe-naritasan.net/

Information in English:
http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/llak/217.html

Naritasan Temple, Chiba, official site:
http://www.naritasan.or.jp/english/

Kitain Temple:
Cherry blossom festival at Kitain Temple

Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage of Kawagoe:
http://www.kawagoe.com/7fukujin/m/en/

Tobu Koedo Loop Bus:
http://www.tobu-bus.com/pc/area/koedo.html

Eagle Bus Coedo Loop Bus:
http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html

10 Winter Play Spots in Saitama, commutable from Tokyo

With the dry and sunny weather, January is a great month to be out and about in Saitama. The choice of winter-only activities is an added incentive to don some winter woollies and head out into the cold. We may not have much (if any) snowfall, but you can still ski and play in snow in the Tokorozawa / Sayama area of Saitama.  We have a great selection of ice-rinks throughout the prefecture including one natural rink in rural Saitama. There is also a selection of indoor activities such as sport centres, heated pools and strawberry greenhouses to warm you up on even the coldest of days. Below is a pick of 10 indoor and outdoor locations, where you can either embrace or escape the cold this winter in Saitama.

1. Kasa skate rink

This is the only natural skate rink I know of in Saitama. Local volunteers band together to turn the natural ice pool into a suitable skate rink. However, as it is natural ice extra precaution is advised. You can borrow skates, guards and helmets at the rink.

Access: Bus from JR Hachiko Line Ogawamachi Station or Ogose Station to Shohoji 「正法寺」 . The rink is a five minute walk from the bus stop.

Free parking for up to 40 cars.

Address: Nishidaira, Tokigawa machi, Hiki District, Saitama 355-0364. Telephone: 0493-67-0853

Hours: Open 9 am to 4 pm weekends and holidays only, while the ice is frozen, typically until early February.

Cost: 500 yen for high school students and adults, 200 yen for children. Skate rental is also 500 yen for high school students and adults, 200 yen for children.

2. Numakage Ice Rink

The 50 metre pool in Numakage park is transformed into an ice rink in the winter. The rink opens late on weekends. If you just want to observe people skating you can enter the rink area for free.  There are other facilities of interest in the park such as an indoor pool and yoga and pilate classes.

Access: 10 minute walk from JR Saikyo Line Musashi Urawa station.

Free parking for up to 150 cars.

Address: 2-7-35 Numakage, Minami Ku, Saitama City, Saitama 336-0027. Telephone: 048-861-9955

Hours: Open 9 am to 6 pm on weekends and until 8.50 pm on weekends and public holidays until February 19th.

Cost: 640 yen for adults, 310 yen for primary and high school students, children under 7 are free. Skate rental costs 360 yen per person.

3. Saitama Ice Arena Winter Only Illuminated Rink

The Saitama Ice Arena is open all year round, but for weekends during the winter months they also have a sub rink that is illuminated at night. The main rink is an olympic sized rink. They have all the necessary safety gear available for children; you can borrow helmets for free.

Access: On Fridays, weekends and public holidays there is a shuttle bus from the east exit of the JR Takasaki Line Ageo station. It costs 200 yen for adults and a 100 yen for children. 20 minute walk from New Shuttle line’s Haraichi and Shonan stations.

Free parking for up to 70 cars.

Address: 4-386 Hinode, Ageo City, Saitama 362-0032

Hours: 10 am to 6 pm for the regular rink, the illuminated rink is open 6 pm to 8 pm on weekends, Fridays and public holidays for the months of December, January and February only.

Cost: 1100 yen for adults and high school students, 600 yen for children. Skates cost 500 yen to rent.

4. Lake Town Koshigaya Ice Rink

The huge outlet of Lake Town in Koshigaya have a seasonal outdoor ice-rink during the winter months in the “Sora no Hiroba”. From the 9th of January it is only available on weekends and public holidays.

Access: About a 7 minute walk from Musashino Line Koshigaya Lake Town Station.

Approximately 6 kilometres from the Misato Interchange on Joban Expressway. Approximately 7 kilometres from the Soka Interchange of the Tokyo Gaikan Expressway. Parking for 2200 cars. The first 5 hours are free and after that 100 yen for 30 minutes.

Address: Laketown Koshigaya, Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture 343-0828 Japan. 

Hours: 11 am to 7 pm on weekends and public holidays.

Cost: 500 yen for 30 minutes for anyone over 13 years old.
300 yen for 30 minutes for children between 4 and 12 years old.
600 yen for parent and child pair ticket.
Skate rental 400 yen per person.

Lake Town Outlet Skate Rink | KOSHIGAYA

5. Seibu Snow Kingdom

The Snow Kingdom in Seibu Amusement park will run until March 5th this year. 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. There is also a ice skating rink in the amusement park.

Access: 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).

Address: 2964 Yamaguchi, Tokorozawa City, Saitama 359-1145. Telephone:  042-922-1371.

Hours: 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/

Cost: If you hold an entry ticket to Seibu Amusement Park the Snow Kingdom costs 800 yen for adults and children over 12, and 500 yen for children from 3 years old to 12 years old as well as seniors (over 60). If you have a “free pass” ticket it is 500 yen for over 12s and 300 yen for children and seniors.

Snow Kingdom @ Seibu Amusement Park | Tokorozawa

6. Sayama Ski Resort

This indoor artificial snow resort is the only one of its kind in Saitama. They don’t have any special play attractions for children, but they do have ski lessons for children and parents on a Saturday. They also have individual lessons and a ski school.

Access: 3 minute walk from Seibu Ikebukuro Line and Seibu Yamaguchi Lines Seibu Kyujomae station.

10 KM from Iruma Interchange on the Ken-O expressway following route 463 on to route 55. Parking for up to 700 cars. Costs 1200 yen per day.

Address: 2167 Kamiyamaguchi, Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture 359-1153, Japan. Telephone: (04)2922-1384

Hours: 10 am to 9 pm on weekdays and open from 10 am to 9 pm and then again from 10 pm until 6 am for night skiing on weekends.

Cost: Ski lift for adults is 4,100 yen, 3,300 yen for high school students, and free for primary and preschool aged children.  90 minute lessons with ski lift included for a parent and child cost 6,800 yen.

Sayama Ski Resort | SAYAMA

7. Waku Waku Dome

Waku waku Dome is a health centre in Asaka City. They have a number of indoor heated pools including a shallow pool with slide for children. The centre also has a play room with rest area for small children.

Access: 15 minute walk from Tobu Tojo LIne Asakadai Station and JR Musashino Line Kita Asaka station.

Free parking for up to 200 cars.

Address: 27 Hamasaki, Asaka-shi, Saitama-ken 351-0033

Hours: 9 am to 10 pm

Cost: For residents of Asaka 2 hours in use of the pool costs 400 yen for adults and 200 yen for students. For non-residents it is 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for students. Use of the pool is free for children under 7 years old.

8. Kasukabe Yumoto Onsen

There are many onsen throughout Saitama, but some are more child friendly than others. Yumoto onsen in Kasukabe has a nice area for children with an elephant and dinosaur slide into the hot spring.  There is also a pool in the resort and you can take yoga as well as enjoy a number of different relaxation services such as a hot stone sauna.

Access: Free shuttle bus from  Tobu Skyliner Sengendai station and Tobu Urban Park Noda line Toyohara station.

Free parking for up to 1000 cars.

Address: 66-1 Shimoōmashi Shinden, Kasukabe-shi, Saitama-ken 344-0036

Hours: 10 am to 8.30 am (22.5 hours), the pool is open until 7 pm.

Cost: Weekdays are 1340 yen for adults and 620 yen for children between 3 and 12 years old. On weekends it is 1750 yen for adults and 720 yen for children between 3 and 12 years old.  Entry is free for children under 3.

9. Shimura Strawberry Farm

Strawberry greenhouses are a great place to warm up during winter. The temperatures are usually above 20 degrees and it is lovely and humid making a nice change from the dryness outdoors.  This strawberry farm is one of my favourites, because of the little but engaging play area indoors and some fun features outdoors as well as complimentary hot drinks.

Access: Approximately 1 kilometre or 4 minutes by car from the Sakado exit of the Ken-O expressway.

Address: 102 Konuma, Sakado, Saitama 350-0202. Telephone: 080-5028-1062 between 8 am and 6 pm.

Hours: From 10 am, generally Tuesday to Sunday, from January 2nd until end of April or early May.

Cost: This year the cost is 1800 yen for adults and children over 6, children between 3 and 6 years old are 1400 yen,  2 year old children are 200 yen. You can also buy punnets of strawberries. One punnet costs 600 yen.

Strawberry Picking with a play area | Sakado

 

10. Spocha

Spocha is Saitama’s largest indoor sports and play centre. It is a great centre to enjoy all year round, but on the coldest of days what better way to warm up than with some indoor physical activity. There are over 70 sports and games you can enjoy in Spocha from Archery to Zorbing and everything in between.

Access: Free shuttle bus from the East exit of JR Takasaki Line Ageo Station.

Address: 917-1 Hiratsuka, Ageo-shi, Saitama-ken 362-0011

Hours: Monday 9 am to 6 am (open 21 hours), Tuesday to Thursday 10 am to 6 am, Friday to Sunday 24 hours to 6 am on the Monday morning.

Cost: Different packages available starting at 540 yen for preschoolers and 1,720 yen for adults. Costs include access to all >70 activities, games and sports.

For more detail please see:

【Spo-cha】|Ageo

 

Between the weather, New Year festivities and seasonal activities, January is actually one of my favourite months in Japan.  The locations and activities listed above are only a small sample of what Saitama has to offer in winter. We also have some stunning winter scenery that can only be witnessed in the first six weeks of the year, such as the Misotsuchi Icicles in Chichibu and the Ashigakubo Icicles in Yokoze. The latter were only discovered 3 years ago, but have already risen to national acclaim due to their stunning beauty, particularly when illuminated at  night.  Saitama may not be top of the list for places to visit in winter in Japan, but we do have a good choice of activities, events and winter scenery to enjoy.

Where do you like to visit and what activities do you enjoy during Winter?

 

 

New Year Countdown Events Japan 2016/7 | Tokyo

New Year’s has become a popular time for overseas visitors to visit Japan and yet there is very little New Year event information available in English online.  I have tried to bridge that gap by sharing information of events I know of in the Greater Tokyo area. However, as I have personally NOT been to most of these events, I do recommend you research further before choosing which event to go to.  (*The Johnny’s countdown party in Tokyo Dome is near impossible to get tickets for, so there is no information for that popular event on this page.)

TOKYO

IKEBUKURO, Nanja Countdown Party 2016/7

A very popular countdown event is in Nanja Town, Sunshine City. The event will take place from opening hours on the 31st and Namja Town will remain open until 5 am on the 1st.  They will have a special New Year’s menu available. Entry is 500 yen for adults, 300 yen for children 4 years old or over. Access: 8 minute walk from Ikebukuro Station.

URL: http://www.namco.co.jp/tp/ You can also get live updates from their Twitter, if you read Japanese: Namja Town Twitter feed.

IKEBUKURO, Sky Circus Sunshine 60 2017 Countdown Special

This special event in Sky Circus will start at 9 pm and finish around 1 am. The tickets are 2500 yen if purchased on the day, but 200 yen cheaper if you purchase in advance. Children under 4 years old are free. They will have live performances and you can experience some of their Virtual Reality machines for free.

Event URLhttp://www.sunshinecity.co.jp/information/i589.html?_ga=1.191116780.793316131.1465351784

ROPPONGI, 2016 Year-end Funk Party

The Year-end Funk party will be held at Billboard live at Tokyo Midtown Garden Terrace.  It includes 2 performances by the Bar-keys. The 1st performance is from 6.30 pm, the 2nd from 10.30 pm.  Tickets start from 8,000 yen.  Access: 5 minute walk from Roppongi Station.

Event Url: http://www.billboard-live.com/pg/shop/show/index.php?mode=detail1&event=10224&shop=1

SHIBUYA, Womb presents New Year Countdown to 2017

The event at the popular nightclub Womb starts from 9 pm to 4.30 am. Every year there is an Internationally acclaimed DJ running the show. Ticket prices vary, details are on their website.

URL: http://womb.co.jp/

 

ASAKUSA, Countdown event in Hanayashiki Amusement Park.

The park will open for this special event from 9 pm on the 31st to 2 am on the 1st. Last year it cost 1000 yen per person from 2 years old up. This year the cost has increased considerably. It is cheaper to buy in advance. Please see the linked website for more details. Not all of the park will be open, but there will be certain areas open and stage events. The ticket includes unlimited access to 9 rides, which include the merry-go-round, Little Star and Helicopter rides.

URL: Hanayashiki Countdown official webpage (Japanese only)

JOYPOLIS, Countdown Party 2016/7

This lively event runs from 11.15 pm on New Year’s Eve.  They have live music and comedic performances. Entry into Joypolis before the event is 800 yen for adults and 300 yen for children of school going age, but you have to pay extra for the New Year’s eve events. Tickets are already on sale. You can also buy on the day. Each ticket grants different access. Their system is a little convoluted, but basically a ticket costs around 3000 yen.  Access: 5 minute walk from Odaiba station. More details on the official site;

URL: Joypolis Countdown Event (Japanese only)

 

EDOGAWA, Kasai Rinkai Park Ferris Wheel Countdown

KasaiThe event is free, but you have to pay 700 yen to ride the ferris wheel. There will be live entertainment.  It opens from 11 pm to 0.30 am on the 1st.

URL: Kasai Ferris Wheel homepage

 

SUMIDA, 2016/7 Countdown at Higashi Shirahige Park

The riverside area has a long running year-end event and more recently illumination with lanterns, too. It is a free event. It starts 15 minutes before midnight.  Illumination starts at 5 pm and on New Years is on until 6 am on New Year’s day.  Queries to 03-3619-8888.

TOKYO BAY, Countdown Cruising, New Year’s Eve 2016/7

For adults, there are two different cruises you can enjoy on New Year’s eve in Tokyo Bay. Both provide a meal, a glass of champagne plus another free drink and music. The buffet course cruise costs 13,500 yen per person and leaves Tokyo Bay at 22.50 returning to land at 1.20 am. The Classic cruise costs 14,500 yen and leaves at 22.30, returning at 1.10 am New Year’s Day. You can book from 10 am to 7.30 pm on 03-3798-8101.  You can find more information in Japanese on their website. You can also book a cruise to see the first sunrise of 2017. It departs the bay at 5.50 am.

URL: New Year Cruising 2017

 

AGEHA, Ageha Countdown 2017

**This one is not suited to children**.  Ageha is a famous dance club venue in Shin Kiba. It has a great New Year’s event, from 9 pm to sunrise. You need to buy a ticket in advance. Tickets are already on sale and will be until the 29th of December. It is 4,980 yen per person. There’s lot of little events on during the night, including a Ageha shrine and the traditional food of soba.  The phone number is 03-5534-2525.

URL: Ageha Countdown 2017

GINZA, Hooters Countdown Party

This one is for adults. Every year the Ginza, Shibuya and Shinjuku branches of Hooters throw Countdown parties. This year the Ginza branch’s theme is dance music from the ’70s to the ’90s. It runs from 11 pm to 3 am. Tickets are 3,500 yen for men, 3,000 yen for women, but if you buy them in advance they are 500 yen cheaper.

URL: http://www.hooters.co.jp/news/3063/

 

CHIBA

MAKUHARI Messe, Countdown Japan 16/17

Makuhari Messe hold a mammoth Countdown event for the 4 days leading up to New Year’s. On New Year’s Eve the event run from 3 pm to 5 am. There are a huge amount of live performances and performance artists. It costs 11,500 yen for one day or you can pay extra for access for 2 days or more. Access: 5 minute walk from Kaihin Makuhari Station.

URL: http://countdownjapan.jp/

IKSPIARI, Countdown Live 2017

The free area beside Tokyo Disney resort will host a live countdown in the Celebration Plaza on the 2nd floor. The live music starts from 6 pm.  A concurrent event is the very popular sale of fukubukuro, lucky bags, from midnight. Restaurants are open until 1 am and shops until 3 am.  On New Year’s day they will have shishimai performances at 12 midday, 2 pm and 4 pm.

URL: Official Ikspiari New Year 2017

KANAGAWA

HAKKEJIMA SEA PARADISE, Happy Island Countdown

Hakkejima Sea Paradise’s New Year celebrations start at 7 pm on New Year’s eve and run all night, usually until around 8 am. You can even witness 2017’s first sunrise over Boso Peninsula at around 6.50 am. There will be live music and comedian performances throughout the New Year celebrations.  Fireworks synchronised to music will see out the old year and welcome in the new one.  This popular countdown event has been running since about 2000 and draws crowds.  You can already purchase tickets online. The prices vary according to packages, more on their website:

URL: Happy Island Countdown 2017
Information about Hakkejima Sea Paradise in English: http://www.seaparadise.co.jp/english/

YOKOHAMA Hard Rock Cafe Count Down

Dance in the New Year with the staff of the Hard Rock Café. Starts from 11.30 pm to 3 am. Entry is free, but you have to pay for food and drink.

Event URL: http://hardrockjapan.com/event/5601/

 

YOKOSUKA Countdown 2017

From 6 pm to 1 am on New Year’s day you can enjoy the holiday atmosphere of Yokosuka as thousands celebrate in Verny Park, close to Yokosuka station.  Two of the highlights of the night are the navy ships covered in lights and the fireworks show at midnight. Queries to the Yokosuka City Tourism Association 046-825-1080. *This event may not take place if there is bad weather.*

URL: https://www.cocoyoko.net/event/countdown.html



 

YAMANASHI

FUJIQ HIGHLAND, Countdown live

You can attend the event if you buy an entry ticket for the amusement park on the 31st. Last year, if you bought the pass after 5 pm, it gives you access until 8 pm on the 1st. They had a decent line up of comedians and TV “talents” for the main stage last year, but this year’s information hasn’t been finalised. There are usually fireworks around midnight. For those attending the FujiQ New Year party you can usually enjoy ice-skating all through the night for free. Hopefully, this year’s information will be released soon.

URL: FujiQ Highland Countdown Live

Information about FujiQ in English: FujiQ Official English website

 

Please note that some of these events will be dependent on weather, so if it is a rainy or stormy day on the 31st please do check the homepages or ring the numbers provided to see if the events will go ahead.

This is just some of the special events on for New Year’s Eve 2016/2017. There are other types of events you can enjoy, too. For example  there is the Japan only event of buying Daruma.  A lot of Japanese people go to a shrine or temple to welcome the New Year. My pick for the Greater Tokyo area is the Yakuouin Temple on Mt Takao. However, it is cold, dark and crowded. So why do people go? Three very big reasons; the first sunrise AND the first glimpse of Mt Fuji for 2017 and age old New Year traditional ceremonies. Mt Takao cable car runs from 8a m on New Years Eve right through to 6 pm on New Year’s Day.

For even more suggestions of great ways/places to spend New Year’s Eve, please see the comprehensive list with details on Timeout.  

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?

Fuku Daruma / Daruma Market | KAWAGOE & TAKASAKI 【GUNMA】

I often get asked about Japanese New Year’s traditions. There are a  lot, but one close to my heart is the ancient tradition of purchasing Daruma dolls. It was the very first quintessentially Japanese New Year’s tradition I had the fortune to try.

My first New Year in Japan, 16 years ago, was spent in Takasaki, Gunma, which is an area famous for Daruma dolls. My friends and I had the rare opportunity to make our own Daruma. They are made from papier-mâché, are round, usually red with a face of a bearded man. The dolls are to some just a toy, but to most they are more of a talisman.  They are actually modeled after Bodhidarma the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.

“Daruma0791” by Frank Gualtieri – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma0791.jpg#/media/File:Daruma0791.jpg

When you buy the doll the eyes are not painted in. The idea is to paint in one eye, usually the left one, as you start a quest and paint the other one on completion of your resolution or task. As such, they have become a symbol of perseverance and good luck. The latter is attributed to the Daruma Temple which played a big part in increasing the popularity of Daruma as a good luck charm and as a New Year’s tradition. People who are firm believers in the Daruma tend to buy one every New Year and burn the old one as per tradition.

Both pupils in to mark completion of a task or resolution

Sometimes you see Daruma of different colour. In my own prefecture of Saitama, Fukaya is known for their green coloured Daruma. Supposedly green is more specifically as a good luck charm for health.  In Fukaya, green matches the colour of the city mascot!

One of the more traditional and popular New Year events in Japan is Daruma Markets. There is one in Saitama in Kawagoe’s Kitain Temple every year on the 3rd.  However, the best is the annual Takasaki Daruma-Ichi (Daruma fair) event held on January 6th (and 7th). Daruma Ichi is the largest and most famous daruma market in all of Japan.

White Tiger Daruma at Tobu Zoo

The annual Daruma-Ichi (or Daruma Fair) is held on January 6 and 7 every year. During this event, there are the numerous booths around the Reifudo and Darumado, displaying all sizes of new Fuku-Daruma dolls(6cm~75cm) produced by local farm families. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the temple to buy their Fuku-Daruma dolls for the new year and have them blessed.Source: Obaku Zen School | Syorinzan Darumaji

You can read more about Takasaki Daruma in English here:
https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=70

You can read more about Daruma here:
http://www.daruma.jp/about.html

Featured Image: “Daruma dolls”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg#/media/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg

Kawagoe Kitain Temple Daruma Market

Kitain Temple Daruma Festival | KAWAGOE

The real Santa with grotto and sleigh in Tochigi

In the big search for Santa in 2015, one prefecture that stood out for having a great selection of Santa events and attractions was TOCHIGI. So my family of six took to the road to do a bit of reconnaissance. We were very happy with the trip and the abundance of Christmas events and Santa visits in areas of Tochigi.

Nasu Santa (8)It was in Nasu in Tochigi that we found “our” Santa, the one that felt most like the Santa from my youth, that made my children truly believe and added some magic to their Christmas experience. What makes that Santa so magical is that he is in a Grotto and he has his day sledge parked outside.  It was the first thing the kids saw as we pulled into the car park of Finland No Mori and raised the excitement and anticipation from the get-go. It was the start of a magical day for my four kids aged 1 to 6 years old at the time, and I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I had expected. We thoroughly absorbed the Christmas atmosphere and came home with a little jingle in our steps! There were so many Santa photo spots, events and attractions throughout Nasu so driving around that area felt more like Christmas than anywhere else I have experienced in Japan. We will make the trip again this year.

FINLAND NO MORI

People queuing up to see the real Santa
People queuing up to see the real Santa

Finland no Mori is a small Finnish theme park of sorts.  There are only a few shops, but among them is a Moomin shop selling character goods from the popular Finnish cartoon. The main shop is the Harman stoves store, which sells and showcases stoves from throughout the generations. There is a novelty shop within the store. There is also a cafe and shop selling foreign produce on the site and next to it the very popular Hammock Cafe. I think the small retail park is aptly named as it does feel very Scandinavian.
Hammock Cafe

They offer two ways to meet Santa. One is a free event that is usually run the weekend before Christmas. The other way is to spend more than 1000 yen at the bakery, Mori no Pan Ya, and foreign produce shop in Finland no Mori and get a ticket to see him on the same day (weekends and holidays only). With this ticket you get the opportunity to take photos with your own camera. Each day the times are a little different and subject to change so please check on the website (below), but generally there is a mid-morning and early afternoon slot. The day we went the crowds weren’t actually that bad at all, but there was a TV crew there filming which held up the queue.

2016 Information: Santa Claus is visiting Finland No Mori EVERY DAY this year from December 14th to 24th. There are mainly 3 time slots in a day, but on the 17th, 18th and 21st there are 2 time slots. The FREE event for this year is from 3 pm to 4 pm on December 17th. You can see the detailed schedule for 2016 here:
http://www.finlandnomori.net/news.html

Nasu Santa (7)Apart from the opportunity to meet the real Santa, there are also some fun Santa photo spots around the area. Within Finland no Mori itself they have a Santa statue and wooden blocks painted as Santa.  Not too far from Finland no mori, there is a shop were it is Christmas all year round; Christmas Town. Also nearby is the Teddy Bear Museum  which we visited on the trip and some of the teddies are dressed up in Santa outfits and Olaf costumes. Near the Nasu highway exit we stopped at 661 street, which has a great display of Santa statues, including a Coca-Cola Santa at the Coke Store. Usually that store has a Santa visiting too.  There were many places we passed on our journey that had Christmas decorations and winter illumination. There wasn’t time to investigate them all, but generally we felt Nasu had a nice Christmas atmosphere and Scandinavian feel and I certainly want to go back to investigate more. If you have anywhere you would like to recommend, please do not hesitate to comment.

 

URL: http://finlandnomori.net/

Address: 2730-36 Takakuotsu, Nasu Tochigi 325-0303

Phone: 0287-78-0981

Thanks to the completion of a new stretches of highway, Tochigi is very accessible from Saitama. It took us just under two hours to reach our first stop in Nasu on the Tohokudo expressway.

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。

The Santa Claus Round Up 2016 | SAITAMA

All of the Santa meet and greet spots included in the above map are detailed in the event section of insaitama.com.  If you click on a Santa on the map it will open a small window with the location’s details and a link to the event’s details. Click on the link to be brought to specifics for that Santa Claus Meet and Greet event.

For those who are visiting Santa in Saitama for the first time, please note that Santa Claus visits in Japan are not like what you might be used to at home. There is no grotto, no present from Santa and you take a photo with your own camera. Most of the events are free, with the exception of the Maruhiro Santa events, which cost 300 yen.

33 Santa Claus Locations in Tokyo

19 Santa Claus Locations in Chiba

Chichibu Night Festival | CHICHIBU

At 2.02 am today, December 1st 2016 the Chichibu Night Festival, specifically the traditional music and performances of the festival, along with 32 festivals in Japan were confirmed and recorded as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Congratulations CHICHIBU. 🙂

Japanese people seem to have an magnanimous love of the number three. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the numerous compilations of top threes that are famous within the country. There are the three gardens of Japan, the three views of Japan, the three night views of Japan, the big three festivals, the big three fireworks and so on and so forth. Chichibu Night Festival also makes it on to a top three list or more accurately a “greatest” list. It is one of Japan’s three greatest Hikiyama (pull-float) festivals in Japan, together with Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Takayama Matsuri in Gifu prefecture.



KASABOKO from Chichibu Navi page
KASABOKO from Chichibu Navi page
YATAI from Chichibu's Navi Page
YATAI from Chichibu’s Navi Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The floats of this 300 year old festival, which are very different to the better known Mikoshi (portable shrine), 奉奏are on wheels and are drawn by a rope, by bearers clad in traditional festival clothes.  There are a number of different floats classified as Kasaboko or Yatai. Both are floats with beautifully carved ornate roofs. There are two main differences between them.  The first is that the Kasaboko have an appendage on the roof, which remind me of Yorishiro, the white paper decorations you see around trees at shinto shrines. The Yatai does not have this decoration. The second is that the Yatai have room for performers to sit and play music and / or dance, which Kasaboko do hot have. They floats are pulled around the town on both days of the festival:

On the 2nd the floats will be pulled from Chichibu shrine from about 12 noon first to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi at approximately 4 pm. During this time you can watch the floats being turned and danced around the street. The yatai will have live traditional music and you can witness traditional dance. From 10 am to 3 pm you can see traditional performances in Chichibu Shrine. From 4 to 6 pm there is taiko drums and other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station. Fireworks are from 7 to 8 pm.

On the 3rd the you can see the kasaboko and yatai all around the city from 9 am to midnight. The yatai will be pulled with traditional dancers performing in the float, from just before 10 am on the same route as the 2nd: from Chichibu shrine to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi which will be around 1 pm. Chichibu shrine will have music and traditional performances from 10 am to 3 pm. You can see a Yatai Shibai, stage performance, from 11 am to 2 pm in Naka machi near the kaijyou 会場. Oneri (Kabuki Douchuu) a type of acting performance will be held between 2.30 and 3.30 pm moving from around the Chichibu shrine area right down to Yao Department store.  From 10 am to 7 pm there are live taiko drum and other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station and Chichibu Tetsudo station. The fireworks are from 7.30 to around 10 pm.

INFORMATION

Cost: FREE

Dates / Hours: Every year on December 2nd from 10 am to about 8 pm and December 3rd from 9 am to midnight.

URL: http://chichibuji.gr.jp/

TEL: to Chichibu Tourism at 0494-25-5209

ACCESS

From the Chichibu Tourism English webpage

BY CAR

  • Use National highway No. 140 from Kanetsu Expressway flower garden I.C.; in Chichibu-shi (from flower garden IC approximately 35km)
  • Use National highway No. 299 from Kanetsu Expressway Kawagoe I.C. or Tsurugashima I.C.; in Chichibu-shi
  • From Kawagoe, Iruma at National highway No. 299 via Shomaru tunnel in Chichibu-shi (from Hanno approximately 40km)
  • From Yamanashi side via National highway No. 140 wild goose slope tunnel in Chichibu-shi

BY TRAIN

Trains are usually very scarce in the evening in Chichibu, but each train line puts on extra trains for this special occasion. Usually the last train leaves around 10.20 pm. Please do check for up-to-date information on train times.

  • Getting off at SEIBU Railway Seibu-Chichibu Station (limited express from Ikebukuro approximately 80 minutes)
    To SEIBU Railway homepage
  • To each Chichibu-Railway Wado Kuroya, Onohara, Chichibu, Ohanabatake, Kagemori, Urayamaguchi, Bushunakagawa, Bushuhino, Shiroku, Mitsumineguchi nearest station (from Kumagaya to Chichibu approximately 70 minutes)
    To Chichibu-Railway homepage

Even more detailed access information here:
http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp.e.qg.hp.transer.com/access/

The Santa Round-up 2016 | CHIBA

Where can I visit Santa in CHIBA?

Santa Claus arrived into Narita airport this morning, November 25th, by plane to attend all the different Santa meet and greet events around Kanto. Please do note that Santa visits here are a lot more simple than in other countries. There is generally no grotto, no presents and no professional photographer.  You can take a photo, but with your own camera.

Below is some of the places where you can find Santa in CHIBA prefecture. Where you see the mention of a “Finnish / Finland Santa” means that it is the Santa that flew into Japan today (or a variation of him).  🙂  If you are looking for where you can visit Santa in Tokyo, that is also featured on this blog: The Santa Round-up 2016 | TOKYO

Please feel free to share this information around.  insaitama.com is a free and not-for-profit blog sharing information for those who don’t read Japanese.

 

FROM NOVEMBER

Ikspiari Town

White Santa is currently on his annual visit to Ikspiari Town, he arrived on NOVEMBER 8TH. You can only meet him if you have receipts for over 3000 yen. They also have another Santa meet and greet opportunity this year, if you take part in a campaign between November 8th and 30th, you will be put in a draw for dinner with Santa between December 22nd and 24th.
Official site: http://www.ikspiari.com/ent/event/christmas2016/
More information in English for this year:
http://insaitama.com/santa-ikspiari/

 

**DISNEY** You can no longer meet and greet Santa in Tokyo Disney Land and Sea. He does feature in the Christmas parades, but is not available for a close up!

DECEMBER

Ario, Ichihara

The Ichihara branch of Ario have a Lapland Santa visiting on December 3rd between 2 and 4 pm. This is a free event and will take place in the indoor part of Sunshine Court.
URL: http://www.ario-ichihara.jp/web/event/4aba9f15-db0c-42de-9222-87432602f902.html

Premium Outlets

Premium Outlets at SHISUI offer the chance to get your photo taken with Santa (bring your own camera!) on December 4th at the stage area in front of the food court. There will be four time slots at 10 am, 12.30 pm, 2 pm and 3.30 pm. Each time slot they will allow the first 50 families to visit with him. He will also visit the premium outlets in Ibaraki, Tochigi and Shizuoka on different dates.
Event URL: http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/sp/wsr_santa2016/

Toys R Us, Babies R Us

Santa will be visiting a number of Toysrus and Babiesrus around Chiba. Please note that some of these Santa are Japanese. You can check with your local branch to see which type of Santa is visiting. On December 3rd you can meet him at the Shin-Urayasu and Makuhari Shintoshin branches.  On the 4th he will be at the Shin Kamagaya and Funabashi branches. On the 10th he is at the Matsudo and Chiba New Town branches. On the 11th he is at Narita and Noda city branches. On the 17th at Chiba Naganuma branch. On the 18th and Soga and Ichikawa branches.  Times are 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm.  URL: https://www.toysrus-cp.jp/xmas/#scroll-SantaSchedule

Kashiwa Takashimaya Station Mall

Santa will visit Kashiwa Takashimaya Station Mall on December 17th at three different times. Between 10.30 and 11 am he will be in the 6th floor kids room, from noon to 1 pm he will be in specialty store at the 5th floor plaza and from 1.30 to 2 pm he will be at the Sanrio Gift gate on the 5th floor.  All of these are in the S Wing. More information in Japanese on the official site:
http://www.takashimaya.co.jp/kashiwa/topics/others.html#os19987

Sheraton (Tokyo Bay) Hotel

For patrons of the hotel or even just of the eateries in the hotel, there will be opportunities to meet Santa on both December 23rd and 24th.  He will visit between 6 and 8 pm on both evenings.
Official Site: http://www.sheratongrandetokyobay.com/jp/christmas2016

 

Ario,  Soga

The Soga branch of Ario have a Finland Santa visiting on December 24th at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm. This event is limited to the first 50 families for each time slot. They require that you have at least one child under school age, i.e under 7 years old. The event will take place at the 1st floor Sun Court.
Event URL: http://www.ario-soga.jp/web/event/d323c23e-f901-4be0-ac9c-66ea11254233.html

NEW Funabashi Andersen Park

GREEN Santa, an eco-friendly Santa from Denmark, will visit Funabashi Andersen Park on December 23rd at 11.20 am and 2.20 pm. Website: http://www.park-funabashi.or.jp/and/aevnts.htm

Narita Airport

This year Narita Airport is celebrating 25 years of Santa visiting.  As I said above, he arrived into Japan via Narita airport today, but he usually visits on Christmas Eve too. I will post more information here when it is released.

There are a few other places I am waiting to confirm whether they will have Santa visiting again this year, I will add them if they are confirmed. If you do know of any, please do share so that everyone can find a Santa near them. 🙂