Category Archives: Things to do in Saitama

There is a huge amount of things to do and places to go in Saitama, approximately 400 places are included on this blog. This is the master list of all the fun and interesting things you can do with children in Saitama. On the top menu there is a drop down box under the menu heading “Things to do and places to go in Saitama”. In this drop down box you can see the places of interest in Saitama further categorized under headings such as “Parks & Playgrounds”, “Play / Fun Centres” “Museums and Educational” and so forth.

Niko Niko Garden Renewal Open in Festa | AGEO

Value Plaza Ageo is an old style department store and walking into it you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d gone through a time slip to the 1980s. It is a cold and stark building, both indoors and out. And first impressions would likely put you off. The same can be said of Festa (video arcade), where Niko Niko Garden is. All I can hope is that you won’t be turned off by the cheap and run down feel of the video arcade and walk to the back corner where the entrance to Niko Niko Garden is. You won’t regret it!

Niko Niko Garden was recently revamped and re-opened. It is a play / fun center for children from 0 to 8 years old. I was never in the old version, so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement there is, but I can say that the current play center is well worth a visit with small children. Not only do they have a decent selection of things to play with, it is also really good value. On a weekday you can play ALL day for 500 yen per child and 200 yen per adult.  On the weekend it is 800 yen per child and 200 yen per adult. There are very few places one adult and one child can play indoors all day (on the weekend) for just one note (1000 yen).  I use the term play for adults lightly: unlike nearby Spocha, there isn’t actually anything for adults to “play” with. However, there are things about Niko Niko Garden that will appeal to a parent or supervising adult…

The play area is all in one area, bar one corner you can see all of the play area from the seating area. The seating area has tables and zaibuton where you can chill while your kids play.  A lot of the play area is quite safe for anyone over two and is set up in such a way that a child can, in theory, play by themselves while you relax in the rest area. There is also one area that even a one year old can play with minimum supervision. In the seating area there is free coffee, tea and water you can help yourself to. You are allowed bring in your own food and eat it this area, but they don’t actually sell food. There is even a microwave so you can heat food. They do have a couple of vending machines: one with kids drinks, mainly anpanman juices. They are more reasonably priced than elsewhere at only 80 yen per juice. There is also a vending machine that sells soft drinks and  bottle / can coffee for about 130 yen per drink. There is a selection of magazines you can borrow in the seating area and they even have some free massage chairs for patron’s use. There is a TV on mute in this area.

Free lockers in rest area

For the kids they have:

  • a balloon room
  • 3 bouncy castles / inflated play area, 2 of which have climbing and slides
  • a large ball pool with a slide into it
  • a zorb
  • two play kitchen areas
  • play kitchen toys: food, crockery etc
  • two wooden table train sets
  • plarail
  • cars
  • kinetic sand corner
  • lego blocks
  • magnetic pieces for making ramps for balls to roll down
  • play houses
  • mechanical moving horses and zebras
  • push along rides
  • piano
  • toddler play stations
  • wooden bead mazes for toddlers

Apart from the play equipment and toys the fun center also organise a couple of events a day. Today they had an origami event where one of the staff taught the kids how to make various animals out of origami paper. You can join if you are interested and you don’t have to stay for the whole time, you can come and go as you please. The same goes for the fun center.

Information

System

You buy a ticket from a machine and then show it to a staff member at the desk. The machine has 4 options, only 3 of which are available on weekdays, as outlined in the costs below; the numbers circled ① to ④. At the counter you need to fill out a small form with your name and number and “agree” to their disclaimer. You are given a tag to wear around your neck that this card is placed into. The entry cover charge is for the whole day, but you can come and go as often or as little as you want.  When you leave the play center to take a break, but plan to go back in, you leave that name tag in a basket at the counter. You pick it up again when you are returning to the play center. When you are leaving for the day you hand the neck tag back to the reception desk.

After the counter you can open the little gate to go into the center. You take your shoes off here and put them in a shoe box. If you have a buggy / stroller with you, you leave it here. In the rest / sitting area there are free lockers you can use to store your valuables. They have no toilets in the facility so you do need to leave if you want to use the toilets. The nearest are beside the elevator in Value Plaza. There is one changing mat in the play center for babies and toddlers. If you didn’t bring lunch with you, you can either go out to eat or buy food in Value Plaza (or go further afield if you prefer) and bring it in to eat. There is a food court in Value Plaza and it is near the fun center.  It has a First Kitchen, a curry shop and a couple of other stores including one of only five Dipper Dan in Saitama! First Kitchen currently have a “one coin” lunch; a burger, chips and drink set for just 500 yen. They have a kids menu too and it comes with a “free” toy that kids pick from a (small) selection.

Hours and Cost

Niko Niko Garden is open seven days a week from 10 am to 7.30 pm. Last entry is 7 pm. Apart from the excellent value “free time” passes you can also pay for a ①twenty minute slot which costs 300 yen per child on weekdays or weekends. As per above, the ②free time passes are 500 yen per child on weekdays and 800 yen on weekends. On the weekends they have an ③additional package for one hour for 500 yen per child. ④For adults it is always 200 yen per adult, no matter what package you go for.

 

Access

Value Plaza is in the South East area of Ageo, off Route 51 and Nakasendo, on the border of the Omiya area in Kita-Ku, Saitama City.  The nearest landmark is Ageo Sports Park.  Niko Niko Garden isn’t on maps, but you should find Value Plaza no problem. It is on route 164, literally along the Takasaki Line train tracks. However, there isn’t actually a train station nearby. The nearest station is Ageo Station which is a good 25 minute walk away.

Phone: 048-772-7888

Address: 〒362-0034, 3 Chome-1 Atago, Ageo-shi, Saitama-ken 362-0034

Webpage: no official site, the site for Festa is: festa-web.com

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!

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.

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 play center called Yu Kids Ai land. However, they reformed it last summer and re-opened it as Wai Wai Park on August 15th 2016.

It is very hard to believe that Wai Wai Park is part of Aeon Fantasy, the same company that brings you the incredible and top class child’s play center Kidzooona.  This branch of Wai Wai hasn’t got a patch on Kidzoona. And it is even smaller than the old Yu Kids Ai land, which when it was in its prime was actually a fairly decent play center. They just run it into the ground and in the last two to three years there was more broken play equipment than there was working ones. The new Wai Wai Park is up-to-date, functional, bright and colourful. It is just lacking equipment. Due to that, I really wouldn’t recommend it for a child older than three.

Basically it has: a balloon room, a ball pool, an inflated slide, merry-go-round swings, an electronic see-saw, turn tables and some make-believe toys. The latter is a few princess dresses, a kitchen and a tako-yaki cart. There are also a few other lose toys such as wooden cars, a pull along dog and a few other bit and pieces. The end. Yes, that is all they have. Instead of using the space that was there for the whole play center, they decided to use two thirds of it and use the other one third for coin operated rides and games for young children. So apart from there being less to play with, depending on what type of child you have, you could be facing tantrums when your kid wants to play with the coin operated machines even after playing in Wai Wai land. Thankfully, my youngest isn’t like that, but I would have had a hard time with one of my kids if they had been here at toddler age.  My youngest was also content just playing for the thirty minutes, which is the package, and didn’t mind leaving, but I think for some two year old children they might find the time too short.

Another thing that has changed, for the worse in my opinion, is you are no longer allowed sit outside and watch your child from the counter. It is hard to believe that just five short years ago, before it became dilapidated and well before Studio Cafe Zoo Adventure came along,  this was my go-to child center to get a break while the kids played. I could bring a Mr Donuts coffee and donut to the counter outside the play area and sit watching the kids play with a clear view. It was heavenly! Now you have to enter with them. I don’t mind that of course, you expect that in most places anyway, it is just that it is a shame this space no longer has that selling point.

I will be honest: I can’t figure out if this place is reasonably priced or not. It is 500 yen for 30 minutes, which at first sounded expensive to me considering the lack of equipment, especially in comparison to what you get for your money in other places. HOWEVER, you don’t have to pay for an adult. So essentially it was 500 yen for both of us.  In that way, I think it is probably fair and there is a lot worse ways you could spend your money, afore mentioned demon coin machines for one, where 500 yen lasts you 5 minutes. And therefore it is probably worth the 500 yen for a visit every now and then. Do be careful though: they don’t tell you when your time is up and if you go over your time they charge you a 100 yen for every additional 10 minutes.

Address: 1126-1 Kamiokutomi, Sayama-shi, Saitama-ken 350-1333

Phone: 070-3100-4537

URL: http://www.fantasy.co.jp/brand/kanto.html#saitama
For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the area of Sayama may very well be a pre-games training camp host for RUGBY. The training camp grounds on offer are at Secom Rugby Field very near this play center and mall.

At the time of writing this, Google Maps still hasn’t updated the center to the new name and contact information, but the location is right:

 

Nearby Attractions:

 

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/

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/

Flystation Japan opening soon | KOSHIGAYA

【Information Share】

A JAPAN FIRST in Koshigaya, Saitama.

The first ever flystation indoor skydiving center in Japan will open by the end of March 2017 in Koshigaya Saitama. Soon we will have the rare opportunity to experience flying without  jumping out of a plane! The center uses a vertical wind-tunnel for skydiving simulation of falling at about 200 kilometers per hour.

They provide all the necessary equipment such as suit and helmet and a trained instructor is in the room with you.  Children from four years of age are able to participate.  Prices are not yet known.

The center is being built within walking distance of Musashino line Koshigaya Laketown station.  They expect to have parking for about 40 cars. They will be open 9 am to 11 pm seven days a week.

URL: http://flystation.jp/
The featured photo for this post is from the official website.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flystationjp/

Other places of interest in Koshigaya:

URL UPDATED Shirakobato Water Park with Beach | KOSHIGAYA

Cafe Barbapapa @ Lake Town | KOSHIGAYA

 

Setsubun: catching beans for good luck at Kitain Temple | KAWAGOE

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. People celebrate annually with traditional ceremonies in both homes and temples. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or bean throwing. A lot of families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple to do it with a crowd. Today, we did both.

When you carry out setsubun at home, the aim is to chase the ONI (ogres) away. It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but it is just a ritual to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year.  The oni represent evil and bad luck. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at an ogre, which is often the head of the household dressed up in traditional garb!  Most preschools and children community centers also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.  I’ve previously written about our experiences of chasing the demon away while celebrating Setsubun at home.

When celebrated at a temple,  temple staff and honoured guests throw beans into the crowds from a dais.  It is not unusual for the temples to also throw things other than beans. In some places they throw fortunes or amulets or money or a combination of these. Tokyo has some temples that are famous for sumo wrestlers and / or celebrities throwing money to the excited crowds. Most temples conduct rituals before the bean throwing ceremony.  Some temples also have a performance by Oni, Japanese ogres or demons. The oni in Japan usually have one or two horns and wear animal print shorts. They are most often depicted as being red, but the most famous setsubun festival in Kazo, Saitama has 3 oni; one red, one blue and one black. There are many temples that conduct setsubun and mamemaki ceremonies throughout Saitama. We went to one of the biggest; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. This year was the kids first to participate in a ceremony of this type. They were dubious at first, but they quickly joined in on the commotion and were thrilled with their haul. They recounted the affair to their grandparents with great animation and excitement.

The video shows the dais. You can hear the emcee chanting. The last thing he says is "Fuku ha uchi" which invites luck and signifies the start of the bean throwing. I turned off the camera so I would have a chance to catch some of the goodies. :-)

One of the reasons I didn’t bring them to such a ceremony up until now was because I was worried that the crowds would be intimidating, even dangerous. However, I found today that people were quite careful of children for the most part, plus they made periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  However, just before the ceremony ended the throwers accumulated on our end of the dais with huge boxes of goods (not beans) to throw, so there was a sudden surge in the crowd. That was a little frightening for my 2 year old, but she was okay in my arms. It was actually a wonderful feeling when there were dozens of little packets falling from the sky and enveloping us in a feeling of richness! However, the scramble to pick up the fallen packets was both surprising and amusing. The kind Ojiichan (older man) beside us suddenly became an oni himself as he whipped a packet from under my hand. Another stood on a packet so that my six year old couldn’t pick it up! The generous Obaachan (older woman) beside us who had passed us packets of beans was slipping unseen numbers of packets into her pockets and handbag. Despite those incidents we got a good hoard and the kindness of the Ojiichan and Obaachan returned as they complimented my kids on their stash and their devout participation. Much to my surprise I felt totally exhilarated after the whole experience.

    

Apart from the various ceremonies that were conducted there were other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain today. They had some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants, but what interested me most were the various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. As we entered Kitain from the car park we stopped to look at the Daruma at the first stall. The very friendly, personable and informative owner told us many things about the goods he was selling. While we were there a man bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Eur0). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  Sanbonjime is the custom of clapping your hands rhythmically 3 times for 3 claps and one final clap to signify fulfillment. They only do this type of Tejime (ceremonial rhythmic clapping) when they sell their biggest sized Daruma. Passersby stopped to observe and exclaim enthusiastically. It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we may have received some good karma from it!

I have always enjoyed Setsubun as much for what it represents as the fun and vivaciousness of the celebration.  Now that the kids are old enough to enjoy the bean throwing ceremonies at temples, it just adds to the whole experience.  It completes the day for them too, as the celebration in the house is over quite quickly. The preparation of the masks and the aftermath of thrown beans take exponentially longer than the bean throwing ceremony itself! The kids love making the masks, feasting on the ehomaki, the traditional sushi rolls or makizushi and throwing the beans and eating them. (They say that if you eat the same number of beans as your age you will have good health for the year. ) However, I think after today’s experience,  what they are most anticipating now is the bean throwing ceremony at Kitain Temple Kawagoe. 🙂

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details and other seasonal information:
http://insaitama.com/autumn-leaves-at-edo-castle-remains-kitain-temple/


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:

 

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

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

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?