Category Archives: Yoshimi

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/

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

iwamuro-kannon-12

When I first came to Japan it was as an exchange student with 6 of my friends from my University in Ireland. One of my friends famously said “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all” and there is a truth in that. The magnificence of a temple doesn’t always lie in its appearance, but rather in the history and meaning behind a particular temple.  Many temples do look very like others and / or some are very plain and, frankly, quite disappointing to the naked eye, but on the flip side there are many that are both aesthetically pleasing and have a fascinating back story.  Then there are those that are different; that stand out for either their background or their architecture or both.  Iwamuro Kannon is, in my experience, one of those temples.

Located on the side of a cliff right by the side of the road, the temple is intricately positioned between two rock fronts. The ground floor of the temple is actually part of the cliff and the 88 stone statues, which are one appeal of the temple, are housed in caves within the rock. The stone statues are images of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is dedicated to this “Goddess of Mercy”. The building of the temple is a beautiful wooden structure positioned on stilts. There is no door on the temple and you are free to climb the steep stairs to the first floor where you can look out over the Ichino River on the North End.  In Spring the Cherry blossoms along that river are stunning and draw quite a large amount of tourists.  On the South end you see the steep trail that leads to the site of Matsuyama Castle. The only remnant of the castle is the moat, but you can view a diorama of the castle in one of the museums in the nearby 100 Caves of Yoshimi. You can exit the temple onto the trail at the back of the temple.  On your right you will see a ladder leading to another Kannon. On the left a staircase has been dug into the incline, with a chain rope for support, so that you can climb up to and pass under the naturally formed passage that is shaped like a heart.

iwamuro-kannon-9

Once upon a time Iwamuro kannon enjoyed many visitors as the 3rd stop (of 33), and only one in Yoshimi, on a pilgrimage of Kannon statues in the Hiki district. The Kannon are said to have 33 forms they use when helping sentient beings, thus the Hiki West Country pilgrimmage has 33 stops.  Nowadays, however, the temple is virtually abandoned, making it pleasingly tranquil. On the south side you are enveloped by nature, but the temple is quite literally on the side of the road on the North end. That road is mainly used to get to the 100 caves and as such isn’t used much in off season periods. The lack of visitors would imply that in recent years it does not enjoy much appreciation, fame or reverence, but it impressed me greatly. It is well worth a stop, in my personal opinion, if you are in the area.

iwamuro-kannon-5

INFORMATION

Cost: FREE

Parking: Shared with the 100 caves of Yoshimi. FREE

Access:

By Public Transport

Just over an hour from Tokyo.

  • Bus from Tōbu Tōjō Line Higashimatsuyama station (from Ikebukuro) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口
  • Or Bus from  JR Takasaki Line Konosu station (from Ueno) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口 from Konosu Sta.

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

 


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

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

100 caves of yoshimi (5)

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 of that type. I wasn’t sure how much the kids would enjoy it. Much to my delight, they were really eager to explore the terrain and the facilities on site.

World War II Bunkers
World War II Bunkers

What my young children enjoyed:
There are WWII bunkers (tunnels) on the ground floor, which the kids thrilled in running around, and pretending to be super heroes fighting evil. (Yes, I know, the irony!) They enthusiastically climbed the dozens of steps to the top of the hill into which the tombs are set.  They popped in and out of the caves that are accessible. They played with the toys set out in the community centre at the entrance.  They had traditional New Year toys set out as it was the first week in January. They always have some toys and colouring pages and markers available for young children to play with.

100 Caves of Yoshimi Blog (2)

I really enjoyed our morning there, too.  However, a note to parents,  it is not the safest of places to bring more than 2 small children per adult.  I had my then newborn in a baby carrier and my 2 year old held my hand, but my then 3 year old and 5 year old ran ahead to climb the stairs to the top of the hill. They were okay, but an accident could easily happen as the hill is very steep and there are limited guard rails and the ones that do exist my kids would slip through! Also, in the summer and autumn they have a problem with killer hornets.  Another thing to note for parents with small children; leave your buggy / stroller in the car as you can’t bring it up the hill or stairs or into the caves. You can wheel it through the bunkers though. All that said, it is still a place worth visiting!

100 Caves of Yoshimi Blog (1)

Information:

You can partake of craft workshops on the grounds.

There is a free play area in the main building.

There is a restaurant, shop and rest area.

There are vending machines.

There are toilets and a changing mat.

Hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week.

Cost: Free entry for children up to 6 years old. 200 yen for primary school aged children. 300 yen for children over 12 years old and adults.  Free parking for up to 250 cars.

Address: 324 Kita Yoshimi, Yoshimi Town, Hiki District, Saitama

Tel: 0493-54-4541

Access:
Bus : from Tobu Tojo Line Higashimatsuyama station bound for 百吉見穴.
Car: 5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.

Some more photos of the facilities and scenery hereafter.

For more information in English on the history of the caves, please take a look at Jojoebi designs detailed blog post about them.

Nearby Attractions:

Iwamuro Kannon

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

Ichigo No Sato, Yoshimi

Playground at Ichigo no Sato, Yoshimi

Strawberry Picking, Yoshimi

Strawberry Picking in Yoshimi, Saitama

The Baseball Shrine, Higashimatsuyama

Yakyu Inari Shrine, the Baseball Shrine| Higashimatsuyama

Park and Playground, Yoshimi Friendship Athletic Park

Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground

Playground at Ichigo no Sato | Yoshimi

Ichigo no Sato is a “roadside station” in the prefecture of Saitama, North west of Tokyo. A roadside station is a type of rest and service area with a large parking area.

There are toilets and benches as well as a gift shop, a vegetable shop, a farmer’s market, a shop selling rice, a strawberry greenhouse, an udon restaurant and a coffee shop with rest area. There are also some eateries in log cabins along one walkway.  One of the popular products on sale is “Ichigo Nama Dorayaki”, which is like a type of strawberry filled pancake. There is an information stand with information for Yoshimi in the building behind the ice-cream van, it also provides a list of all strawberry picking greenhouses in the area. We go for the playground and the ice-cream!

 

Update November 2016

The roadside station has added some really fun and colourful equipment to the playground this year.

INFORMATION

Address: 1737 Kubota, Yoshimi, Saitama 355-0137

Phone: 0493-53-1530

Access: 7 kilometres from Kanetsu Expressway’s Higashimatsuyama Interchange.

Hours: Playground is open all year round, but shops are open 9 am to 5 pm, restaurants are open 11 am to 3 pm on weekdays and until 4 pm on weekends.

Other attractions in Yoshimi

Very near to this playground is a strawberry picking area:

Strawberry Picking in Yoshimi, Saitama

Other attractions a short drive away:

A park with 2 playgrounds

Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground

100 Caves of Yoshimi

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

Iwamuro Kannon

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

 

Strawberry Picking in Yoshimi, Saitama

FOR A LIST OF  KANTO AREA STRAWBERRY FARMS IN ENGLISH, BY CITY, WITH TELEPHONE NUMBER, URL AND SEASON DATES PLEASE SEE http://kajapan.org/places/strawberry-picking-in-kanto/

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Winter / Spring strawberry picking is popular for family and school outings in Japan from February through May. However, some of the winter strawberry green houses open for picking as early as mid December. Our local greenhouses, with public strawberry picking, open officially from next week. We got in ahead of the crowd and enjoyed a half hour of all-you-can-eat, pick your own, strawberries today in Yoshimi Town.

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Ichigo no Sato in Yoshimi Town is one of the better known strawberry picking areas in Saitama. Ichigo no Sato is a “roadside station” (道の駅) on prefectural route 27. “Ichigo” is the japanese for strawberry and this rest area was so named due to the abundance of strawberry fields in the area. The rest area has a very nice playground, fruit and vegetable shops and stalls, an udon restaurant, an ice-cream van, a cafe & bakery, and facilities for people on long journeys such as restrooms and changing rooms. There is a strawberry picking greenhouse right beside the roadside station, but that does not open for business until later in the month. They provide maps in each of the shops to direct you to other strawberry picking facilities in the vicinity;
Ichigo no sato area yoshimi

The price varies greatly between each strawberry picking farm, not only within Yoshimi, but surrounding areas too. Note, the price for strawberry picking in greenhouses changes as the weather warms, with December through March being more expensive than April and May. Logical when you think of the extra expense of keeping a greenhouse at the right temperature during the cold months. Speaking of which, greenhouses can often be uncomfortably warm and humid, especially if you are wearing heavy winter clothes.

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The greenhouse we chose, ①-1 on the map, offered 30 minutes all you can pick and eat strawberries for 600 yen for a child aged 3 and up to 6th grade elementary school and 1200 yen for anything older than that.  From April 1st, the prices come down to 500 yen for children and a 1000 yen for adults.  If you want to buy strawberries you’ve picked, but haven’t eaten it costs 100 yen per 100 gram.  30 minutes was plenty time with young children. The website is http://www.geocities.jp/i_ichigoen/d-annai.html#d-ryokin (Japanese only).  There is room for about 6 cars in front of the greenhouse and more were parallel parked on the road behind it. Their internet site says they have a toilet.

The prices, as well as contact details and webpages where applicable, of the strawberry farms on the above map can be seen in this photo below.

Ichigo no sato area farms and prices

Nearby Attractions include:

Playground at Ichigo no Sato | Yoshimi

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

There are strawberry picking areas in the neighbouring town of Kawajima too. Most of those farms are still closed for business, but there is one open called Strawberry Hunt. These greenhouses also often 30 minute all-you-can-eat, but at the more expensive price of 1,600 yen for adults and 1,100 yen for children from January through May.  The address is 1072 Mushizuka, Kawajima Town.

Other areas in Saitama known for strawberry picking include Chichibu City, Ranzan, Yokoze and Kawajima Towns. Our favourite is in Sakado and that one has a play area too:

Strawberry Picking with a play area | Sakado

If you can read Japanese, you can find links to strawberry picking farms on the Saitama prefectural website.  For an overview of the fruit picking seasons,  Japan Guide has a good summary here.

FOR A LIST OF STRAWBERRY FARMS IN ENGLISH, WITH AREA, TELEPHONE NUMBER, URL AND SEASON DATES PLEASE SEE http://kajapan.org/places/strawberry-picking-in-kanto/