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.
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.
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 darumamarket in all of Japan.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.comis a free and not-for-profit blog sharing information for those who don’t read Japanese.
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!
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 Kamagayaand Funabashibranches. 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 ChibaNaganuma 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
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
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. 🙂
A waterfall in Kimitsu, Chiba, made famous by an Instagram post last Autumn.
Recommended visiting period: early morning in September and October.
Access: If you are coming by train, the nearest station is JR Kazusa Kameyama, but you need to use a taxi (approx. 15 minutes drive) to get to the area, or on a weekend you can use the free shuttle bus to the relatively nearby Katakura dam until the end of October. If driving, the car park is Shimizu Keiryu Hiroba marked by a golden turtle out front.
ALL IMAGES FROM JALAN which I have no affiliation to, but I am a big fan!
Recently, we paid our annual summer visit to the Tokinosumika resort, also known as Gotemba Kogen, in Shizuoka. This visit we split our stay between the Blueberry Lodges and the Hotel Tokinosumika, just two of the accommodation choices available at this activity and attraction packed resort. This year, as always, the night illumination was stunning and the fountain show, which originated in Tokinosumika, was as breathtaking as ever.
This year the central walkway that links the Blueberry Lodges to the village area, have the lights done like the Milky Way. Among the lights are windchimes and tanabata wishes written on prayer plaques.
Tokinosumika was the first place in the world to create a fountain performance using light and projection mapping, set to music. The show is held 3 times a night at weekends, twice on weekdays, beside the Bell of Love at the Big Bang Playground. This year the show started out like fireworks. At one point the water shoots 70 metres into the air.
There are night illumination displays in many other areas of the resort. My favourite view, which unfortunately I didn’t capture very well on my camera with my 1 year old vying for my attention, was the view of the Blueberry Lodges set behind the merry-go-round:
You won’t read much about Tokinosumika in guide books in Japanese or English, as they have such a regular custom from loyal customers they have little need for print advertisement. Most of their custom comes from word of mouth.
GET READY!! Halloween is just around the corner and like last year insaitama.com will bring you a complete round up of all Halloween events in the KANTO area. For now, to get you in the mood and excited for Halloween, here are some of the events already planned for Halloween 2016 in Chiba.
Halloween at the Disney Resort
Would you believe information for Disney’s Halloween has been available since the middle of July? They are into Halloween just about as much as I am! This year’s Disney LAND parade has been named Halloween Pop’n live and they will also have the usual Halloween decorations, haunted house and special merchandise and Halloween themed food. In Disney Sea you can enjoy The Villain’s World: Wishes and Desires.
Ikspiari is a shopping mall beside Tokyo Disney Resort. More information in English available here (linked: Japan Guide). In line with Disney’s Halloween events, Ikspiari also officially opens their Halloween Season on September 9th. The mall will be transformed to a halloween town and they hold a number of events. This year the have themed their town around pumpkins. They will have some pumpkin games, such as a pumpkin basketball hoop challenge.
Each year Choshi transforms into a halloween town. Volunteers, city officials and residents band together to create a fun halloween environment for children, with dress up, individual events, costume competitions and trick or treat.
For the month of October, Narita Yume Farm, entices customers with many special seasonal events, including their Halloween celebrations. There are incentives for coming in fancy dress, with points rewarded for each piece of costume. On different dates they have various activities. Last year, between October 1st and 31st you could enter a “guess the weight of the pumpkin” competition. There is currently no information on whether that event is being held again this year, but they have scheduled in Halloween Lantern making on October 22nd, Halloween Camp and find the ghost activities on the 29th and 30th . The farm has many other events, attractions as well as a BBQ and camping area.
For the last 20 years Yukarigaoka have been celebrating Halloween. The town gets into Halloween mode from the week before Halloween night and they carve pumpkins in the lead up and display for all to enjoy. They also have a fancy dress and costume competition each year. They have not updated for 2016 yet, but the information should be coming shortly.
I am currently researching places to bring the kids for a short holiday during the summer. During my research I keep coming across places of interest in Shimoda in Minami-Izu. There is a great selection of outdoor seasonal activities in the area, some of which are outlined below. Shimoda is a coastal area in the popular area of Izu, specifically south Izu. Apart from all the seaside activities, some of which are listed below, the area has a lot to offer on shore as well. It takes about 3 hours from Tokyo, which is a bit further than most would travel for a daytrip, but it can be done. There are day tour and bus trips you can take from Tokyo and Saitama. We have travelled to the area ourselves before and I would personally recommend it as a short trip or overnight stay.
Currently, June 2016, hydrangeas are in bloom and there is a hydrangea festival in Shimoda Park until June 30th. More information on Shimoda Park in the Activity section below.
Each place is pin-pointed on a Google My Map, if you click on an icon it will show you more information, including a URL to the official website.
Most of the beaches in Shimoda have been awarded the highest grade of water quality by the Ministry of Environment’s 4 grade water cleanliness ranking system. Like all beaches in Japan, there is an official period that these beaches are “open”. You can use the beach outside of season, but there are no lifeguards or facilities available.
A selection of beaches in the area (this is not the full list):
Shirahama Oohama Beach
800 metres long, about 100 metres wide.
SEASON: July 1st to August 31st.
LIFEGUARDS: 4 lifeguard towers.
FACILITIES: 2 toilets, 2 showers. Beach umbrellas, sun beds, floats and other things are available for rent from the Tourist association shop on the beach. There are some shops and restaurants along the promenade.
PARKING: 400 spaces, prices vary between each parking area.
Very picturesque beach with clear blue sea. Only 50 metres long and 40 metres wide.
SEASON: July 16th to August 21st.
LIFEGUARDS: On duty from 8am to 4pm.
FACILITIES: 3 coin showers. Beach umbrellas, sun beds, floats and others available for rent.
PARKING: 135 spaces, charges apply during beach season. Free from August 31st.
Another picturesque beach, the closest to Shimoda city area. 130 metres long, 50 metres wide.
SEASON: July 16th to August 21st.
LIFEGUARDS: On duty from 9am to 4pm.
FACILITIES: 1 shower and 1 unisex toilet.
PARKING: None. 20 minute walk from Shimoda Station.
Near a lot of pensions. Rarely crowded. 410 metres long, 50 metres wide.
SEASON: July 18th to August 31st.
LIFEGUARDS: On duty from 8.30am to 4pm.
FACILITIES: 2 unisex toilets. No other facilities, but near a park and sand ski school (see below).
PARKING: 120 spaces, charged.
Official address is in the neighbouring town of Minami-Izu. 1.2 kilometre arched beach. Popular water park on the sea in the cove.
SEASON: July 9th to August 31st.
LIFEGUARDS: 1 lifeguard tower.
FACILITIES: 4 toilets, no showers. Between 3 and 5 beach huts. Splash Water park with athletic play equipment on the sea for children over 6 years old, see more details in the Activities section below.
PARKING: 300 spaces, charges apply.
Please see “BEACH YOGA” listed below in “Activities”
Dolphin beach is part of Shimoda’s Sea Aquarium. Please see below for details.
Below is a small sample of some of the many activities available in the Shimoda and greater Shimoda area this summer.
On Tatadohama Beach; a 450 metre long and 70 metre wide beach, with various facilities including 6 showers, beach huts, toilets and rental of beach equipment.
SEASON: 16th of July to the 18th of September, except for rainy days.
PARKING: 10 spaces. Free out of season, charged during summer.
COST: From 1000 yen (Summer 2016 prices).
See map for location.
SEASON: The aquarium is open most of the year, but during December it only opens at weekends and there are other changes to the opening hours for most of winter. DOLPHIN BEACH is only open from June to September.
TIME: 9am to 4.30pm on weekdays, to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and to 5.30pm during summer holidays.
COST: 2000 yen for adults, 1000 yen for children over 4 years old. (Summer 2016 prices). An additional cost is applied for dolphin beach where you can swim/play with dolphins. Children younger than grade 4 elementary school age are required to have an adult accompany them.
See map for location.
Splash Water Park, is a travelling water park of inflated slides, towers, climbing and more. It will be available at Yumigahama Beach again this year. The popular water park started opening seasonally in the area from 2014. It will July 16th this year. Children need to be over 110cms to play in the playground above the sea. You can see more information in English on their website: http://splashwaterpark.jp/home/
There are a selection of parks in Shimoda, some of which are near the seaside. Perhaps the most famous is Shimoda park in the Shirahama area, which is known to many for its 3 million beautiful hydrangeas that are currently in bloom. http://www.shimoda-city.info/eve11.html
There are even more activities you can enjoy in Shimoda including, but not limited to, “Treeing”, Nordic Walking, Scuba Diving, Snorkelling as well as sightseeing spots and local culture and cuisine. You will find more information in English on the official website of Shimoda: http://www.shimoda-city.info/index_e.html
There is a huge selection of accommodation in the Shimoda and neighbouring areas. An Internet search in English will bring up plenty of information, but if you do read Japanese you will find even more information in the Japanese language. I will just mention one that caught my eye as they offer a surfing lesson package.
TURTLE HOUSE, a “pension” (B&B) right on the sea in the Shirahama area of Shimoda city, have a stay package for one night, two days, two meals and a 2 hour surfing session.
Kanto is the area around Tokyo, comprising Saitama, Kanagawa (Yokohama), Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma. This is a calendar displaying festivals and fireworks in this area for the month of July. Click on the event for more information including time and place, and a link to either the official website or to a webpage with more information in English. I recommend you view as AGENDA.
This August the special Takara Tomica event is back by popular demand. It is being held at Pacifico Yokohama again. Not only can you see how the factory operates, but the kids can make cars and play with plarail.
Dates: August 11th to 21st.
Cost: Tickets bought on the day cost 1000 yen for junior high school age children and adults, 800 yen for kids. Children under 2 are free. As part of a special summer campaign “Minato Yokohama Yukata festival “, if you are dressed in Yukata you receive a 100yen discount on the price.
Time: You can enter anytime between 10am and 4pm.
Place and access in English – http://www.pacifico.co.jp/english/index.html
(Last year there was a 100yen discount for tickets bought in advance. The PHONE # for booking was: 03-5435-0604. MOnday to Friday. Its not open yet for this year. I will update when it is. )
For the last 7 years we’ve been going to a resort in Gotemba every Golden Week. The resort has a choice of accommodation ranging from hotel rooms to self catering lodges. This year we stayed in the “slow house villa” area in a yurt or パオ (Pao) as they are called in Japanese. The yurts in the complex are designed on a theme. Our room was one of the Peter Rabbit themed lodgings.
The Peter Rabbit influence may well have gone beyond the interior of the yurts, as the slow house villa area is reminiscent of a rabbit’s burrow. It was great fun for the kids to find their way around the maze like paths. Management makes good use out of the design too, laying out a scavenger hunt challenge of sorts for guests of the slow house villas. The kids followed clues to find letters which, when all were discovered, spelled out a word. On presenting the word to reception they got a prize of Peter Rabbit stickers. Another treat for guests of these particular lodgings is a fluffy bunny rabbit (soft toy) hidden in the room – if you find it, you get to bring it home. (You can also borrow teddy bears and soft toys from reception to keep in your room during your stay).
The yurt itself was also a great source of excitement for the kids. They aren’t the most practical, but between the Peter Rabbit paraphernalia and the spacious loft, it was a dream come true for the kids to stay there. They are also the lodgings closest to the big playground, which turned out very convenient for us. They have a hot spring in the villa area (one of many in the resort) and it is where the pet hotel is too. This is also the area with the resort’s badminton court, games room (billiards and table tennis), reception for some activities (such as fishing and segways) and where they have the magnificent night time water, illumination and projection mapping show. The breakfast hall is a little bit far away, but it is a nice walk, with some great views of Mt Fuji.
While I enjoyed the novelty, I did think the room was quite dingy, dark and hard to regulate temperature. I did enjoy staying there and the kids certainly did, but once was enough for me. There are other accommodations within the resort that are more practical for big families and people with young children. My top two in the resort are the Blueberry Lodges and the Western/Eastern fusion room in the Tokinosumika hotel. For anyone who is interested in more information about the resort it is linked below the photos from the playground.