I am trying a new section on the blog to showcase beautiful areas of Saitama, that I just haven’t had and won’t have the time to visit in the near future. One of the places at the top of my “must visit at the end of March” list is Ouchizawa Hanamono No Sato, nicknamed by locals as “An earthly paradise”. It is famous within Saitama for the beautiful pink buds of the flower peaches, visible from end of March to early April.
The Saitama Prefectural Department of Industy and labor, Tourism Division, shared information last year. It includes information about other flora and fauna in the area too:
Location: Ouchizawa, Higashi Chichibu, Chichibu District
Expected viewing season: late March ~ early April
Number of blooms: About 5000
Access by public transport: Eagle Bus from either Ogawamachi Station or Yorii Station
Access by car: About 30 minutes from the Ranzan Ogawa Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway. Parking is free and there are about 30 spots.
This is a master list of the zoos, farms, aquariums and other places with animals in the Tokyo area that are suited to children. You will also find a handful of locations that are actually outside Tokyo, but considered part of the Greater Tokyo area and renowned as places worth commuting to from Tokyo. This list is suited as a guide to both families living here and those traveling to Japan for a holiday. Each location is linked to either their official website or a webpage with further information. All locations are mapped on a Google My Map at the bottom of the article.
Zoos, Farms & Animal related
Ueno Zoo is Japan’s oldest zoo with more than 2600 animals. It is in Ueno park which has other attractions for families.
Cat Cafe Neko Katsu (Kawagoe, Saitama). There is another cat cafe right beside this one, but be careful you don’t go in there as they do not welcome children. Neko Katsu is right beside the Kaldi Coffee Farm shop.
Sayama Municipal Museum, Saitama, is a city museum in Sayama Inari Yama Park on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line. They tend to host a lot of travelling exhibits suitable or designed for children. They have just closed the very excellent pop-up book exhibit and tomorrow the “Heros” exhibit will open. The Fairytales of Andersen will run concurrently for the first three weeks. In the past they have had a number of very successful and popular exhibits for children including a Licca Doll exhibit and a Cardboard Art and play exhibit.
The ground floor circular hall is where they hold most of their travelling exhibits. You can walk up to the second floor from this hall up a winding ramp that circumferences the hall. On the 2nd floor they have a room with their permanent displays. They have an Akebono Elephant (Stegodon aurorae) bones on display in this section. These elephant fossils are said to be between 2 and 1.2 million years old. There are also displays depicting ancient Japan, including a replica of a Jomon period house. They have a tatami tea room in the museum too.
The museum is free in for children under 15 years old. High school and university students cost 100 yen and all other adults cost 150 yen. They often have flyers in the lobby with a discount ticket: 60 yen for students over fifteen years old and a 100 yen for adults. Like most of Saitama’s municipal or prefectural buildings, this museum has a museum seal that the kids can stamp onto the back of the museum’s brochure in the allocated space, or on to any piece of paper. This museum often participates in seasonal “stamp rally” run by the prefecture, whereby you collect the seal of a number of different participating bodies in return for a small prize. The museum is buggy / pushchair friendly and they have toilets. There is also a cafe beside the museum called Kome To Cha.
Kome To Cha Café / Restaurant
The café and restaurant is located beside the entrance to the museum. It is accessible from within the museum, but it also has its own door and an entrance from the park side too. The restaurant changed its name last year from Komorei to Kome To Cha, but it is still called the former by many.
The cafe is not particularly big, but it is comfortable and my favourite feature is the large floor to ceiling windows which afford a lovely view of the park. Most of the tables are positioned in such a way that they have a view of the park. Probably their most popular item is the kaki-kori, a typed of shaved ice dessert flavoured with syrup. They have ice-cream too. Their menu is quite limited, but I thought the food was rather nice. They have children’s meals too. They are a little on the small side, but easy for children to manage. The rice was served as rectangle shaped origami with nori on the underside and furikake sprinkled on top. I think the kids meals are best suited to younger children or children that don’t have a great appetite. My preschoolers and toddler really enjoyed their meals.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm. It is closed on Mondays. Cafe / restaurant Kome To Cha is open from 10 am to 4.45 pm, Tuesday to Sundays. Closed Mondays and the fourth Friday of the month.
23-1 Inariyama, Sayama, Saitama
The museum is a 3 minute walk from the Inariyama kouen station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line or you can get a bus from the west exit of the Seibu Shinjuku Line Sayama City Station to Inariyama koen.
It is about a 15 minute from the Sayama Interchange of the Ken-o expressway or 20 minutes from the Kawagoe Interchange of the Kanetsu expressway. The museum and the restaurant share parking and it is free. Spaces are quite limited in the car park beside the museum, so it is not uncommon to have to wait for a parking space to come free. However, you can also use the park’s car park and walk over.
It was certainly a first for me to discover a free play center in a Real Estate Agency. Sure, lots of real estate agencies (plus car sales showrooms, dentists, phone shops…you name it), have play areas in Japan. But this is a full on PLAY CENTER, not just a play area. Please scroll down the bottom for information about the Real Estate Agency Matsubori.**
After reading about Aruzo Land online, I went to check it out with my youngest today. I chose today when my eldest was at primary school, as one of the stipulations of use is that children of school going age (over six years old) can’t use the play area. I wasn’t sure what to expect, the photos look great but sometimes photos can be misleading. Thankfully, they weren’t, nor were the raving reviews the play center gets online. I figured if something is too good to be true, it probably is, but I was wrong. I had fully expected to have to give my contact details and receive Aruzo Net Real Estate information in the post or via email, in exchange for free access to a play center. But thankfully there is none of that. It is what it is; a play center that is entirely free to use with no strings attached.
The space is on the 2nd floor of the Matsubori Retail Agency. I went in the wrong door by mistake and the staff were very friendly and kind. One of them explained to me that it was the next door and up the stairs; she even escorted me all the way and told us to “have a nice time”. The man in the office beside the center was as equally nice and told us to “take your time and enjoy” and waved us in. You don’t have to write your name like you do in a jidokan (community play center), you just walk on in freely. You do need to take your shoes off beside the mats that mark the start of the play area.
The space is really large, open and airy. As you come in the front door there is a large air trampoline. Beside it on matted flooring there are three zorbs and large shapes for playing and / or building. To the left of this area is a spacious play room with a large play kitchen, a play shop, a kids sitting area, a beaded maze, a wooden car, a wooden train play table, a drawing table, books / magazines collection, small trampolines, a rocking horse, a variety of building toys and a wall of cogs. It is a very comfortable space and lots of room for kids to run around. The ceiling is even painted like the sky. There is a “high-lo” chair you can borrow for babies. It is in the hallway outside the play space where there is also a bench and vending machine. If you want to eat or drink this is where you do it as you can do neither in the play center. There are toilets and a nappy changing unit off this hallway.
I have mentioned that children over six can’t enter the play center and that you can’t eat in the center, but there are also two other rules or stipulations you must follow in using this center. One is that on busy days you only stay an hour so that other families can also have an opportunity to use this space. The other is that if you accidentally come to visit on a day that the center is closed and have paid to park in the coin parking that they will not reimburse your money. Both very fair rules really in my humble opinion.
I was torn between giving this play center four or five stars, but in fairness given that it is FREE and provided with no strings attached the company really do deserve the five stars. I know that it is genius marketing, but still – to provide an area with a such a decent FREE play center with no expectations from its users says a lot of good about this company. And the staff definitely reinforce this positive image. Also there is free wifi. So thank you Aruzo Net! However, why I contemplated taking a star away is twofold. One, I do think children up until 8 years old would really enjoy this play center for a short play, and it is a pity that the cut off is 6 years old. Of course, I am thinking of my own family situation, but I genuinely think that children of 7 and 8 years old could play here happily for an hour and without being a danger to other children. Two, if you come by car you have to use coin parking that costs 100 yen for 40 minutes, so essentially it is not entirely free. However, I personally do not think this is a lot of money and I feel it is totally worth it. For me an hour and 20 minutes play for 3 children and myself works out at a very cheap 200 yen total.
The center is available Thursdays to Tuesdays, from 10 am to 4 pm. It is closed every Wednesday. They close another couple of days a month too. You will have to check online or ring in advance to find out when. For this month the dates of closure are Thursday the 16th of March and Saturday the 25th of March (2017).
The Higashimatsuyama branch of Aruzo is located close to Tobu Tojo Line Higashimatsuyama Station. It is about an eight minute walk.
Edited to add: on a subsequent visit I noticed there is an elevator in the front lobby on the left hand side. I also noticed that some people had parked their buggies in the lobby and others parked their strollers in the entrance area of the play center.
On the Tobu Tojo Line they have branches in Kawagoe, Kawagoe City, Kasumigaseki, Tsurugashima, Wakaba, Sakado, Kita-sakado, Takasaka, Higashimatsuyama, Shinrin Koen, Tsukinowa, Musashi Ranzan and Ogawamachi. On the Tobu Ogose Line they have offices in Ipponmatsu, Nishi-oya, Kawakado, Bushu Nagase, Higashi-moro, Bushu-karasawa and Ogose. On the Takasaki line they have branches in Omiya, Miyahara, Ageo, Kita-Ageo, Okegawa, Kitamoto, Konosu, Kita-konosu, Fukiage, Gyoda and Kumagaya. I can’t vouch for the condition of the apartments they rent or the value for money or anything to do with their Retail Agency, BUT I can say from the experience I have had with their staff in Higashi matsuyama and the cleanliness of the branch there, that it is a company I would consider should I ever find myself in need of a renting a property.
Tsubaki no Kura is a Kura Dai-kukan (Traditional Japanese storehouse space) that has been transformed into a shop that sells Japanese condiments, souvenirs, textiles, sake, Power stones, shrine goods and has a FOOT SPA CAFE and displays art. It is one of my personal favourite spots in Kawagoe and always a stop off when I am bringing people on guided tours of the area. I also like to stop into the cafe, detailed below the shop guide, even when I am on my own to bathe my feet as I enjoy a quiet drink.
This storehouse has one of the tallest heights of the Japanese warehouses in Kawagoe at nine meters high. You feel the impact as you enter the store where the front section is the original storehouse height. To add to the majesty there is some beautiful traditional Japanese art from Mr. Eiki Kimura on display in this front lobby area and you can see the red torii on the renovated second floor behind. Tsubaki no Kura is home to three unique stores and the reception for the outdoor foot spa cafe and zen garden.
Kura the Japanese for the traditional type Japanese warehouses. The tourist area of Kawagoe is famous for the amount of ancient warehouses they have. This particular warehouse is named after camellia “Tsubaki“. It is a really unique, colourful and fun space to explore. The art, the indoor torii as well as a shinto tree add to the ambiance and colour. There is such a mix of products and over hundred different types of souvenirs that you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring all the shop has to offer.
Tsubaki No Kura Shops
①Kaya sells a number of different type of modern Japanese souvenirs made from traditional Japanese textiles. The large textile banners you see in the shop with classic depictions of Japanese art by modern methods, are made by Kaya. They sell wash cloths, clothes, tapestry, purses, Japanese loincloths, rain covers, socks, even smart phone covers. And that is to name but a few of their original goods.
②Tsubaki Ya Shouten sells regional Japanese food stuff such as sauces and snacks. Both Kaya and Tsubaki Ya Shouten are on the first floor.
③Iwakura is on the second floor. The shop is decorated with torii (red shrine gates) and there is a tree in the centre of a room presented like the sacred trees at shrines with white shinto paper adorning it. They also have a mini shrine and a place to tie fortunes, just like at a shrine. This floor sells power and precious stones as well as goods made from the same; mainly bracelets but some necklaces too. They have lacquered goods such as chopsticks and mirrors, small bags made in traditional Japanese fashion, and glass ware too. There is a little theater down the back of the area with seats to watch educational videos. There is stairs from this seating area which leads to the back of the first floor where the reception for Tsubakiya is.
This is a great spot to take a break and “refresh”, as the Japanese say, while touring around Kawagoe. Enjoy a foot spa with your tea, coffee, soft drink or beer outside in a tranquil zen garden with beautiful Japanese parasols. You can taste a speciality of Kawagoe, sweet potato, in the form of a light treat, or an original ginger ale made from kochi ginger. The beer is also the famous local Coedo beer. They have cocktails too. The small cafe, seating only 8 people, is very popular so it is very common to queue to enjoy the experience and the view.
Average Price: from 400 yen for a beverage, from 680 yen for alcohol, from 350 yen for a snack
The main URL (above) has some English, but information in store and the websites for the individual shops within the warehouse are all in Japanese only.
Hours: 10 am to 7 pm on weekdays and until 8 pm on weekends
Tsubaki No Kura Access
This shop is on the main tourist strip and is serviced by tourist and public buses. There is no parking for the shop, but there are plenty of coin parking lots in Kawagoe.
Getting to Kawagoe from Tokyo / 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.
About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.
About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.
From Kawagoe Station
If you are walking it takes about 20 minutes from Kawagoe Station and about 10 minutes from Hon-Kawagoe station. You can also take a bus:
Koedo Kawagoe bus one day pass allows you unlimited travel on the Koedo Kawagoe buses. It costs 300 yen. In the bus they have a monitor with sightseeing information. Some tourist places give discounts on souvenirs or entrance tickets to people with a one day pass. Koedo Meguri (Loop) Bus from Kawagoe station. You can buy a one day pass that allows you unlimited travel on the Meguri Bus. It stops at 16 different locations. 104 different shops, offer discount services such as souvenirs, food, and entrance fees to facilities for holders of this day pass. There are announcements in English and Chinese as well as Japanese so foreigners can feel at ease. More information here: http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html
Where in Kawagoe to bring a visiting famous Japanese food chef and author? This is the question that faced me when I was bringing Fiona Uyema, Ireland’s leading Japanese food expert and owner of Fused Japanese sauces, on a tour of Kawagoe in Autumn 2015.
I brought her to a few different places, but the tour of the 250 year old Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory was one of the highlights of the three day tour. Fiona had a particular interest in the factory as she was developing her own soy sauce brand “Fused” to be launched in Ireland. Fused is available in retail shops around Ireland or you can buy online here: http://fusedbyfionauyema.com/product-tag/japanese-soy-sauce/. Fiona was visiting with her family and I had my own kids with me. The tour was surprisingly interesting for the older kids in our party, at that time aged between 0 and 6 years old. The tour is conducted in Japanese and it is actually very short, around 20 minutes, but it is an interesting experience and totally free!
The gathering area for taking the tour is in front of the Matsumoto shop, the retail part of Matsumoto Soy Sauce. When we visited there wasn’t that many people as it was shortly after the tours had been opened to the public and word hadn’t quite got around yet. At that time they only offered the tour on weekends and public holidays at 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. However, due to the increasing popularity of the tour, they now also offer the tour on weekdays at 1 pm. Please note that on occasion the tour isn’t available and / or if it is too packed you might not get a spot. If you have more than 10 in your group you can ring the shop on a weekday and ask to arrange a private tour. You walk up a narrow alley to get to the factory. If you have a stroller you can use a separate entrance, or you can park your stroller and carry your child.
Matsumoto Soy Sauce Factory and Shop is part of a larger complex with a few different names, one I hear most often is Kamonrakuza, which seems to be the group name for Blue Moon glass blowing and glass art workshops, the Koedo Kagamiyama sake factory and shop, and the gallery in the complex. There is a Soba restaurant beside Matsumoto Shop. There is also a nice café, Cafe Kura, in the complex too, which we visited after the factory tour and I have visited a couple of times since.
Cafe Kura is a nice place for a quiet coffee and cake. They also do a reasonably priced lunch set. They don’t have much in the way of food for children though, but on every visit I have found they are very accommodating to children. They have children’s cutlery and crockery so if you are ordering a lunch you can share it with your child. When it is quiet the staff don’t mind the kids running around and rearranging the tables! The place has more of a romantic feel and seems to most popular with young couples or pairs of friends. The cafe (and the whole complex) are off the main tourist strip so its quieter and more ambient than other areas in the Kawagoe tourist district. Cafe Kura is open from 10 am to 6 pm (lunch 11.30 am to 2 pm) Thursdays to Tuesdays, closed on Wednesdays. There is parking beside the cafe (see access details below).
Access and Hours
Matsumoto Soy Sauce factory and shop are off the beaten track of Kawagoe. It is part of the main warehouse district, but it is back one block from the main tourist strip, with little else touristy directly around it. Even though at the top of the same road there is the famous Kayshiya Yokocho (sweet street/candy alley) district and Gyodenji, most people miss the factory because they turn at the giant chameleon on the 5 yen coin to get to / from the main tourist strip. If you keep walking down from Kashiya Yokocho toward Hon-Kawagoe station you will hit the factory on your right hand side. Walking up from the station, if you turn left at Mameya Kawagoe at Naka-cho and cross over the road and take the first main right, the factory is on your left just past a coin parking lot. It is a 10 minute walk. If you are coming by car, they have free parking for about 7 cars. There is also a coin parking beside it. Please note that it is a one-way system, you must enter the road from the bottom at the Times Kawagoe Parking Lot on Naka-cho, you can’t enter from the kashiya yokocho end. Please see map at bottom.
Matsumoto Shop: 9 am to 6 pm Factory Tour: 1 pm on weekdays, 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm on weekends
The rest of the facilities such as Blue Moon and the gallery have separate operating hours and are closed on Wednesdays.
Matsumoto and all its facilities apart from the cafe
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.
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
two play kitchen areas
play kitchen toys: food, crockery etc
two wooden table train sets
kinetic sand corner
magnetic pieces for making ramps for balls to roll down
mechanical moving horses and zebras
push along rides
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Adventurecame 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.
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.