The real Santa with grotto and sleigh in Tochigi
In the big search for Santa in 2015, one prefecture that stood out for having a great selection of Santa events and attractions was TOCHIGI. So my family of six took to the road to do a bit of reconnaissance. We were very happy with the trip and the abundance of Christmas events and Santa visits in areas of Tochigi.
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.
Address: 2730-36 Takakuotsu, Nasu Tochigi 325-0303
Thanks to the completion of a new stretches of highway, Tochigi is very accessible from Saitama. It took us just under two hours to reach our first stop in Nasu on the Tohokudo expressway.