Tag Archives: On a budget

Things to do and see, play areas and activities that are free or cheap and suited to toddlers in Japan

Shinrin Park, Namegawa

Shinrin park (also known as Musashi Kyuryo National Goverment Park) is vast, 304 hectares to be precise. To put that in perspective; 65 times the size of Tokyo Dome! There is an entrance fee for children over the age of 6 and parking is charged, but it is well worth the money as there are lots of things to do and see for people of all ages. They also host special events most weekends and during holidays, which often cost extra money.

Due to the size of the park there are different exits, each with their own parking lot. The adventure playground, giant ball play area and the musashi kids dome are close to each other and accessed from the West entrance. They are all walkable from the entrance and from each other. In the summer, there is a splash pool which is near the adventure playground. The West entrance adminisitration building at that entrance has a shop, seating area, nursing room, nappy changing area, microwave and toilets including a wheelchair accessible toilet. The “ponpoko mountain”, Japan’s largest trampoline, is at least a 20 minute walk away. That, the botanical gardens, restaurant and seasonal illumination are accessible from the Central Gate. The popular tree climbing event is close to this entrance too.  The plum blossom and cherry blossom groves are closest to the South Entrance. The Dog Run is closest to the North Entrance.

Adventure playground
Adventure playground

The adventure playground has 23 different pieces of equipment,  including the very popular pirates ship.

Musashi Kids Dome
Musashi Kids Dome

The Musashi Kids Dome is a colorful play area for kids of all ages. There are quirky slides, climbing chambers, a ball pool, spring rides and more.

Giant Ball play area

Giant Ball play area

Giant balls are put out on a fine day. They are beside the Musashi Kids dome and close to the athletic / adventure playground. They are free to use.

Ponpoko Mountain
Ponpoko Mountain

Japan’s largest outdoor mountain trampoline is quite a walk from any entrance, but the central gate is probably the closest. Kids must be over 3 years old to play on the main trampoline, but they have a smaller one beside it that even smaller kids can play on.

The walk between entrances is quite long, so if you prefer to use an easier mode of transport, the park has some on offer. You can’t bring your own bikes into the park, but you can rent a bike. It is 410 yen to rent an adult bike or mamachari for 3 hours, 200 yen for children. They have designated cycling courses.  The easiest is the park bus that goes between the gates of the park and stops at popular spots en route. It costs 210 yen for an adult per ride or you can buy a day pass for 400 yen.  Small buggies / strollers are available to borrow for free. They have segway tours too, but you have to be over 16 to use them and must use them in a tour group.

Bikes for hire
Bikes for hire
Park Bus
Park Bus
Segways
Segways

During the summer there is a 2500m2 paddling and wading pool as well as mist and fountains. The water depth ranges from 5 to 30cm.  You can enjoy as early as April and they run to mid October. They close the waterplay area some Tuesdays and Wednesdays for cleaning. They have lockers, but no changing rooms. Nappies (diapers) are allowed, but the pool type, water nappies, are not. There is a tuck shop beside the wading pools, that sells ice cream and kaki-kori.

This park is beautiful all year round, but especially during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.

There are many activities and attractions on offer all year round as well as seasonal attractions and events. During January the park closes the 3rd and 4th Monday. Opening hours are 9.30-17.30. The phone number is 0493-57-2111. Please visit their website, for further information in English about access and entrance and parking fees; http://www.shinrinkoen.jp/english/

 

Check the plum blossom and cherry blossom schedule and find some events in Shinrin Park in this schedule of events for Saitama.

 


 

Hidaka Sougou Park

The Japanese sougou 総合 is used to indicate a multi-purpose park and that is exactly what Hidaka Sougou park is.

The park is free in, with free parking.  Here is some of the attractions it has to offer.

Playground

This playground was installed in March 2013, replacing a wooden athletic playground.  Now it is a colourful combination equipment playground that suits children of many ages. There are climbing nets, monkey bars, balancing beams, slides, spring rides and sand pits.  All, but the sand pits, displayed in photos hereafter.

The playground in Hidaka Sougou Park
The playground in Hidaka Sougou Park

Waterplay

This park boasts a 165 metre long “babbling brook” (せせらぎ水路) with a paddling pool at the base.

Paddling pool available in the summer
Paddling pool available in the summer

The wading river is protected by the trees, which afford shade during the hot summer.

Exercise Equipment & Flying Fox

There is also exercise equipment and a flying fox in the wooded area beside the playground.

Sporting facilities and club house

There are tennis courts, a baseball pitch, a soccer pitch and 400 metre running track, that can be used at a charge. The club house manages bookings. There is a shower room and toilets in the club house.  The website and contact details are here: http://www.city.hidaka.lg.jp/6,998,24,105.html

Club house
Club house
Soccer Ground and 400 metre long running track
Soccer Ground and 400 metre long running track

Seasonal Activities

  • Hanami / Cherry Blossom Viewing Picnic Area

Hidaka Sougou Park is a popular spot during Japanese Cherry Blossom season. There is a long line of trees alongside the river with dedicated space for setting up picnic mats under the trees.

Hanami area
Hanami area
  • Bug Hunting

The wooded area in Hidaka is ripe with wildlife during the summer. It is possible to catch beetles and stag beetles to keep as pets; a popular hobby of young Japanese children.

The forest in Hidaka Sougou Park, ideal for bug hunting in the summer and acorns in the winter
The forest in Hidaka Sougou Park, ideal for bug hunting in the summer and acorns in the winter
  • Acorn Collecting

Kids love to collect acorns in Japan. This is one of many parks in Saitama, where you can find acorns.

Other facilities

There are toilets in the park, two of which are right beside the playground. There is a drinking fountain. There are changing rooms and showers in the Club House, which can be used at a price.

Access

URL: http://www.city.hidaka.lg.jp/6,998,24,105.html

Address: 1500 Takahagi, Hidaka City, Saitama

Phone: 042-985-7161

By Car: Off route 407, near Musashi Takahagi train station, right beside Hidaka Country Club.

By Train: 15 minute walk from Musashi Takahagi Station on the Kawagoe line.

A DAY OUT IN HIDAKA

There are other nice parks and play areas near this park in Hidaka. I recommend Chikozan Park in neighbouring Sayama, with a small zoo and fun playground, and Saiboku Ham, which has a free play area, plus you can pay to enjoy an onsen there. The Saiboku onsen was recently reopened after a big reform.

 

Saitama Municipal Youth Astronomical Museum

It’s spring break in Japan.  It is also end of school year.  Traffic tends to increase and queues lengthen, but there are still some hidden gems that evade the chaos. Saitama’s space museum, or officially the Saitama Municipal Youth Astronomical Museum, is one such place.

★Free entry for parents and children
★Parking is free
★Rainy day okay
★Suitable for all ages
★Special events
★Elevator
★Nappy / Diaper changing facilities
★Rest area

There is something for everyone at this space museum located on the old grounds of Urawa Reds (Saitama soccer team) at Komaba stadium. Children can learn about space and science through the various interactive and educational displays, play areas, reading area and special events available free of charge. There is also a planetarium that costs 510 yen per adult or 200 yen for students aged 4 and up.

Information and Access

Address: 2-3-45 Komaba, Urawa-city, Saitama, Japan
URL: http://www.kagakukan.urawa.saitama.jp/main.html
TEL:  048-881-1515
Cost: Free entry to the museum, **the planetarium is 510 yen per adult or 200 yen for students aged 4 and up
Opening hours: 9.00 – 17.00
Holidays: Mondays except for public holidays. Closed for New Year from December 28th to January 4th.
Access:
By train – Take a bus from either Urawa or Kita Urawa stations for 「宇宙科学館入口」
By car – 15 minutes from Urawa Interchange



 

International Book Giving Day – with a bilingual twist! And City Chuo Library Kawagoe

This is a lovely idea I came across, for bilingual families to receive minority language books, thanks to one of my favourite bloggers Free But Fun posting a link to the innovative idea. It is very timely too, as just today I was pondering how difficult it remains to buy English books for children in our part of Japan. For people like me that is, who refuse to buy online for fear of becoming addicted to it! Today, we ventured to a library we hadn’t been to before. It has a much better choice of English books than the library we frequent, but with this great idea from Journal of a Bilingual Family maybe we’ll be receiving more English books in the post! For details of this fun and original idea for International book giving day, please see the blog linked below. For more on City Chuo Library Kawagoe, please scroll down.

The International Book Giving Day – with a bilingual twist!.

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City Chuo Library is situated in Sankubocho, Kawagoe, about a 20 minute walk from Kawagoe station. They have quite a good selection of English books for children, located on the ground floor. They have little tables with chairs for children to read at and “stadium seating” (3 rows! Pictured below) for storytime and kamishibai performances. You can borrow up to 10 books for 2 weeks upon securing membership. To become a member you need proof of your address in Japan in the form of an alien registration card or Japanese license. The card is valid for the 5 principal libraries in Kawagoe. Their system also allows you to return borrowed books to any of the 5 city libraries. These libraries include the one at the Kurasse building beside Kawagoe station and the large Nishi library, which also has a good selection of English children’s books. Like most of the libraries in Japan, the City Chuo Library has an online system where you can check availability of book and reserve them in advance. The system is currently only available in Japanese. If you wish to use the online facilities you need to create a 4 digit pin number when you apply for your membership. Membership is instant upon filling out a form.

The library has plenty of free parking, toilets, a baby changing area and a nursing room (pictured below). It is open 6 days a week, generally closing on Mondays. Tuesday to Friday it opens from 9.30am to 7pm. Saturday, Sunday and public holidays it opens from 9.30am to 6pm. The library will close for a computer system upgrade from the 12th of February to the 25th of February.

P1000123-001

Play areas at Shinto Shrines

Shinto shrines are plentiful in Japan, almost every village, town or city has one. There are usually amenities available at popular shrines, including toilets, baby feeding rooms, vending machines and eateries. However, even the smaller shrines usually come with at least one piece of playground equipment. A lot of them have free parking, but in tourist areas it is not uncommon to have to pay. Typically, weekdays it is easy to find a free parking spot, unless it is during a shinto festival time such as the 7-5-3.

I really love bringing the children to play on the grounds of a shrine. The surroundings are always pleasant and the grounds are well maintained. The atmosphere is serene and majestic as you enter by a torii onto a stone pavement. The area is usually surrounded by trees, some of which are yorishiro (place inhabited by a kami‘s spirit). There are purification fonts to cleanse your hands, the komainu (lion-dogs) guard the inner shrine, wooden plaques hang with visitor’s prayers and wishes, there is usually at least one minature shrine often with a fox, the diety of rice supposedly. The playground is usually to the side or back of the shrines.

Today, we visited Miyoshino Shrine in Kawagoe for the first time. It is not that far from us, 15 minutes by car, but I never knew it was there until planning a route to a library on google maps last night! It has free parking, toilets, vending machines, a small shop and a yaki-soba counter. There is also a rent-a-bike station nearby. The playground is most suited to smaller children, but there is a flying fox and climbing frame that is geared towards older children. It has a sandpit and swings suitable for all ages. Some photos of the shrine grounds and playground equipment below.

Address: 2 Chome−25, Kuruwamachi, Kawagoe City, 350-0053

Milking cows at Saitama Children’s Zoo

I love the Saitama Children’s Zoo, so much so we go weekly Autumn through Spring. Summer is too hot. The weather has finally cooled down this week, so we made our first visit of Autumn. There is so much to do at the Saitama Children’s Zoo in Takasaka, Higashi-Matsuyama.

My kids hang out mostly in the petting zoo, where you can hold small animals, such as chicks, snakes, rabbits and guinea pigs, at certain times of the day. You can walk among the farm animals there at anytime of the day and brush them down, pet them and clean up their poo! At feeding time you can give the goats their leaves. Today, however, for the first time ever they milked the cows. We have queued up numerous times to do this over the years, only for them to chicken out last-minute. I don’t know what was different about today, maybe because its been a while since we’ve been there, but they finally took on the challenge. They were delighted with themselves.

Milking cows at Saitama Children's Zoo

All activities listed above and much more are included in the 500 yen entrance fee. Parking costs 600 yen for the day. An annual pass is only 1500 yen. You can pay to ride a train and there are amusements in the park you can pay to use as well. There are restaurants on site, but there is also lots of open spaces to picnic. There are playgrounds on the grounds too, the one near the koala enclosure is an adventure playground that is very popular with kids of all ages. It is also included in the entrance fee.

General Information

Hours: 9.30am to 5pm except winter when it closes at 4.30pm. Costs: 510 yen for adults, 210 yen for children between 6 and 15. Free for children under 6. CLOSED ON MONDAYS all year round (except national holidays) and on Tuesdays too during the month of January.
Parking: For 800 cars, costs 600 yen per day. At weekends during peak season, there is an overflow car park. There are also some unofficial parking areas beside the overflow car park that open on busy days and cost 500 yen a day.

TEL: 0493-35-1234

URL: http://www.parks.or.jp/sczoo/index.html

Access: 554 Iwadono, Higashimatsuyama, Saitama 355-0065

For more information on Saitama Children’s Zoo:

Saitama Children’s Zoo

Saito Goma Fire Walking Ceremony in Kazo

Walking on fire at kazoEvery September in the City of Kazo there is a fire walking ceremony, 柴燈護摩火渡り式, steeped in ritual and history, held at Sougan-ji Temple in Kazo City. It is a public and free event.

This year it will be held on September 28th from 1pm.

Address: Sougan-ji Temple, 2 Chome-9-18 Fudooka, Kazo, Saitama Prefecture.

Phone: 0480-61-0031

URL: http://www.city.kazo.lg.jp/cont/s252000/d021100/hpg000000856.html

Access
24 minute walk from the North exit of Kazo Station , on the Tobu Isesaki line, or take a bus from the North exit toward Kazo garage.

Disaster Prevention Day and free training centres in Tokyo

Today, the 1st of September, is Disaster Prevention Day, on the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake. This year marks the 90th anniversary of that fatal day in 1923.

This morning the Public Address (PA) System wailed its sirens at 6.30am. These sirens sound like the sirens you hear in World War II movies to signal people to get to bomb shelters. I will never forget the first time I heard the siren, I got the fright of my life as I thought North Korea had invaded. I didn’t realise they use these sirens to signal any sort of disaster or threat or for training. Half an hour after the sirens there were a number of announcements, including a reminder that we could practise evacuating to our nearest safety point today. We didn’t go, but we do know where it is.

By complete co-incidence I had brought the kids to a Disaster Training Centre on Friday. I did not know today was Disaster Prevention Day until this morning when all the Sunday Morning programmes (the only day of the week I watch morning or daytime TV) had a feature on safety and/or how to deal with a natural or manmade disaster. One snippet I watched showed Honjo Disaster Prevention Centre, 本所防災館, in Tokyo. This place looks a lot more interactive than the centre we went to on Friday in Konosu. It has an “urban flooding experiental section” where you can try opening a house door and a car door that has flood water blocking it. You choose how many centimetres of water to try out. They have a smoke maze section, fire fighting room and first aid room just like the one in Konosu has. On the third floor they have a rainstorm simulation section, where they deck you out with full-on rain gear before experiencing torrential rain of the kind you can not move your body and some experimenters said it’s hard to breath. Konosu has basic earthquake and typhoon simulators, but the ones at Honjo 本所防災館 are a lot more life-like. Rinkai 臨海広域防災公園 has an excellent earthquake simulator, where you get to experience an earthquake in an elevator and then escape from a damage-stricken urban area.

The great news is all of these centres are free in and free to use their simulators. For more information on the centre in Konosu, Saitama, please see my blog post An earthquake, a typhoon and a fire all in one day.


Things to do and places to see during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020

Disaster Training | An earthquake, a typhoon and a fire all in one day…

… all simulated, thankfully! Friday, in our ever enjoyable quest to try something new everyday, we ventured to the Saitama Prefecture Center for Disaster Training in Konosu. I was very impressed with the set-up and experiences on offer at this free center. I was also suitably impressed with the building itself, built to withstand an earthquake of any magnitude, it is modern and pristine.

If you are a first time visitor you are shown an introductory video upon arrival. Then a guide walks you through the more dangerous experiences you can try. After that time you are free to look around and use the other resources available.
Experiencing an earthquake simulated at seismic intensity 7Experiencing a simulated earthquake at "weak 6"
First up was the earthquake simulator. The family before us had tried an earthquake simulated at the highest seismic intensity on the Japanese scale of 7. As I had the baby on my back in the Ergo I could not use the simulator myself, but my preschoolers tried a “weak 6”. They thought they were at an amusement park and the point of the operation was a little over their heads as they laughed through the experience. Although, in recounting his adventures 4 year old was able to tell hubby what he should do if an earthquake happens. I’m really pleased he took something away from the experience.

Coming out of a simulated fire  Putting out a fire

Next they got to walk through a simulated fire in a building with 7 doors. The smoke they use is not dangerous to health, but again not suitable for the baby, so my preschoolers went with the other family using our guide. They weren’t fazed by it and didn’t find it scary. They had to use handkerchiefs over their mouths so not to inhale too much of the “purin” (Japanese dessert pudding) scented vapour they use to simulate smoke in a fire. After that they got to try putting out a fire, a computer programmed one on a big screen, with a real fire extinguisher.

Typhoon with winds of 30kmph DSCF0891

Lastly in the tour, you can try a simulated typhoon with winds reaching upto 30 metres. My kids were too young to try it, but they watched in awe as a family tried it. In winds that strong houses blow away. They could barely hold on to the pole in front of them and explained after, as it gets stronger you are unable to keep your eyes open. I definitely want to go back and try it as I don’t ever plan to get the experience in real life… I hope! After that we had a look around. They have a couple of theatres, one was showing a cartoon of what to do in various emergencies, which the kids really enjoyed. We all also got to place an emergency phone call.
A toilet made out of cardboard

I found it all very interesting and I will go again in the future. I’ve added it to a list of places to bring my Irish family when they visit next! I got quite a bit out of it too. I learned the correct way to protect yourself during a strong earthquake as well as facts about earthquakes to date. I learned the danger regions in this prefecture. I would never have known only for today’s experience, that when placing an emergency call from a Japanese payphone you need to push the red emergency call button before dialling 119. I also learned how to make a toilet out of cardboard boxes!


Information

The Saitama Prefecture Center for Disaster Training in Japanese 埼玉県防災学習センター

Address: 30 Fukuro, Konosu City

Access: 25 minute walk from Fukiage Station, Takasaki Line, or you can get a community bus from North Konusu Station in the direction of Fukiage, alight at Apita and it is a 5 minute walk. By car it is beside the Fukuro crossroads on route 17. There are 15 free parking spaces.

Website: http://www.bousai-gakusyu-saitama-ht.jp/ (Japanese only)

Ario in Ageo is now open and very toddler friendly

 

I was suitably impressed with Saitama’s latest mall in Ageo and have found a new hang out for my toddlers and baby. Ario in Ageo has a real modern feel to it and I think it’s the most toddler friendly mall in this area. Peony Walk in Higashi Matsuyama has long been our haven for hot or rainy days, but I will be switching it to Ario in Ageo due to the free facilities and services for young children.

Today, I parked in the “Giraffe” parking area, because I had read on their Japanese website that there is a playground beside it. Upon arriving I noticed there are actually two. One playground has nothing to do with the centre itself, but is just off the back of the carpark. The other playground opposite the entrance/exit to the Giraffe parking zone is part of the mall. It has the unique feature of a designated area to draw with chalk, provided for free for the children’s use.

Writing on the chalk paving area

It isn’t a huge playground, but there is more than enough to entertain young children for a half hour or so. Slides are always a favourite with my kids and this playground has six as well as climbing activities, stepping stones and a little hut.

Tunnel slide at Ario AgeoStepping stones at Ario Ageo

The fun continued indoors in the “Kids Labo” on the first floor, beside the entrance near the playground. It is a rest space with a magnet wall and large padded magnets to make shapes. It also has a decent selection of books for toddlers and children of kindergarten age.

Rest area for toddlers with books and large magnet pieces and magnet board Magnet wall

Upstairs there is a large amusement area (games, slot machines, anpanman machines, purikura etc), which could be costly except that my 2 year old is still happy to play with the machines without money in them. What I like about this amusement area is that they have a free space they use for different events. This week they have tables out with cute little fish seats, with colouring books and crayons for younger kids to use for free. Last week they had a large pool with play fish and kids could do a fishing activity. There is also a mini aquarium, think large fish tank, beside that area and a large screen showing the Aqua World aquarium in Mito, Ibaraki that is associated with the amusement area.

This week's free activity is colouring
This week’s free activity is colouring

Mini "Aquarium" Amusement area complete with a mini aquarium!

UPDATE 2015: A new play centre opened opened as part of this amusement park, called Mama Smile. You can find more details on this blog: Mama Smile in Ario, Ageo. Also, in 2015 a restaurant on the 1st floor renovated its interior and re-opened with a play area: Kid friendly Pomme Cafe in Ario, Ageo.

Mama smile4  Pomme Cafe Ario Ageo (3)

I’ve saved the best for last; also on the 2nd floor there is a free play area for younger children. One part is for 2 to 6 year olds. It is a padded space with a padded (fake) tree in the centre and soft blocks for building. <UPDATE 2016>They renovated and upgraded part of the free play area and it is now a Chugginton play area. <End update> The other part is a crawling area for babies with a tunnel and mirrors. There are also educational activities on the walls and at a table and a free standing activity too. This play area is beside the “baby rest area”, a nursery, changing facilities (both the tape nappy and pull up type), children’s toilet, feeding area complete with high chairs with straps (a rarity in Japan), baby weighing scales and a height chart, a microwave, two burcos (clean boiled water for bottles) and 3 sinks for washing hands. There is also a “baby consultation room” there, but I’ve yet to check that out.
Free standing educational activity Big hit with the 9 month old

"Baby Rest Spot" Inside the baby rest spot

There are other facilities dotted here and there, like character trolleys that keep the kids entertained as you shop, small toilets for children and changing stations in the main toilets. There are also some events coming up, like a bus train this weekend (July 20th/21st 2013). The parking is free and most shops have opening sales until this week. The traffic wasn’t bad today, but I don’t know what its like at the weekend. It’s off route 17 and route 323 and near route 51. It’s a ten minute bus ride from Ageo station.