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
★Nappy / Diaper changing facilities
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
One of our first adventures this year (2015), brought us to the 100 caves of Yoshimi, a country designated historical site. The caves are tombs and there are actually 219 of them. They are the largest cluster of tombs of this type in the whole of Japan and have been nicknamed the Japanese Cappadocia. A description I must admit I find hyperbolic. It was our first time to visit the caves and an attraction of that type. I wasn’t sure how much the kids would enjoy it. Much to my delight, they were really eager to explore the terrain and the facilities on site.
Although Japan’s Cappadocia it is not, the area is worth a visit for its unusual landscape and the history. The tombs are a 1400 hundred year old burial mound. They are also home to an underground military factory site, built toward the end of World War II. Another point of interest of the site is that is home to a national natural treasure; hikarigogake. Hikarigogake is luminous moss, and a type of moss that is very precious in the region of Kanto (area around Tokyo) as one of the plants that grows naturally. It shines best from April to October and the darker it is the easier it is to see, so actually a rainy day or late afternoon might be the best time to witness this natural phenomenon.
The underground military factory site is on the ground floor in tunnels carved into the mountain. The kids thrilled in running around, and pretending to be super heroes fighting evil. (Yes, I know, the irony!) These huge caves were dug at the end of World War II for an underground airplane engine factory that never really realised. It had begun manufacturing airplane engine parts before the factory was complete, around July 1945, but when the war ended so did manufacturing and the factory was never completed. The biggest shame in it is that more than 10 of the designated national historic site’s “hyakuana” were lost in the construction.
The caves (/tombs) themselves were only excavated about 60 years before World War II by Tsuboi Shogoro. Thankfully, they have been pretty well preserved since the end of World War II. My kids really enjoy climbing the dozens of steps made to give better viewing of, and in some cases access to, the caves. The stairs are quite steep and there is a lot of them so I would advise you leave your buggy / stroller in the car. Or park it by one of the buildings in the courtyard as you can wheel a buggy through the bunkers. The accessible caves have low entrances and while some of them are difficult for adults to enter they are no problem for kids. My kids quite like playing house in them!
There are a couple of restaurants and shops within the site and there is also a museum (officially Reserve Cultural Property Center) and in the reception building they have an event space. The Reserve Cultural Property Center has some excavated items on display from the Jomon Period, but it is best known for its comma-shaped bead making class.
My kids like to play with the toys that they set out in this event space at the entrance. At New Years they have traditional New Year toys set out and during the year they have different types of toys for kids to play with.
They always have some toys and colouring pages and markers available for young children to play with. We have been to some of their festivals were they typically offer some sort of free craft. On special occasions they also put out some Jomon period clothes (cloth robe essentially) for people to try on and take a photo.
One thing to note: it is not the safest of places to bring more than 2 small children per adult. On our very first visit it was just me with my 4 and my youngest was still a newborn. I had her in a baby carrier and my 2 year old held my hand, but my then 3 year old and 5 year old ran ahead to climb the stairs to the top of the hill. They were okay, but an accident could easily happen as the hill is very steep and there are limited guard rails and the ones that do exist my kids would slip through! Also, in the summer and autumn they have a problem with killer hornets. All that said, it is still a place worth visiting!
You can partake of craft workshops on the grounds if you book in advance.
The afore mentioned play area in the main reception building is available all year round and included in the cover price to the site.
There are 2 restaurants, one of which is also a shop, and a rest area.
There are plenty of vending machines.
There are toilets and a changing mat.
The area is beautiful during cherry blossom (sakura) season.
They have a number of festivals during the year.
During festivals and on Saitama Day the entrance fee is waived.
Hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week.
Cost: Free entry for children up to 6 years old. 200 yen for primary school aged children. 300 yen for children over 12 years old and adults. Free parking for up to 250 cars.
Address: 324 Kita Yoshimi, Yoshimi Town, Hiki District, Saitama
Access: Bus : from Tobu Tojo Line Higashimatsuyama station bound for 百吉見穴. Car: 5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.
MORE PHOTOS BELOW THE MAP ↓
Some more photos of the facilities and scenery hereafter.
For more information in English on the history of the caves, please take a look at Jojoebi designsdetailed blog post about them.
Post 4 in a series of posts about where you can view traditional Hina Matsuri Doll displays in Japan. These dolls may not be to the level of the Konosu Bikkuri Hina Matsuri pyramid displays, but they are pretty and come with their own history. They were taken at Nanbata Castle Park and Resource centre, a historical and cultural centre, park and heritage house in Fujimi City.
Nanbata Castle cultural park and heritage house is a free, but fun place to visit with kids. They leave out period toys for children to play with, such as stilts and koma spinning tops. The address is 568-1 Shimonanbata, Fujimi 354-0004. Telephone is 049-253-4664.
The park is also host to a musket shooting display and festival. You can read more here.
Omiya park is the most famous park in the Omiya area, but in my humble opinion it is far from the best. The playground isn’t very good and it is located next to coin operated rides. The lesser known Mihashi Sougo Park, 三橋総合公園, is free to play in and has more for active children. It is also easier to navigate.
The park is conveniently located off route 17. It is has plenty of free parking. There is an indoor community pool within the park, as well as other indoor and outdoor sporting facilities. There are 2 playgrounds, a running / cycle track and plenty of open spaces for children to play in.
The main playground boasts lots of different athletic type playground equipment. The main attraction is the ship in the centre of the playground, with its tall and curvy slides. It has a number of different climbing options, as you can see in the photo below.
Other equipment in this playground encourages climbing skills, such as the monkey bars, climbing wall and ropes. There is also a net climbing attraction, which proves very popular, as you can see in the photo below.
There is good shade around the circumference of this playground, as there are lots of trees making it ideal for picnicking in the summer. And by mid afternoon the playground is mostly in the shade. There are also picnic tables dotted throughout the playground. There are vending machines that sell drinks and there is a van that sells pot noodles. 🙂 There are toilets beside the car park, the tennis court and in the sports facility opposite the swimming pool.
Near the tennis courts there is another, smaller playground suited to toddlers and smaller children. It has swings as well as the roller slide pictured.
Another attraction of this park, for my kids anyway, is the abundance of insects. Today, for example, my kids and their friends (who we brought to the park with us), caught over 20 grasshoppers, beetles and crickets. 🙂
The Mallage in Kuki city offers a number of facilities and services for children, including the Soyu Himitsu No Mori, or Secret Forest, play centre on the 1st floor.
It has the unique feature of an indoor paddling / splash pool, which is part of the Secret Waterfall area. There is a changing area where you can borrow pool clothes and store your own clothes in coin lockers. Beside the Secret Waterfall area (秘密の滝) there are toilets and vending machines for patron’s use. On the other side of this rest area is the Secret Flowerfield （秘密の花畑） area, which is a ball pool with a bouncy castle in the middle. The Secret Base (秘密の基地) area contains a play area for smaller children with soft toys, shapes and blocks as well as a pretend kitchen. There is a baby cot in this area too. In front of this area the free activity event is hosted at 1pm daily. During this time one or all of the play centre’s mascots participate. The other area in the centre is the Secret Hill (秘密の丘) area which has slides and a flying fox. There is also a table here with colours laid out and you can ask at reception for colouring pages. Information after photo gallery.
Children from 1 to 12 years old 600 yen for the first half hour, 250 yen for every 15 minutes after that. Weekdays during the school year you can pay 1,200 yen for unlimited time. Summer holidays and weekends you can pay 1,200 yen for 2 hours. The car park at Mallage is free.
10 to 21.00, entry 19.00
6 kilometres from Kuki Interchange
15 bus ride from Kuki Station
Sayama Municipal Museum, Saitama, is currently holding a “Cardboard Art” 「ダンボールアート] exhibition, until the end of August 2014. Children under 15 years old are free in. High school and university students cost 100 yen and all other adults cost 150 yen. There is a flyer in the lobby with a discount ticket: 60 yen for students over 15 / 100 yen for adults.
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.
15 minutes from Hidaka Interchange. Free Parking.
There is a cafe on the grounds. It is buggy / pushchair friendly.
Saitama has a large number of superb free children’s (community/ play) centres, called jidokan or jido centre “jidose” (児童館・児童センター）. Many mothers agree that Ageo’s kodomo-no-shiro, “children’s castle”, is among the best. In terms of size, equipment and diversity, I would personally rank it as number 1. My children go regularly and they have never tired of it. There is plenty of play equipment, toys and games as well as various rooms including a library, a gym hall and a workshop. Each floor has a rest area with vending machines and toilets. There is a dedicated baby room on the ground floor with free guidance on scheduled days. Also on the ground floor there is a play area restricted to babies and toddlers two and under. There is a large space outside to play as well as a playground in the adjacent park.
Ageo’s Kodomo no Shiro, Children’s Castle in Photos
As you come in from reception the ground floor boasts lots of climbing equipment and slides.
Off to the right of this is a rest area where there are vending machines and bathrooms, including a family bathroom. There is also a space to play games that you can borrow from reception.
The baby room with consultancy is located beside the game and rest area. The baby and toddler play room is at the back of the ground floor on the left handside.
Also, on the ground floor is a gym hall (not pictured) and the exit to the open space and sandpit. From the car park you can see an outdoor playground, but you need to go out of the community centre to access it.
One of the rooms upstairs changes toys periodically. For example, one week they might have “mamagoto” (playing house) toys, another they might have baskets of blocks and foam jigsaw.
There are other rooms including a library and a workshop upstairs that are not pictured.
ADDRESS: Japan, 〒362-0047 埼玉県上尾市今泉272
272 Imaizumi, Ageo City, Saitama 362-0047
PHONE NUMBER: 048-783-0888
ACCESS: Located near the Ario in Ageo. Free parking. By public transport; you can get a bus from JR Takasaki line West exit for 西上尾第二団地 (Nishi Ageo dai ni danchi) and alight at the “Kodomo no shiro mae” bus stop.
We visited the Toy’s Kingdom during the summer, while staying in Karuizawa. They have a huge marketing and advertising campaign this year and its working; I would never have known about the place otherwise. It is a nice place for young children and it’s quite reasonably priced.
They have different packages you can avail of. We wanted to stay in one of their hotels with unlimited access to the Toy’s kingdom amusement park, but as they were booked up we stayed in another hotel nearby. We bought two free passes and two entrances, our one year old was free. The free pass does not cover all activities and the rides it does cover weren’t of particular interest to my toddlers, so I would actually recommend for children under 4 that you just purchase the entry ticket. The entry ticket covers the playrooms and small outdoor play areas. You can then purchase tickets separately for the rides you would like to try. One turn on a ride is approximately 300 yen; some are 200 and some are 400. An entry ticket and paying for 4 or 5 rides works out cheaper than buying a free pass. Fishing is not covered by either an entry ticket or a free pass. … Yes, their system is a little confusing! This year there are lots of discount tickets available in many different places, including online. Keep an eye out for flyers in shops, they usually have a coupon attached. The normal price for an entry ticket is 1000 yen for adults and 800 yen for children 2 years old and up. Discounts are usually 100 to 200 yen off this price. The free pass price for adults is 2,800 yen and 2,600 yen for children. Most of the coupons offer 500 yen off these prices.
The kids loved the playrooms. Then 3-year-old son loved the “Tomica” room; wall to wall of cars and trains. 2-year-old daughter loved the mamagoto (playing house) room; kitchens, cookers, shopping, dolls etc.
My one year old also enjoyed the mamagoto playroom as it has a section suited to small babies with Anpanman toys. She also enjoyed the little play area outside this playroom with small slides and push-along-cars.
There is an athletic area that is suited to older preschool and primary school children. This is covered by the free pass, but not by the entry ticket. The kids have to put on elbow and knee pads and helmets for this area. My kids tried it out too, but it was a little beyond their level and they packed it in fairly quickly.
They have a number of different amusement rides, most of them are suited to children of all ages. The one thing I found hard is that even with safer rides such as the carousel they require children younger than 4 be accompanied by an adult per child. At one point, my husband had gone for a roam and my son and daughter both wanted to get on the carousel with me, but they wouldn’t allow it. We had to wait for him to come back. When we were in FujiQ earlier in the year, both children were allowed come on the carousel with me and that was a bigger and faster carousel. There are also a few battery cars, a paddling area (in the summer), a sandbox, beetle “fishing” and other activities dotted throughout the park.
There are a number of eateries, all over priced and drenched in fat! You can bring in your own food and there is open green areas where you can picnic. There is only one feeding room and designated baby changing room. There are quite a few toilets, some with smaller toilets for children. There are coin lockers. You can rent a buggy for a day.
One thing I really liked is that you can come and go from the facility once you have your ticket. We left the park after lunch to go for a drive and we were able to go back in on the same ticket. Parking is free. The surrounding area is also very pleasant and there is a little shop and bakery as you come into the resort with a lovely lake out back.
One thing to note is that this amusement park operates VERY differently during Winter. Please see the website for further details.
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
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.