Yoshimi Athletic Park is quite hard to find, but it is worth the effort for this annual free spring flower festival. You have to drive down onto the flood plains of the Arakawa River on grass “roads” and will eventually see staff directing you where to park.
We go to this rural festival annually as there is quite a lot for the kids to do. They can try various activities such as operating a shovel car, ride on a helicopter or take a short horse back ride. They can also enjoy a number of workshops and activities, or just enjoy the live performances and festival stalls. There is also a flea market so they usually have toy and antique stalls. There is usually a couple of bouncy castles too. Most years there is a woodcarving artist performing live. They have some super heroes walking around too. There are a few food and drink stalls and some tables laid out to eat at or you can set up your own picnic area.
Please see the grey box for more details (time, URL, map etc).
When I first came to Japan it was as an exchange student with 6 of my friends from my University in Ireland. One of my friends famously said “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all” and there is a truth in that. The magnificence of a temple doesn’t always lie in its appearance, but rather in the history and meaning behind a particular temple. Many temples do look very like others and / or some are very plain and, frankly, quite disappointing to the naked eye, but on the flip side there are many that are both aesthetically pleasing and have a fascinating back story. Then there are those that are different; that stand out for either their background or their architecture or both. Iwamuro Kannon is, in my experience, one of those temples.
Located on the side of a cliff right by the side of the road, the temple is intricately positioned between two rock fronts. The ground floor of the temple is actually part of the cliff and the 88 stone statues, which are one appeal of the temple, are housed in caves within the rock. The stone statues are images of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is dedicated to this “Goddess of Mercy”. The building of the temple is a beautiful wooden structure positioned on stilts. There is no door on the temple and you are free to climb the steep stairs to the first floor where you can look out over the Ichino River on the North End. In Spring the Cherry blossoms along that river are stunning and draw quite a large amount of tourists. On the South end you see the steep trail that leads to the site of Matsuyama Castle. The only remnant of the castle is the moat, but you can view a diorama of the castle in one of the museums in the nearby 100 Caves of Yoshimi. You can exit the temple onto the trail at the back of the temple. On your right you will see a ladder leading to another Kannon. On the left a staircase has been dug into the incline, with a chain rope for support, so that you can climb up to and pass under the naturally formed passage that is shaped like a heart.
Once upon a time Iwamuro kannon enjoyed many visitors as the 3rd stop (of 33), and only one in Yoshimi, on a pilgrimage of Kannon statues in the Hiki district. The Kannon are said to have 33 forms they use when helping sentient beings, thus the Hiki West Country pilgrimmage has 33 stops. Nowadays, however, the temple is virtually abandoned, making it pleasingly tranquil. On the south side you are enveloped by nature, but the temple is quite literally on the side of the road on the North end. That road is mainly used to get to the 100 caves and as such isn’t used much in off season periods. The lack of visitors would imply that in recent years it does not enjoy much appreciation, fame or reverence, but it impressed me greatly. It is well worth a stop, in my personal opinion, if you are in the area.
Parking: Shared with the 100 caves of Yoshimi. FREE
By Public Transport
Just over an hour from Tokyo.
Bus from Tōbu Tōjō Line Higashimatsuyama station (from Ikebukuro) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口
Or Bus from JR Takasaki Line Konosu station (from Ueno) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口 from Konosu Sta.
5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.
The 100 caves of Yoshimi will have a festival this coming Saitama Prefecture Day, November 14th. The unusual attraction in Yoshimi will be free in for the occasion. Usually it costs 300 yen per adult and children over 12 years old, and 200 yen for primary school aged children.
The caves are open from 8.30 am, but the festival will start at 10 am. Thirteen different mascots from surrounding cities and towns will visit from 11.30 am. The Gyoda Samurai Acting team will perform at 2 pm. There is a mini “Enoden” train for kids to try and there will be crafts for older children. They have story telling from 10.30 am to 11.30 am. The first 600 visitors will be able to participate in a stamp rally. For a charge you can participate in Tree Climbing. They will have candy floss and other festival sweets on sale.
Address: 324 Kita Yoshimi, Yoshimi Town, Hiki District, Saitama
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.
We hadn’t visited Yoshimi Town Friendship Athletic Ground for a while, so I was surprised to discover some of the kids’ favourite equipment in this park has been removed. They have put in one new slide, but I am hoping that they are going to add even more new equipment. This is what happened in Heisei No Moripark about 6 years ago; they removed an old wooden playground and replaced it with a colourful combination playground.
In the summer the paddling pool and wading river in Yoshimi Athletic Grounds are quite nice, although I don’t think it is as well maintained as other parks.
For older children and adults there are some sports facilities, including the running track. For us the main incentive to visit Yoshimi has always been more about the wildlife than the playground equipment, so all was not lost today. We call Yoshimi Athletic Ground the “frog park”, because of the amount of frogs we have caught (and released) there. We also regularly find praying mantis, grasshoppers, beetles… even a snake once. While 6yo searched for insects, 4yo and 3yo enjoyed picking up acorns and pine cones. This park is great for acorn collecting in particular. The pine cones were a bonus.
While Yoshimi Athletic Ground might not be the best park around for small kids, it’s not too bad either. Another draw for us is that it is close to other points of interest, so we can make a day out of our visit to Yoshimi. Less than 5 minutes in the car is Ichigo No Sato, a roadside station, that has a farmer’s market, stalls and booths, some of which are eateries, an Udon restaurant, a bakery and a lovely little playground. Between both parks is a strawberry picking area. And not far off you can enjoy the unusual 100 Caves of Yoshimisightseeing spot, which is across the road fromIwamuro Kannon.
Address: 142 Koarai, Yoshimi, Hiki Gun 〒355-0103 Saitama Prefecture,
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 they 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.
Ichigo no Sato is a “roadside station” in the prefecture of Saitama, North west of Tokyo. A roadside station is a type of rest and service area with a large parking area.
There are toilets and benches as well as a gift shop, a vegetable shop, a farmer’s market, a shop selling rice, a strawberry greenhouse, an udon restaurant and a coffee shop with rest area. There are also some eateries in log cabins along one walkway. One of the popular products on sale is “Ichigo Nama Dorayaki”, which is like a type of strawberry filled pancake. There is an information stand with information for Yoshimi in the building behind the ice-cream van, it also provides a list of all strawberry picking greenhouses in the area. We go for the playground and the ice-cream!
Update November 2016
The roadside station has added some really fun and colourful equipment to the playground this year.
Address: 1737 Kubota, Yoshimi, Saitama 355-0137
Access: 7 kilometres from Kanetsu Expressway’s Higashimatsuyama Interchange.
Hours: Playground is open all year round, but shops are open 9 am to 5 pm, restaurants are open 11 am to 3 pm on weekdays and until 4 pm on weekends.
Other attractions in Yoshimi
Very near to this playground is a strawberry picking area:
Winter / Spring strawberry picking is popular for family and school outings in Japan from February through May. However, some of the winter strawberry green houses open for picking as early as mid December. Our local greenhouses, with public strawberry picking, open officially from next week. We got in ahead of the crowd and enjoyed a half hour of all-you-can-eat, pick your own, strawberries today in Yoshimi Town.
Ichigo no Sato in Yoshimi Town is one of the better known strawberry picking areas in Saitama. Ichigo no Sato is a “roadside station” (道の駅) on prefectural route 27. “Ichigo” is the japanese for strawberry and this rest area was so named due to the abundance of strawberry fields in the area. The rest area has a very nice playground, fruit and vegetable shops and stalls, an udon restaurant, an ice-cream van, a cafe & bakery, and facilities for people on long journeys such as restrooms and changing rooms. There is a strawberry picking greenhouse right beside the roadside station, but that does not open for business until later in the month. They provide maps in each of the shops to direct you to other strawberry picking facilities in the vicinity;
The price varies greatly between each strawberry picking farm, not only within Yoshimi, but surrounding areas too. Note, the price for strawberry picking in greenhouses changes as the weather warms, with December through March being more expensive than April and May. Logical when you think of the extra expense of keeping a greenhouse at the right temperature during the cold months. Speaking of which, greenhouses can often be uncomfortably warm and humid, especially if you are wearing heavy winter clothes.
The greenhouse we chose, ①-1 on the map, offered 30 minutes all you can pick and eat strawberries for 600 yen for a child aged 3 and up to 6th grade elementary school and 1200 yen for anything older than that. From April 1st, the prices come down to 500 yen for children and a 1000 yen for adults. If you want to buy strawberries you’ve picked, but haven’t eaten it costs 100 yen per 100 gram. 30 minutes was plenty time with young children. The website is http://www.geocities.jp/i_ichigoen/d-annai.html#d-ryokin (Japanese only). There is room for about 6 cars in front of the greenhouse and more were parallel parked on the road behind it. Their internet site says they have a toilet.
The prices, as well as contact details and webpages where applicable, of the strawberry farms on the above map can be seen in this photo below.
There are strawberry picking areas in the neighbouring town of Kawajima too. Most of those farms are still closed for business, but there is one open calledStrawberry Hunt. These greenhouses also often 30 minute all-you-can-eat, but at the more expensive price of 1,600 yen for adults and 1,100 yen for children from January through May. The address is 1072 Mushizuka, Kawajima Town.
Other areas in Saitama known for strawberry picking include Chichibu City, Ranzan, Yokoze and Kawajima Towns. Our favourite is in Sakado and that one has a play area too: