Chipmunks, Saitama City – a free chipmunk garden in an agricultural area in Saitama City.
Chipmunks in Saitama City
“Squirrel House” is the official English name of the free furry friends attraction in Saitama City. Contrary to what that conjures up, it is an outdoor attraction. Not large enough to call a zoo or a farm. So I have taken the liberty of calling it a garden. The chipmunk garden is in yet another location with a billion names. The official English name is “Citizens’ Forest Minuma Green Center”. Minuma Park would have been so easy, but right beside the Citizens’ Forest Minuma Green Center there is a completely separate park that claimed that title. Furthermore, Miharashi Park which is actually separate to the Citizens’ Forest is bunged in with the Citizen’s Forest. Have I lost you yet!? To be honest, in this situation it is actually easier to use the Japanese name for the park “Shimin no Mori”.
The Squirrel House … Chipmunk garden
The official Saitama City english website unfortunately translated “risu” into squirrel. The Japanese “risu” covers both squirrels and chipmunks in the English language. But coming from a country (Ireland) that squirrels are indigenous to, I can tell you what is in the Shimin no Mori “risu house” is not squirrels. At Shimin no Mori the adorable little fuzzy friends are even smaller than a squirrel and they have stripes. That is, they are chipmunks!
There are approximately 300 chipmunks in the Squirrel House in Saitama City. During this period with Covid-19, there are a few precautions you need to take to enter the chipmunk garden. Before you enter the area you need to have your temperature checked by a hands free thermometer, that looks much like a smart phone, which records your temperature from your forehead. You also need to wear a mask and sanitize your hands.
Even in a non pandemic period you can’t just walk into the garden. You need to sign your name and circle whether you live in Saitama City or “outside”. Then a member of staff goes through some rules / information with you. S/he warns you to watch you don’t step on the chipmunks. Which is just as well as (I was expecting squirrels!) I didn’t expect them to be so small. Moreover, they dart out onto the footpath rather suddenly. If you weren’t paying attention you could easily step on one. For the same reason they ask that children don’t run in the garden. Also, you aren’t allowed touch them or put your hand out to them, as they may bite. But they look so friendly and cuddly, the temptation is real! Depending on how much or little you are into chipmunks you could spend anything from minutes to hours in the chipmunk garden.
Shimin no Mori
Shimin no Mori park is located in Kita Ward of Saitama City. To the West and East of the park the area is urban. But one of the many surprises of our visit was that to the North and South of the park there are dozens of agricultural fields. It is a little oasis of nature in an otherwise outspreading satellite town. According to the Saitama City official web page, the park was designed to give urbanites a place to relax in nature. Furthermore, the area has been conserved to promote agriculture in the region. The park has been open since 1979.
It isn’t a particularly large park, roughly 14 hectares, but it has sprawling lawns. Making it an ideal park for picnicking. Especially for families as there is also a small playground and a water play area for children. When we visited it was during cherry blossom season. The cherry blossoms across the road at Miharashi Park are quite well known. I knew about them, but I had never heard anything about the sakura in Shimin no Mori. Although, judging by some soureces online they are quite famous locally. It was a nice surprise for us to find a few different varieties of sakura in the park when we weren’t expecting them. They don’t have that many, but the ones that are there are mature, and stunning. While there may not be that many cherry blossoms relatively speaking, there are dozens of other variety of trees. In fact, the park is known for having more than 10,000 trees in total.
Minuma Green Center
In the park there is an indoor facility called Minuma Green Center. We didn’t visit it, actually I think it was still closed on account of the Coronavirus the day we visited. Supposedly it has an exhibition greenhouse and a bonsai exhibition hall. Furthermore it sells locally grown vegetables and farm produce.
In a ‘normal’ year there are several events held at the park including an agricultural festival in Autumn and a gardening festival in spring. They also hold a citizen’s festival annually in the park.
We visited Shimin no Mori for two main reasons. One, for me to see the cherry blossom and rapeseed scenery at Miharashi Park. The other, for my daughter to see the chipmunks. I was quite surprised by how enjoyable I found the chipmunk garden. As I was expecting squirrels, I wasn’t particularly excited. I can see squirrels every year when we visit my homeland. But it was a nice surprise that the furry friends in Shimin no Mori are actually chipmunks. Moreover, the cherry blossoms in the main Shimin no Mori park were an added bonus. Unlike the ones in Miharashi park, you can actually sit under them and picnic. Two of them in particular really captivated me with their voluminous spreading branches and low(er than normal) hanging somei yoshino blooms. It is a suitable alternative place to enjoy cherry blossoms to nearby Omiya Dai Ni and Omiya parks which are a lot busier than Shimin no Mori.
Chipmunks Saitama Information
|Chipmunk Garden / Squirrel House Saitama City|
|Address:||2 Chome-94 Minuma, Kita Ward, Saitama, 331-0803|
|Hours:||10 am to 4 pm|
|Online:||Official web page on the Saitama City website|
Chipmunks Saitama Access
The park is located relatively close to Toro Station. It takes less than 10 minutes on foot from Toro Station. Toro Station is on the Shonan Shinjuku line and the Utsunomiya Line. The station is less than 30 minutes from Northern Tokyo’s Itabashi Station on the Shonan Shinjuku line. And just 30 minutes from Ueno station on the Utsunomiya (Ueno-Tokyo) Line.
By car, it is about 6km west of the Iwatsuki Interchange on the Tohoku Expressway. It is also close to the Saitama Minuma Interchange on the Metropolitan Expressway Shutoku Saitama Shintoshin line. There is free parking on both the South and North East end of the park.