Shimozato Elementary School is a historic building and tourist attraction in Ogawa town, Saitama. The school is somewhat off the main tourist trail. However, two groups of people know it well. Fans of Non Non Biyori know it as the anime school Ashigaoka. And it is also well known by cherry blossom photographers. In the last year, the new organic cafe on the grounds is also drawing tourists.
Former Shimozato Elementary School
The Ogawa Shimozato elementary school was established in 1874. The current building, that remains, was built in 1962. It was in use until 2011. At the end of the 2010 school year, in March 2011, the town closed it permanently as a place of education. A NPO maintains the building.
It is often referred to as Shimosato in english online, but the official name is Shimozato. The former school is open to the public and free to enter, but there is a small box in a covert corner where you can leave a donation.
You can enter the grounds of the school during the day (no official opening hours). You cannot enter the school building on your own, but if a guide is available they will let you into one of the classrooms. Even if there is no guide there, you can see and take photos from the outside through the door.
Non Non Biyori Anime School
Non Biyori is an anime set in the fictional town of Ashigaoka. Ashigaoka is a very rural area. The town is so small that the local school only has a total of five students. That local Non Non Biyori school is said to be based on the real life (but now closed) Shimozato Elementary school in Ogawa town.
The former school gets a regular wave of tourists. Judging by the reviews on Google, a lot of visitors are fans of the anime. Despite not being the most exciting place in the world, the school has an average rating of 4.8 stars (out of 5). A rare accolade and coveted position on Google maps.
Shimozato Cherry Blossoms
The sakura of the school grounds are known throughout the town and even beyond. Photographers come from near and far to snap the blossoms backdropped by the old school, Ashigaoka Anime School. I was so surprised by the amount of professional photographers there today. Even without sakura in bloom though, the school is quite instagrammable.
During the opening hours the grounds are open to public. The kids can play in the playground there (see below). And you can picnic on the benches around the small sports ground or hanami (picnic) under the cherry blossoms. Apart from photographers and the cafe goers, there were dozens of people at the school to indulge in hanami.
We timed our visit perfectly today. According to the staff of the cafe on the grounds, the cherry blossoms were only partially opened yesterday. And today they suddenly came into full bloom.
The site is currently enjoying a renewed boom in tourism thanks to the cafe next door. Branch School Mozart (Bunko Mozart) is celebrating its one year anniversary. It opened for business on April 1st last year, 2018. Within minutes of opening today the cafe was full.
To be honest, if it weren’t for the cafe on the grounds, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to visit this location. Which would have been a shame. As it turns my kids absolutely loved the playground there. They would have played there all day had we not plans later in the afternoon. And since visiting I have taken an interest in the anime Non Non Biyori. The school has since been used in a movie too, that’s coming out in 2020.
The playground isn’t huge, but it was a lot of fun for my four kids aged between four and nine years old. Most of the equipment is typical to primary schools even to this day, but they have one piece of equipment that is unusual. It is a cement mound with ropes and boulders for climbing and a tunnel through it.
On the old school sports ground they have some push along rides and a tricycle that smaller kids can use. There is also a small plastic slide with climbing there for toddlers.
The nearest station is Ogawa machi on the Tobu Tojo and JR Hachiko lines. Not to be confused with the Ogawamachi in Tokyo! It’s only about an hour and a half from Tokyo, all in, if you get a taxi from the station. You can also hire a bike or take a bus part of the way. It takes much longer if you walk as it is a 40 minute walk from the station.
You can get a bus part of the way. From the station you can get a bus to “Ogawa Park Hill” and alight at “Dento Kugei Kaikan”「伝統工芸会館前」 . It is about a 15 minute walk from there.
Rent a bike
According to Mike Hattsu Blog, you can rent a bike from in front of the Ogawa machi station. At the time his blog was posted it cost 500 yen. More information and real life scenes from Non Non Biyori at Mike Hattsu Blog.
Parking is free. It is at the back of the school. You go through the school gate and down a dirt road until you see it past the organic farm.
More about the cafe: