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Along the borders of north Tokyo and part of the Greater Tokyo area is Saitama Prefecture. With Saitama City as its capital, some of the many wonders in Saitama include Kawagoe’s old town Edo landscape, and the flower fields of Hitsujiyama Park. Discover Saitama-ken with this 12 things to-do list.
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Japan is one of the top tourist attractions that tourists flock to. With many amazing areas that tourists can visit and enjoy, it is surely a trip that will be memorable for you, your family, or your friends to enjoy! One such place is Saitama-ken which is located within the Greater Tokyo area, yet is often missed despite its closeness to Tokyo. Here’s some fun places to check out!
A popular attraction in Saitama is the Railway Museum. In celebration of their 20th anniversary, JR East opened the Railway Museum in 2007 as the successor to the Transportation Museum (1921-2006).
※ Japan Railway & Transport Review 43/44 • March 2006, “Transportation Museum in Tokyo and Railway Heritage Conservation”
The museum can be divided into 5 stations (pardon the pun) which are history, train models, career, science, and future. It features a variety of life-sized railway carriages, model trains, and mini trains for tourists to enjoy. Experience driving a real train with the Miniature Driving Train in a 300m driving course, each mini train can sit 3 people; or take a ride on the mini shinkansen, a replica of the original but 1/10 in scale size.
Aside from this, you can enjoy the museum’s various food choices, and a souvenir shop that sells original goods. The restaurant car (or dining car) themed restaurant is an interesting experience, and so is the Ekiben (駅弁 railway bento) shop.
※ The Railway Museum, “Restaurant & Shop”
Location: Saitama City
Access: 1-min walk from Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan Station on the New Shuttle Line
Entrance Fee: 1,330 yen (Adult)
Sakura, or cherry blossoms, isn’t the only pink flower worthy of praise in Japan.
From mid-April to early May, Hitsujiyama Park (羊山公園) is bathed in pink. These are the shibazakura (pink moss phlox) grown all over the hill, hence its name Shibazakura Hill (Pink Moss Hill). Dubbed a Pink Paradise, the area is a beautiful sight to behold drawing in crowds of visitors every year.
Don’t forget to try Chichibu’s local delicacies and pink moss related souvenirs at the specialty market, also held during the blooming season.
※ ANA Japan Travel Planner, "Hitsujiyama Park (Pink Moss Hill)"
Location: Chichibu City
20-mins walk from Seibu-Chichibu Station or Yokose Station on the Seibu Line
20-mins walk from Ohanabatake Station on the Chichibu Line
Entrance Fee: Free except for Pink Moss Season when 300 yen (Adult)
Hodosan Shrine (宝登山神社) is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Saitama Region. It was established in 110 by Prince Yamato-takeru-no-Mikoto. Located at the base of Mt. Hodo, the shrine is surrounded by lush greenery evoking a feeling of being one with nature. There are three main deities in Hodosan shrine said to grant protection from natural disasters:
The First Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇)
Mountain God, Ooyamazumi no Mikoto (大山祇神)
Fire Deity, Homusubi no Kami (火産霊神)
Location: Chichibu City
Access: 14-mins walk from Nagatoro Station on Chichibu Main Line
Entrance Fee: Free
Since you’re in the area, consider taking the Hodosan Ropeway up Mt. Hodo for a great view especially during flower viewing season.
※ Hodosan Ropeway, “Flower Viewing”
Want to experience traditional Japan, there’s no need to go all the way to Kyoto. Less than an hour away from Tokyo is Kawagoe City (川越市) and its Little Edo (小江戸 Koedo). Koedo looks like a city stuck in time, with its well-preserved Kurazukuri style buildings, wooden time-telling bell tower (Toki no Kane), candy alley (Kashiya Yokocho), last building of Kawagoe Castle (Honmaru Goten), and 540 Buddha statues at Kitain Temple. For a unique experience in the area, consider visiting around January to mid-May for strawberry picking at Kawagoe Strawberry Field Sujino and other local farms in the area.
※ Koedo Kawagoe ※ Japan National Tourism Organization, "Koedo Kawagoe"
Location: Kawagoe Station, Kawagoe City
Access from Tokyo:
Ikebukuro Station on Tobu Tojo Line
Shinjuku Station on Seibu Line
Shinjuku Station on JR Saikyo Line, continue on Kawagoe Line
TIP: Living in Tokyo? Definitely take a day trip to Kawagoe.
Saitama is also a shoppers paradise with many huge shopping and outlet malls. Be prepared to spend a whole day in a mall ‘cause there’s no way you can cover it all. Here are some select malls to get some shopping therapy.
AEON Laketown in Koshigaya, Saitama is known as the largest mall in Japan with over 390,000 square meters of floor space. AEON Laketown is made up of three malls, each special in its own way:
Apart from latest fashion trends, Kaze also has entertainment like cinema (AEON Cinema), and crane game plus purikura (photo booth) centre (Yousland).
A pet-friendly mall, Mori has an area where you can leave your pet whilst you shop. You can even bring your fur buddy into some shops and a section of the mall. They even have PetEmo (with animal hospital, beauty salon, and pet food), a cat cafe (Cat Cafe Mocha), and a rabbit specialty store (Usagi no Shippo)
An outlet mall where you can get branded items at discounted prices. Top brands include Guess, Coach, Timberland, Dr. Martens, Michael Kors, Levi’s, and TOmmy Hilfiger.
The 3 malls total have a total of 720 stores. Aside from its absolute size, AEON Laketown is unique for its scenic location next to Lake Koshigaya.
Location: Koshigaya City
Access: JR Koshigaya Laketown Station
If you need to get some shopping done in Kawaguchi, drop by Ario Kawaguchi with its wide selection of shops. Entertainment options include a cinema (MOVIX Kawaguchi) and arcade (Soyu Game Field) for some family and friends bonding time. Visit Ito-Yokado, one of the biggest department stores inside.
Location: Kawaguchi City
Access: 8-mins walk from Kawaguchi Station on JR Keihin-Tohoku Line
The most popular outlet park in Japan is Gotemba Premium Outlet, but not far behind is Mitsui Outlet Park. Head on over to get discounted designer brands like Coach, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Armani, and more.
Time to get a bite of local delicacies, here are 3 dishes you can’t miss out on when visiting Saitama.
Tofu ramen originated from Iwatsuki-ku, a ward in Saitama City. There are 2 places to get tofu ramen in Iwatsuki-ku: Otemon and Koyo. Although at first glance it looks like mapo tofu, it is not as spicy or heavy. On the contrary, people have described its taste as refreshing. Otemon’s tofu ramen has won the Saitama B Grade Gourmet competition twice. The first win came as a huge surprise for the restaurant as it wasn’t on their regular menu, only served to staff.
※ Saitama City Visitors Guide, “Tofu Ramen” ※ Welcome to Saitama, “Tofu Ramen”
Kitamoto City is famous for its local dish, Tomato Curry made with Kitamoto tomatoes. The dish first appeared in 2011 when it won the 9th Saitama B-Class Local Gourmet Competition. It has since continued to win other nationwide curry competitions attesting to its deliciousness. The official Kitamoto Tomato Curry Day is the 21st of August.
※ Kitamoto Tomato Curry, “What’s Kitamoto Tomato Curry?”
Koedo, Kawagoe has its own B-class gourmet that is futomen yakisoba or thick noodle yakisoba. The dish’s history can be traced back to the Showa period when children loved eating futomen yakisoba as a snack. In Koedo, the dish continues to be served with each shop having its own unique sauce and noodle thickness. Pair these noodles with home brand, Coedo craft beer. Think it sounds familiar? You’re right - Coedo is pronounced koedo after Little Edo Kawagoe. Also check out the dango, sweet potato snacks and other local sweets at Koedo.
※ Koedo Kawagoe, “Futomen Yakisoba”
Tired from all that walking and sightseeing? Cap off your day with a warm bath in one of these onsens.
Mangan no Yu (満願の湯) is a popular onsen in Saitama dating back to 824 during the early Heian period. Legend has it that at a time of famine and drought, a monk appeared in answer to the people’s prayers. He struck the ground with his staff and water gushed forth like a waterfall. The hotspring was named Mangan no Yu (meaning all wishes will be fulfilled) after this legend.
The water at Mangan no Yu is one of the highest alkaline baths in Japan with a pH value of 9.3. The onsen water is drinkable if you’d like to try; it is said that the onsen water has healing properties. Enjoy the scenic view and the fresh air as you soak in the onsen and wash your tiredness away.
Location: Chichibu City
Access: Chichibu Onsen Front Bus Station on City Bus Hinozawa Route
840 yen (Adult) on weekdays - discount price at 650 yen after 17:00
1,000 yen (Adult) on weekends and holidays
The highlight of Seiganji (清河寺温泉) is its bamboo groves that you can enjoy whilst soaking in the hot springs. The water is comfortably hot at 38.3°C and good for the skin. There are 2 outdoor hot springs, one of which is heated to 42°C. They also have unique bathing spots like one person bathing pots (tsuboyu) and sleeping baths where you can lie down whilst soaking. They also have an indoor bath, jacuzzi bath, a cold bath, and a sauna.
Location: Chichibu City
Access: 18-mins walk from JR Nishi-Omiya Station on JR Kawagoe Line
720 yen (Adult) on weekdays
820 yen (Adult) on weekends and holidays
From shopping malls to pink hills to bamboo grove onsens, Saitama has everything that you could ever want on a trip to Japan. For those that are already here, take a daytrip from Tokyo for a much needed R&R from work. And remember, there’s lots more than just the 12 things on this list. There’s plenty of other foods and places to check out. You can even see capybara in a bath at Saitama Children’s Zoo! Whatever it is, don’t forget Saitama and its brilliance when thinking of your next Japan trip.
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