By Rebecca Quin
Less than a 20 minute train ride from Tokyo, you'll find a region steeped in local history, rich in traditional Japanese culture and packed full of exciting outdoor activities. Perfect for a day trip or more, check out our Top 10 Things to Do list to experience the best that Saitama prefecture has to offer.
1. Visit Saitama’s ‘Little Edo’ – Kawagoe
Kawagoe’s ‘Little Edo’, though pretty little, is a picturesque example of traditional Japanese architecture where photogenic alleyways are lined with artisan stores selling sweets made from Kawagoe’s specialty product; Japanese sweet potato. Filled with sweet potato ice cream you can wander down Penny Lane in search of giant crackers and mini-candies before reluctantly heading back to modern civilization via Crea Mall.
2. Go traditional River Boating in Nagatoro
Blue mountain peaks soar above spectacular seasonal flowers in a place that’s so scenic you’ll want to break out your watercolors, though there are plenty of outdoor activities available that don’t involve ill-equipped attempts at painting. Activities center around the Arakawa River along which you can cruise in a traditional wooden river boat or hurtle down in a dinghy if you want to try white water rafting. There’s also a ropeway that climbs Mt Hodo, a steam locomotive and plenty of traditional craft and cooking workshops to keep up the education value.
3. See an Urawa Reds game
It’s well worth-seeing a match with the Urawa Red Diamonds, the Manchester United of the J-League, if only to get a glimpse of the craziness of Japanese fandom. Paint yourself red, get ready to point in military unison and scream at the top of your lungs at the impressive Saitama stadium.
4. Discover how Japanese sake is made
Nothing says ‘I’m on holiday’ quite like being drunk in the day and Saitama has the means to provide this opportunity in several ways, though the best method is to try a sake tour at a local brewery, like the Suzuki Shuzo. Saitama is famous for sake, with around 35 breweries located throughout the prefecture. A tour at Sake-zukuri-no-mori gives the chance to see the brewing process firsthand before trying a freshly fermented batch. The harvest period lasts from December to March but most breweries have a museum and shop that are open all year round.
5. Go flower-viewing in Chichibu
From mid-April to early May, more than 400,000 tiny shibazakura (moss phlox) bloom to make a giant flower carpet in Hitsujiyama Park, Chichibu, closer to Tokyo than the more famous festival at the base of Mt. Fuji. Rows of pink and purple flowers are planted in vivid, swirling shapes on ‘Moss Hill’ with stalls selling drinks and festival foods to sustain you through a heavy flower-viewing session.
6. Experience a float festival
Held every 2nd and 3rd of December, the Chichibu Yomatsuri is one of the top three float festivals in Japan. Six huge floats ornately decorated with lanterns and tapestries are carried through the streets towards City Hall, where they can be viewed beneath an epic 2-hour long fireworks display. Chichibu Festival Hall has lots of interesting information about the festival and is open all year.
7. Dance to some J-pop at Saitama Super Arena
Situated in the sprawling shopping and leisure complex Saitama Shintoshin Cocoon, Saitama Super Arena has steadily grown as a premier venue in the country for famous acts from at home and abroad, as well as for trade fairs and sports games. Paul McCartney recently played there and J-Pop stalwarts EXILE will be there to display their brand of macho-camp at the beginning of May.
8. Get lost in the largest shopping mall in Japan
AEON LakeTown is actually a cluster of three separate shopping centers joined by indoor walking bridges to form a vast super mall. Japanese and global brands (including Uniqlo, Zara and Krispy Kreme) are spread over three floors of wallet-emptying retail. Conveniently (and dangerously), Lake Town is right next to another hyper-mall Lalaport, as well as furniture giant IKEA and the American supermarket Costco.
9. Hike a mountain (or three)
Just over an hour from the center of Tokyo, the mountains of Saitama offer a much less crowded opportunity to experience Japan’s natural beauty than trails near to Mt. Fuji or on Mt. Takao. The Mt. Hiwada- Mt. Takasashi – Mt. Monomi path leads walkers through tranquil forests, past ancient shrines and breathtaking waterfalls, to a series of spectacular views of Saitama.
10. Eat, eat and eat
Over-eating is essential to any (holi)day; rice crackers, cold soup udon, steamed rice buns and top quality men dojo ramen are some of the many specialties available throughout the region. Have a look at the Saitama page for more suggestions on what and where to eat and drink, and remember to pack those stretchy pants! For information on how to get to these places and more, please check out the links below.
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I've been a Tokyo-based English teacher since moving to the other side of the world in search of an adventure involving sushi, samurai and themed-resturants (an obsession I didn't know I had until I got here). Originally from London, UK, I love travelling, writing, and baking, and eating the baking. As Regional Partner for Saitama, I'd really like to hear from you; whether it's about Saitama, Japan, or a completely random question, please get in touch at email@example.com or find me on twitter @rebeccaquin1.