Japanese people like to gamble. However, legal options for gambling are limited in Japan. One place for legal gambling is the horse races. And in Saitama, the place to do that is at Urawa Race Course.
Getting to the race course is fairly easy despite it not being particularly close to a train station, as there are regular shuttle buses to and from Minami-Urawa Station on the Keihin-Tohoku and Musashino Lines in Saitama City on race days only.
First of all, this is a place for families. And there were a lot of them there the day that I visited on a warm October afternoon. Kids everywhere were running around excitedly between each race both inside and outside the stands. A popular place for the kids to hang out and many serious bettors, was the parade just inside the main gate where you can get a close-up of the horses warming up before moving to the track.
The race course was going through some renovations and expansions on the day I was there but they appear to have been completed since then. Typical to most race tracks around the world, there are large stands that offer both inside and outside seating, as well as a large flat area adjacent to the racing track for a close-up view of the race as the horse thunder down the start/finish stretch. The older stand is a little less luxurious than the newer stand right next to it, but viewing is better at the older stand as it lies closer to the finish line. Just outside of the stands are a few small buildings that house places for reading the betting sheets and for placing your bets on the races.
There is a ￥100 entrance fee although looking through the racing calendar it appears as though most of the races happen on weekdays, with only important races happening on weekends. The good thing is that that ￥100 entrance fee allows you to stay all day as there are anywhere from 5-10 races in one day.
The gambling thing is best left to the experts as the betting form and odds board seemed to be confusing unless you knew what you were reading.
Still, there is excitement to be had and the races are still quite interesting as well as the chance to people watch--not only the casual fans, but also the regulars who take the whole thing seriously.