11 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Saitama

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In Tokyo’s bedtown neighbor to the north, Saitama, you can find an unexpected range of activities to help you unwind on a no-hassle escape from the concrete jungle. Though parts of the prefecture closest to Tokyo have been swallowed up by the capital’s metropolitan sprawl – meaning Saitama gets an unfair rap as a boring ‘burb – head a little bit further in and you’ll find it might just surprise you.

If you’re on a tourist visa, the new Seibu 1Day Pass / 2Day Pass makes exploring all of the below easy and ultra cheap. Stop by the Seibu Tourist Information Center in Ikebukuro to grab one and get some ideas for extending your explorations!

1. Discover tea country

Saitama grows some of Japan’s most delicious green tea, Sayama-cha, meaning there’s no shortage of places to find it. Tea season peaks in April when harvesting begins. Festivals like the Tokorozawa Tea Festival and Sayama Tea and Flower Festival celebrate how tea goes from the field to your cup. Sample different brews and dishes like deep-fried yabukita tea leaves. It’s also the perfect chance to snag some shin-cha (fresh first harvest tea), considered the most delicious tea of all.

Nearest station: Shin-Tokorozawa on the Seibu Shinjuku line

2. Hike through Totoro’s Forest

Officially known as Sayama Hills, Totoro’s Forest is a natural wonderland with beautiful foliage in abundance. Fans of the Ghibli film will enjoy several easy hiking trails through the forest where highlights include rolling tea fields; a giant Totoro-shaped tree; and the 100-year-old Kurosuke House, named for the black soot balls that greet Mei and Satsuki the first time they peek inside their new countryside home. There, you’ll find the gift shop, tea house, and main office.

Nearest station: Seibu-kyujo-mae on the Seibu Ikebukuro line

3. Go skiing or snowboarding

Saitama’s not exactly known for its abundant snowfall but that doesn’t mean you have to give up dreams of skiing or snowboarding if you can’t reach outdoor ski resorts from Tokyo. The Sayama Ski Resort next door to the Seibu Dome offers a 300-meter long, 30-meter wide ski slope served by two single lifts on either side. The indoor slope is generally open from late October to April and rentals are available.

Nearest station: Seibu-kyujo-mae on the Seibu Ikebukuro line

4. See a sea of red flowers (before lunch at the most delicious vegetarian restaurant)

Every September, step into a world of red at Kinchakuda Park when the spider lilies bloom as far as the eye can see. The sight remains breathtaking and serene despite the crowds it draws. After you’ve had your fill of the spider lilies, go fill your stomach at the ever-crowded Alishan Cafe, the most delicious vegetarian restaurant in Saitama (and I’m not being paid to say that). Come in June to see the fireflies, an experience that’s increasingly rare this close to Tokyo.

Nearest station: Koma on the Seibu Ikebukuro line

5. Pick your own berries or mushrooms at Sayama Berry Land

While the most relaxing travel often involves nature, the best trips always involve food. At Sayama Berry Land, you can check both of those boxes. For a small fee, you’ll have 30 minutes to harvest as much strawberries (December-May), blueberries (June-August), or shiitake mushrooms (October-April) as you can. Each harvest has different rules such as eat-in or take-away only, but the fun of moving food from bush to mouth stands regardless the course.

Nearest station: Minami-Otsuka on the Seibu Shinjuku line

6. Visit the birthplace of Japanese aviation

Tokorozawa pays homage to its history as the birthplace of Japanese aviation with the interesting Tokorozawa Aviation Museum. The museum sits on the airport’s original airstrip and features a large collection of aircrafts (though the ones on display rotate constantly) as well as interactive displays that detail the history of Japanese aviation. The museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in flight, and is fun for people of all ages.

Nearest station: Kokukoen on the Seibu Shinjuku line

7. Dance your ass off at Japanese baseball

Become a Japanese baseball fan for a day and catch a Saitama Seibu Lions game at the MetLife Dome. Though you may not be able to keep up with the songs – Japanese fans chant in perfect unison for their teams with complex memorized chants that are almost as entertaining as the game itself – you can show your enthusiasm by downing some beers, jumping up and down and dancing around like crazy.

Nearest station: Seibu-kyujo-mae on the Seibu Ikebukuro line

8. Enjoy Finnish culture at Moomin Valley Park

Based off of Tove Jansson’s Finnish cartoon (hugely popular in Japan) this whimsical park is on a par with the Ghibli Museum in terms of paying faithful homage to the Moomin settings, characters and overall Scandinavian vibe. Hidden in a forested valley in the hills of Hanno, the cute collection of Moomin buildings are completely free to explore, making it an outdoor favorite for families with young kids and adorable teenage couples on a bargain date.

Big things are in store for this place in the near future, as it’s set to be integrated into a larger theme park dubbed “Metsä” – forest in Finnish – consisting of a Moomin Zone and a Public Zone. Both aim to replicate “the Northern European lifestyle” in Saitama. Plans for a European market, saunas and lakeside glamping will make this a popular spot when it opens in 2018.

Nearest station: Motokaji Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line

9. Go back in time to try potato ten ways

While there are many areas in Tokyo that have small pockets of old era architecture, none are as complete as Kawagoe. See the original architecture styles of kura, Edo-period wooden warehouses, on Kurazukuri street. Next, check out the Meiji-era candy shops on Candy Alley as you stock up on traditional Japanese candy. Then, stroll through the Western-style buildings favored in the early 20th century on Taisho Roman Yume Street. All in one convenient location!

As you meander through the streets, snack on Kawagoe’s famed satsuma sweet potato. Kawagoe serves up the mild tasting, purple-skinned potato in ways you didn’t even know you were missing: ice cream, soba, udon, gyoza, coffee, sake, even beer!

Nearest station: Hon-Kawagoe on the Seibu Shinjuku line

10. Hit the hiking trails in the abundant Saitama mountains

If wide open spaces, breathtaking scenery and fresh air is what you crave, go for a hike on one of Saitama’s many mountain trails. The Koburi Pass in Chichibu offers a relaxed, easily accessible hike with amazing views of Saitama. Nearby Mt. Hiwada gives you a choice between a two to three hour hike to the summit, or a day hike through three mountains and Gojo Falls. For a bigger challenge catch a bus up to Mitsumine Shrine, one of Japan’s most beautiful mountain shrines, and hike down to the base of the mountain or to Lake Chichibu then catch a bus to the station from there.

Nearest station: Koburi Pass, Agano on the Seibu Ikebukuro line; Mt. Hiwada, Koma on the Seibu Shinjuku line; Mitsumine Shrine on the Seibu Chichibu line.

11. Go white water rafting

Flowing from Saitama into Tokyo Bay, the rushing Arakawa River offers great conditions for white water rafting and other water sports in the stunner of a mountain village, Nagatoro. The area is outdoor activities galore; as well as white-water rafting, there’s the more genteel option of cruising in a traditional wooden river boat. Nearby there’s the Mt. Hodosan ropeway and the Paleo Express – a steam locomotive that’s been chugging its way through the picturesque scenery since 1988.

Nearest station: Nagatoro on the Seibu Chichibu line

Bonus: See the Shibazakura

Your Saitama tour doesn’t have to stop here! From now until early May, join the city dwellers on a jaunt to the countryside to see the spectacular shibazakura or “moss phlox” at the popular Chichibu Shibazakura Festival in Hitsujiyama Park.

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