Destinations

SAITAMA

A myriad of colors, spectacular sights, and shopping. Experience this unique and beautiful area without the burden of traveling a great deal

Saitama-The Land of Colors just North of Tokyo
Just north of Tokyo lies a land that conveys the colors that belong to each season. Saitama is often called "Sai-no-Kuni" meaning land of colors. The energy here is clean and crisp like nature intended it to be. Getting to Saitama is a breeze with 3 train lines from Tokyo. The Keihin Tohoku Line, which follows the western half of the Yamanote Line's circum-ference, will deliver you to Omiya Station in about 45 minutes from Tokyo Station; both the Utsunomiya Line and the Takasaki Line coming out of Ueno Station will get you to Omiya in about 25 minutes; and if you are coming from Shinjuku, there is the Saikyo Line, which can take about 30 minutes. If you are coming from Narita Airport there is also the "On-Liner," a non-stop Highway bus which takes about 2 hours and will drop you off at Omiya Station's west exit for a reasonable price. Taking the typical 30-minute train ride north through Tokyo, you will notice the scenery changing from city to suburb, speckled with countryside and lots of greenery. On a clear day you may even catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji towering far in the distance. If you have come to sightsee, Saitama City is a great place to start.

Saitama's Center of Modern Appeal: Shintoshin
One station south of Omiya Station on the Keihin Tohoku or Utsunomiya Line, is a part of Saitama City recently constructed and dedicated to serving modern peoples' needs. It is the Shintoshin Station and surrounding it is a place where the modern era, nature, and art are on display year-round outside and in through the varied architecture which combines these elements so well. The name Shintoshin itself means 'New-urban-center,' and this center invites you to enjoy its clean and spacious area. There are a number of things to see as well as gourmet restaurants, hotels, and shopping featuring the finest crafts the region has to offer. Taking a slow stroll along its numerous walkways will greet you with subtle, cleverly placed and well thought out natural elements and sculptures of all sizes and shapes. On either of its reaches you can find great buildings worth stopping and taking a look at. If you have a chance, take a look at the 'Rafure Saitama,' a hotel with fine restaurants and a Japanese style hot spring spa. You will also want to take a look at the Saitama Super Arena.

The Incredible Metamorphosing Super Arena Has it All
Right next to the Shintoshin Station is the wonderful Saitama Super Arena, jutting 66 meters (220 feet) into the sky. This highly versatile arena is able to seat up to 35,500, and with the help of its moving block, a huge moving chunk of the arena that seats about 9,000 and other movable pieces, it is able to squeeze, fold, and flip to take on 16 different shapes and support just about any event you could think possible. The arena offers a 40-minute tour where you can see the whole arena from the bottom up. You will be able to see such features as the VIP room, lounge, and the locker room, where the stars get themselves ready for performances. This arena was designed so that people can still enjoy coming to see it even when it is not in full action.

Learn About the Life of One of the Worlds Greatest Artists: The John Lennon Museum
A most intriguing feature of the Super Arena is its one of a kind John Lennon Museum, the first of its kind in the world. Dedicated to teaching the world about the real life of this influential, world renowned artist, you can see its 130 items including Lennon's diaries, clothes, favorite guitars, and running video clips, all arranged artistically throughout several rooms on the Arena's fourth and fifth floors. You can also browse among around 400 John Lennon goods for sale at it's museum shop, and take a little break at the museum cafe, run by and modeled after one Lennon often frequented in his visits to Japan. The museum's official URL in English is
http://www.taisei.co.jp/museum/index_e.html

Just outside the arena is the Keyaki Hiroba (meaning Zelkova Plaza). The keyaki, or zelkova tree, is the official tree of Saitama. There are many scheduled events taking place here throughout the year through the Super Arena including mini concerts and monthly flea markets.

Hikawa Jinja, the Shrine Where it All Started
To get to the Hikawa Shrine from the Super Arena you can take the 20 -minute scenic stroll northeast along Hikawa Street. Lined with the same keyaki trees it is a kind of skipped extension of the Keyaki Hiroba. If you want to get there faster, you can take the Tobu-Noda train line to Kita-Omiya station, and walk east for about five minutes; or go one station further on the same line to Omiya-Koen Station and walk south. The name Omiya actually means 'big-shrine,' and the city was named after the Hikawa Shrine. This shrine has a lot of history, being built around 2,400 years ago during the rule of Japan's 5th emperor, Emperor Kosho. Countrywide there are about 290 shrines also called Hikawa Jinja, which have all been built after this historically and culturally significant shrine.

Surrounding the shrine is a large park area where you can enjoy a Japanese garden, and in April see the cherry blossom festival. Also in the park is a small zoo, a racing track, the Saitama Museum, and a lake laced with cherry trees. For recreation, and somewhat as a ritual of enjoying nature, the Japanese seasonally take part in what is known as 'hana-mi' or flower watching. This park is not only famous for its cherry blossoms, but for other flowers as well.

See the Gardens of Japan's Greatest Bonsai Masters
Facing north from Tobu-Noda line's Omiya Koen Station is an area in Omiya known as the Bonsai Village. It was established around 1925, after the Great Kanto Earthquake displaced several Bonsai masters from their former north Tokyo homes. They packed up seeking a place to start over again- a spacious place with clean air, water, and soil. Ever since it's establishment Omiya Bonsai Village has attracted many eager to learn bonsai enthusiasts. Many of which settled in the area and are now contributing to the world by sharing their knowledge of this unique art. Some important notes: Most gardens are closed on Thursdays. Also, make reservations when visiting with larger groups.
If you have time, stop by at the House of Four Seasons, a cultural meeting place surrounded by a small garden, and free resting area where you can take in the authentic Japanese atmosphere. It is located within the Bonsai Village.

Manga Kaikan: Japan's History of Cartooning at the Cartoon Museum
Just five minutes walk from Omiya Koen Station on the Tobu-Noda Line (situated inside the Bonsai Village) this art museum displays works of various Japanese cartoon artists, and also features works of the late Rakuten Kitazawa, who is known as the father of modern Japanese cartooning. Rakuten published the Tokyo Puck, Japan's first color cartoon magazine, invented the word manga, the Japanese word for cartoon, and in 1948 Rakuten established the Rakuten House, the site of this very museum where Rakuten spent his last years. The exhibit on the first of its two stories is dedicated to Rakuten's works and has all his equipment on display. On the second floor is a hall, which displays works based on selected themes, as well as winning works from competitors in the annual Citizen's Cartoon Festival contest, a contest to promote cartoon drawing in the community.

Iwatsuki City & Kasukabe City
Just a little further out on the Tobu-Noda Line are the Iwatsuki and Kasukabe Stations. When walking down the main street from Iwatsuki Station, you will notice many shops selling dolls. Iwatsuki and Kasukabe together are like the toy box of Japan. Like with anything, however, these are not mere toys, but in fact have a significant cultural meaning to the country. Especially of cultural importance is the Hina Matsuri (or Girl's Festival) on March 3rd, and Kodomo-no-Hi on May 5th(once originally called Boy's Day, but now Children's Day to celebrate both boys and girls). Both ceremonies are a time of prayer for healthy growth and future of children. Both are quite similar in that a sort of shelf is set up in the household, upon which traditional hina dolls and feminine toys are placed for girls and warrior helmets and masculine toys for boys. While here you can also see the symbol of Iwatsuki, the Toki-no-Kane (Time Bell), created in the year 1671 which is still hand chimed at 6 o'clock AM and PM. Some sights to see in Kasukabe City are the Kasukabe-Yawata Shrine, the Giant Kite Hall, and Kasukabe's various specialty shops selling decorative traditional children's toys.

Togyoku Ningyo Traditional Dolls and Museum
Specializing in hina dolls made for the Hina Matsuri, decorative hagoita (a paddle for a traditional game similar to badminton played around New Year), and dolls made for Kodomo-no-Hi, this doll maker also offers the public a free look at their museum of Japanese dolls, on the 2nd floor. Awe at the fantastic array of dolls from the past on display there, and digest this intriguing festival and the culture that goes with it. Be sure to browse around on the first floor, and see the doll sets and other products for sale. They make great gifts, especially for doll collectors.
The good thing about Saitama is the fact that it is so close with travel routes seeming to point in the direction that suits your needs. Thus for a reasonable price, and without the burden of traveling a great deal you can experience this unique area with its arts, regional handicrafts, culture and history with the delightful seasonal atmosphere and all its shades and colors.

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