Saitama Part 3: Winter Wonderland Itinerary | Tokyo Day trips

Prior to moving to Japan, I haven't been to or even heard of Saitama. I didn't know how much I was missing out on until I started traveling there on my own. Before being invited to go for work, I had already gone many times privately and fell in love with its beautiful nature and the well-preserved historical spots. In this 4-part series, I will be introducing 16 locations separated into 4 day trip itineraries. They have a mixture of different kind of locations and activities that will fit different interests. I hope this will help you discover wonderful new places and help plan your next day-trip to Saitama from Tokyo!

Saitama Prefecture Quick Facts:
  • It borders the north of Tokyo
  • 4 of Tokyo Metro's lines connect Tokyo to Saitama
  • The JR Saikyo Line, JR Utsunomiya Line, JR Takasaki Line and the JR Tohoku/Joetsu Shinkansen also connect Tokyo and Saitama

Locations Covered in Part 3: 
  • Chichibu City: Bamba Road
  • Minano Town: Chichibu onsen Mangan-no-yu
  • Nagatoro: Kotatsu boat ride
  • Yokoze: Ashigakubo Icicles 
  • Bonus Spot ✨ (Higashichichibu Village)
Chichibu's Bamba Road
This is not my first time in Chichibu, in fact I have now covered 3 out of 4 seasons in Chichibu and there's a reason I keep going back. There's this retro vibe about the town and the magnificent nature backdrop is such a nice escape from the busy Tokyo life. Bamba road is a place you won't miss, it leads you from the station all the way up to Chichibu shrine, and its full of amazing little shops. 

A few shops that I recommend stopping by:
  • Imo Urara: for Japanese yam flavored pudding and ice-cream
  • Jin Jin Bar: for wild-boar skewers
  • Kanmidokoro Kamakura Chichibu ten: for drinks and warabi-mochi

(Top left: Bamba street, Top right: Imo Urara)

(Above: snacks from Imo Urara)

(Top left: Jin Jin bar, top right: Bus stop for Chichibu Shrine)

(Above: Kanmidokoro Kamakura Chichibu ten)

Chichibu Onsen: Mangan-no-yu (Minano Town)
This is one of those nice traditional onsens that are perfect for day trips. It reels like a ryokan but they don't offer overnight stays. But there are private rooms just like a ryokan where you can rest by the hour, or there are public rooms for dining, resting, and even a dark room for napping. Their onsens are equipped with indoor and outdoor onsen, the outdoor one facing the magnificent mountains surrounding the area. The ladies and mens change regularly so depending on which week you go, you'll have a different view. 

  • The hours are from 10am - 9pm 
  • Entry fees are only ¥900 ~ ¥1,050 all day depending on day of the week 
  • Tattoos are not allowed at this onsen (small covered up tattoos are fine)

(Above: front door of Mangan onsen) 

(Above: outdoor pool of one of the onsens)

(Above: private resting room for up to 6-8 pax at ¥1,500/hr)

(Above:public room for napping)

(Above: another outdoor pool but roofed)

(Above: Extensive menu from their restaurant and Katsu-curry)

Nagatoro: Kotatsu boat ride 
Nagatoro's nature is really like no where else. The rocks here have taken thousands of years to form. There's even been a 20-million year-old dinosaur dug up here and has a dedicated museum nearby. Besides from the beautiful spring flowers and autumn leaves, during winter you get something special: a kotatsu boat ride. 

Kotatsu are quintessential to a Japanese winter. It's a low wooden table covered by a futon (thick blanket) and underneath is a heater. Basically it is a warm-trap for you to stay sitting forever despite the weather being cold! It is something once you've experienced you'll never forget. At Nagatoro they bring it to a next level: they bring the Kotatsu onto the boat ride. That way we can enjoy the beautiful scenery around without feeling cold. 
  • Kotatsu boat ride operates only in January and February 
  • Hours: 10:00 ~ 14:30 (20min tours)
  • Price: ¥1,100/adult 

Yokoze's Ashigakubo Icicles 
This location has been on my list of places to visit for a while so I'm super excited to be able to go and introduce it to you. This is straight out of Elsa's world! You wouldn't believe that in just 90 minutes from Tokyo you'd see large mountain side of icicles form. 

During the day time, you can get free hot tea or ama-zake to warm you up. There's staff working a warm bonfire on the hill top where you can sit and enjoy the view. After sundown, the whole place will light up (by artificial lighting) into a beautiful colorful scenery. 

It is typically open during January to February each year, but depending on the condition of the weather, icicles may melt early and the event will end early. Please check their official instagram page for most current updates: 

Washi no Sato (Higashichichibu Village)

Higashichichibu Village Washi no Sato opened in 2016 as “Roadside Station Washi no Sato Higashi Chichibu” as a resting stop for people driving through the region. In addition to being a rest spot, you can not only experience handmade washi paper but also seasonal washi experiences and workshops, soba and udon noodle making experiences, and shop for specialty products such as washi products and agricultural products.

Sukifune is a restaurant where you can slowly enjoy the soba and udon noodles you make, and at the food court, you can enjoy local flavors such as salt-grilled char and oyaki.

In addition, the courtyard of the Japanese garden with thatched-roofed washi Japanese paper-making houses makes you feel as if you have traveled back in time to the Edo period. It is a space where visitors can relax and enjoy various experiences.

At the paper making facility handmade Japanese paper is made using traditional methods which dates back 1,300 years. You can try making original postcards, mini tapestries, etc. by collecting flowers from the surrounding area, and reservations are not required for groups of up to 15 people. Anyone from adults to small children can experience it.

Washi paper making fee ranges from ¥500 ~ ¥1,100 depending on what you decide to make

I hope this has helped you discover new places to add to your day-trip itinerary to Saitama! Please read the other 3 articles of the 4-part series to find other wonderful locations to visit. 

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