Saitama Part 4: The Cultured Route | 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 4:
  • Tokigawa Town: Tamagawa Onsen
  • Hanno: Moominvalley Park
  • Hida City: Koma Shrine
  • Ogawa Town: Restaurant Futaba
  • Bonus Spot (Sugito Town)
Tamagawa Onsen (Tokigawa Town): Step into Showa Retro world
You could easily spend hours at Tamagawa Onsen. This is a day-trip kind of spot, almost like a museum, yet with lots of places to relax. The large indoor and outdoor hot springs are known to be strongly alkalic (pH 10.0) which provides health benefits such as promoting beautiful skin and helping with stress-induced conditions. 

Walking in, you'll first see a retro "dagashiya" which is traditional Japanese sweets shop. There's cider brands from all over Japan, bath goods, traditional Japanese snacks, curry sold in the Showa period, inexpensive toys for kids, Showa retro style glassware... you name it. 

*The Showa Era extends from 1926-1989

To the left of the dagashiya you'll find a set of staircase which leads you up to the 2/F, entirely dedicated for entertainment. There's a Karaoke stage, kid's play area with lots of toys, old-school night market games, a record player, and Showa style clothing to try on. Back down on the 1/F, the left also has the ordering counter of the restaurant. You can order full meals with a wide variety. I highly recommend the lunch from schools in Saitama in the Showa Era. There's also a cream soda served in a gold-fish bowl shaped cup. 

On the right of the dagashiya, you'll find more lounging spaces. First is an open area that half resembles of an old Japanese school with a chalk board and wooden table and chairs. In front of that is a space that looks like straight out of a granny's living room. There's kotatsu seats on the floor where you can sit and watch TV. 

Further to the back of the first floor is a more modern resting area. It's a quiet area with lots of books, leather chairs, and even a bunk bed for naps. Just outside of that is a non-functional but super cute outdoor bath lined full of yellow rubber ducks. 
  • Hours: 10am-10pm (Opening time on weekends and holidays 5am~)
  • Dining area is opened 1hr after opening time, full menu available online
  • Entrance fee: ¥500~980 (depending on when you enter), kids under 3yo enter for free 
  • If you didn't bring your own towel, you can rent a towel set for ¥220 and lounge wear for ¥220 as well. Other amenities such as face wash, makeup remover are also available for a small fee. 
  • They do not offer overnight stays 
  • Tattoos are not allowed
For more details please check their official website: 

(Above: Akira no Yu 昭の湯, the mens and womens side change weekly, please check website on the status) 

(Above: The decorative non-functional bath on the 1/F balcony area)

(Above: I call this the "granny's living room", I'm holding their cream soda in my hand)

(Above: Lots of locker space inside the changing area)

(Above: Both men and women's side will be equipped with a baby cot for chanting)

(Top left: inside area of Nagomi no yu 和のゆ, top right: Dagashiya shop)

(Above: full view of granny's living room)

(Above: Saitama school lunch from Showa era)

(Above from left to right: onsen pudding made here, milk from the lunch set, jelly snack from the lunch set)

(Above: items from the dagashiya shop; onsen goods, cider, and curry)

(Above: Photos from the 2/F. From left: kid's play area, record player in one of the rooms, arcade area)

(Above: Hallway of the 1/F with retro signs on the wall)

(Above: Entrance of the establishment, you can take photos freely here! The door of the car opens on one side) 

Moominvalley Park (Hanno) 
Hailing from Finland, Moomin is a lovable character that lives in a quiet forest area with lakes and fairytale cabins. In Saitama's Moominvalley park, this all comes to life after stepping through the fairytale book entrances. 

You'll be greeted by many of the characters as you walk through the park. The shops not only offer goods and meals, they also have fun little games you can play to win limited plushies. 

Make sure you get the meat bun sold at one of the takeaway stalls! They're extra generous on the high quality meat inside (*contains pork). 

Depending on the season, there are different decor. When I went, the walkway was lined with balloons and bubbles were flying everywhere from the nearby machines. During rainy season and summer, they have their famous "Umbrella sky". See-through colorful umbrellas line the sky which make a super nice scenery to walk by. 

This is not really your traditional theme park with roller coasters, parades, lots of noise and excitement. It's more like a relaxing experience, a walk in nature with cute characters. I especially recommend this for those who are looking to take a break from our overloaded every-day lives and escape into a relaxing fairytale. 

For more details on the park entrance, hours, and more, please check the official website: 

(Above: meeting Too-Ticky, the compassionate problem solver and Moomin family neighbor)

(Above from left to right: Moomin Papa, Moomin and Mama, Snufkin)

(Above from left to right: the fairytale book entrance, Moominhouse, balloon gate in front of the shops) 

(Top left: the balloon and bubble walk, Top right: the pork bun in front of Moominhouse)

(Above: some example of goods sold at the Main Shop Moominvalley)

Koma Shrine (Hida City)
Pulling up to Koma Shrine, you see these 2 really big totem-pole like statues. They are actually called "Shogunhyo" and is a set of a female and male warrior. This originates from Korea and from this I started discovering Koma Shrine's deep connection with Korea and its culture. 

Koma the name itself and its Kanji characters represent the name of the old kingdom of Korea. Inside the Shrine there's an old farm house that used to be the family home of Koma which has been designated as an important cultural asset of the country. 

Before getting to the shrine office and main hall, you will find the "Kagura-den" which is the official stage for Kagura dance. When no dance performance is happening, you'll see many traditional formal Korean wear on display year-round. 

At the shrine office, you can purchase a comprehensive pamphlet in English, Korean and Chinese. The omikuji (fortune papers) are also available in those 3 languages. 

At the end of March, a long row of Cherry Blossoms line the "sando" (road leading up to the tori gate and shrine). There's also a 500-year-old large cherry tree by the old farm house. 

Please see official website for more details:

(Above: the 2 warrior statues)

(Top left: Kagura-den and the traditional Korean clothing display, Top right: Ema wish plaque with the two warrior statues)

(Top left: the Tori gate leading up to the shrine main hall, Top right: The old farm house)

(Above: the english pamphlet)

(Above: the Omikuji in 3 languages)

Restaurant Futaba (Ogawa Town)
If you are looking for a traditional Japanese dining experience, Futaba is the restaurant to go to. The old building one that's full of history and no longer being used, however you can walk in via the inside of the restaurant's modern hall to browse. 

My favorite feature of this restaurant is its beautiful Japanese garden in the back. The individual private dining rooms have floor to ceiling windows looking at different angles of the garden which has the classic river, rock formation, pine, and tea house combination. 

This restaurant is known for their Japanese eel, however there are plenty of other options that serve other fish and vegetables. 

For menu, hours, prices, and more details: 

(Above: The old building entrance and hall)

(Above: two different type of lunch sets, there are more side dishes that come before this as well as desserts)

(Above: One of the views of the Japanese garden in the private dining area)

(Above: The full Japanese garden, you can step outside freely)

Uta no Yu (Sugito Town)

Sugito Town, where the Sugito Natural Hot Spring Uta no Yu is located, is in the eastern part of Saitama Prefecture. Its history is said to date back about 1,500 years, based on various cultural assets such as ancient tombs that have been excavated. During the Edo period, the Nikko Highway which is one of the five major highways, passed through Sugito, and it was a thriving postal town with inns. The area where "Uta-no-Yu" is located has been called "Uta" since ancient times, and it was opened on April 11, 2012 as "Sugito Natural Hot Spring Uta-no-Yu" borrowing that name.

It is now one of Saitama prefecture's most popular day-trip hot springs facilities. In addition to an open-air bath with natural hot spring water, a carbonated hot spring, a footbath, there's also a buffet restaurant. You can easily spend a whole day relaxing there.

  • Admission fee 1,200~1,300 yen
  • Buffet 1,900 yen

More details in this video:

I hope this has helped you discover new places to go to in Saitama as a day-trip from Tokyo. Please see the other 3 itineraries for more places! 

If you are looking for more off the beaten track locations, you can check out this article about 5 Cities other than Kyoto and Tokyo to visit. Todd is a well established writer for Japan travel that has written for global brands such as Lonely Planet. 

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