5 Family-Friendly Places Saitama Has That Tokyo Doesn’t
The Closest Getaway To Tokyo Has Much To Offer
Explore five of the many areas this so unexplored area has to offer.
Shadowed by the glitz and the abundance of entertainment opportunities Tokyo has to offer to families, Saitama is often left out from our top destinations when traveling with kids. Whether it’s because it’s too close to the capital, or because of the predominant belief that it is a more of a residential area than anything else, most of us even forget it exists — especially when it comes to tourism.
In reality, however, Saitama, based at just about an hour to two away from central Tokyo, is home to some of the most unique amusement parks and play areas for families. The mere thought that it is far less crowded than the capital, makes it a top destination, especially for people who can’t afford to travel too far. Conveniently accessible from the city center, most of its major destinations can easily be reached by the Seibu-Shinjuku or Seibu-Ikebukuro lines. The Seibu line is also offering a special 1Day Seibu Pass for foreign visitors at the cost of just ¥1,000, with which one can hop in and get off at all lines (except for Tamagawa line) within one day.
So, if you’re up for something new, here are five unique and highly entertaining family-friendly destinations Saitama has that even Tokyo doesn’t.
1. A park dedicated to the history of Japan’s aviation in Tokorozawa
Built on the premises of Japan’s first dedicated airfield, the Tokorozawa Aviation Memorial Park in Tokorozawa city, is the largest prefecture-run park in Saitama and the only aviation park around Tokyo. Apart from a large plane monument to take pictures at, the park also preserves the original single runway used in 1911, and hosts the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum where children and adults alike can learn much about where and how the Japanese planes first began to fly.
The park also offers countless fun events for the kids — from sport fields and flower viewing, to hot-air balloon rides and flea markets full of old trinkets, and of course games. A tea house for a quick respite is a must-stop by destination: it’s quiet, offers an authentic Japanese tea experience and a place to cool down from the heat. The park is also where Tokorozawa city holds its annual Citizens’ Festival every October. Easily a venue to spend the entire day at, if you have a child in awe with planes, look no further — there’s a bit of everything for every member of the family in this park.
Access: 1-13, Namiki, Tokorozawa-shi, Saitama. Take the Seibu Shinjuku Line from Ikebukuro and get off at Koku Koen station.
2. A Free Moomin-inspired all-you-can-play park in Hanno
Tokyo has Moomin-inspired cafes and as many sweets and goodies one can even imagine, but it is Saitama that has an entire park that looks just like Moominvalley.
Nestled in the Saitama mountainous area, The Akebono Kodomo No Mori Park hosts an impressive collection of adorable Moominvalley-inspired buildings, bridges, a tree house, and a lighthouse in the center of a small pond. The most popular with the kids is the three-storey “Moomin Yashiki,” a lovely building where youngsters are invited to play indoors, jump on beds, play in the kitchen and run as much as they like inside. The nearby “Mori no Ie” house displays various materials about Tove Jansson’s classic characters. Visitors are invited to sit on the wooden benches inside the building, reading books and taking photos of the gorgeous interior. The park has a waterfall, a stream, a pond and as much green space one could ever wish for. And while no members of the Moomin family can actually be seen there yet, the massive amusement and the first Moomin theme park outside Finland “Metsa” will open on the premises of the park in autumn 2018, making Saitama Moomin’s permanent address.
Access: 893-1 Azu, Hanno, Saitama Prefecture. Take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro and get off at Motokaji station. Walk for about 20 minutes from there. | Open: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
3. A time-slip amusement town in Kawagoe
Take the Seibu express from Seibu-Shinjuku station and just in 45 minutes you’ll find yourself transported back to Edo and Taisho era Japan. The Koedo Kawagoe historical town used to be the passing point for people heading from the then-Tokyo (Edo) to Saitama and other areas through the Kawagoe road. Now this town preserves the old vibe along with retro buildings, summer festivals, local shops, souvenir shops and goods that can be found nowhere else.
Saitama […] is home to some of the most unique amusement parks and play areas for families.
The spacious town features a wide array of fun activities for the whole family: from kimono wear-and-go stores and the Koedo Yokocho alley with a total of eight traditional stored reminiscent of old Japan, to the famed Kashiya Yokocho, a long alley dedicated to candy. Here you can find everything you need to keep the kids satisfied for a few hours and it won’t even break the bank. From there, walk the Taisho Roman Yume Street, a retro area that has preserved the architecture of Taisho-era Japan. A quiet area to stroll through, this place will make you see Japan from an entirely new (and yet pleasingly old) perspective.
Access: 2-1-3 Motomachi, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama Prefecture. Take the Seibu Express from Seibu-Shinjuku station and get off at Shin-Kawagoe. The Koedo area is right across the station.
4. A multi-entertainment amusement park in Tokorozawa
Located at the border of Tokyo and Saitama, the Seibuen Amusement Park is the only large-scale amusement park we’re aware of that combines an impressive lineup of attractions, a huge open-air pool, fireworks and beer gardens in summer, a fishing ground, a pet zoo in spring, stage performances, illuminations and a snow play area in winter and even a town inspired by the princess of all Japanese characters — Hello Kitty. With nearly 30 attractions and a great selection of food and drink stores (including a BBQ and lamb meat family restaurant), this park won’t leave you bored in any season. This is a great place to spend a full day with the family and since it doesn’t get as crowded as most amusement parks in Tokyo, it won’t leave you queueing for hours.
Access: 2964 Yamaguchi, Tokorozawa-shi, Saitama Prefecture. Take the Seibu Shinjuku line and get off at Seibu Yuenchi station. The park is right outside the station.
5. A camp to remember in Chichibu
When we’re stuck in the city, it is rather difficult to imagine a weekend under a clear starlit sky, a calm relaxing atmosphere surrounded by green, green and even more green, a place where the kids can play uninterrupted, climbing trees and doing everything they fancy in a completely safe environment. The great thing about Saitama, however, is that it has the best of both worlds: it is close to Tokyo, but it’s just as conveniently enough to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
The Pica Chichibu Camp site prides itself in calling it a campsite, but it is more than that: it’s a vast open-space playground that accommodates the entire family’s adventure requests: a BBQ outside, a forest adventure, kayak tours, a warm spa-style bath, and even a restaurant if you’re not up to cooking the meal yourself. Located inside a huge sports park, the facility has access to a tennis court and a futsal ground, as well as a pool (for summer only) and so much more. In the evening, dim the lights and enjoy the best starry sky view in the entire Kanto area. The campsite is also one of the very few locations near Tokyo where we can observe the unkai phenomenon — the cloud sea, which appears in early spring mornings under special atmospheric conditions.
Access: 637-2 Kuna, Chichibu-shi, Saitama Prefecture. Take the Seibu Limited Express from Ikebukuro and get off at Seibu Chichibu station. From there, take the Muse Park Bus toward Chichibu Muse Park Sport Forest (takes approximately 1h and 40 minutes altogether) and get off at the last station. The camp is within Chichibu Muse Park Sport Forest.
Seibu Tourist Information Center Ikebukuro
Located at Ikebukuro station’s East exit, here you can purchase special discount tickets and limited express tickets for destinations along the Seibu Line, as well as inquire about other travel recommendations in Saitama and along the Seibu lines. Trilingual (English, Chinese and Japanese) information and staff available. A Seibu 1Day Pass (¥1,000), usable for all Seibu lines (except Tamagawa line) is on sale for foreign customers, as well as tickets for the Red Arrow Limited Express, which is a convenient and fast ride to Saitama’s key locations. Fore more information, click here.
Business hours: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (For ticket purchases, from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.)