Nagatoro Rafting1/3
Photo: Rafting in Kawagoe
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine2/3
Photo: Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
Kawagoe Kimono Rental Vivian3/3
Photo: Keisuke TanigawaCoedo Vivian

10 things you must do in Saitama

The best experiences Saitama has to offer, including river rafting, a traditional sento bathhouse, an anime hotel and more

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Saitama Prefecture
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Just a 45-minute train ride from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo is the quiet calm of Saitama prefecture. That’s not to say there’s nothing to do here, though – Saitama offers a never-ending list of adventures and experiences, with so many things to do it’s hard to know what to pick first.

From sailing down a river in Nagatoro on a traditional Japanese raft to dressing up in a full kimono and strolling around the old town of Kawagoe, here are the top ten things to do when you're in Saitama.

Note: opening hours and available activities may vary depending on the current Covid-19 measures imposed by the authorities. Please check with the individual outlets for opening hours and available activities before visiting. 

Tokorozawa Sakuratown
Tokorozawa Sakuratown
Photo: ©️KADOKAWA

Tokorozawa Sakura Town

Things to do Tokorozawa

Entertainment company Kadokawa pulled out all the stops when planning this multifaceted complex, which opened in November 2020. Tokorozawa Sakura Town's highlights include an anime hotel, a Kadokawa company cafeteria accessible to the public, and a seriously impressive art, literature and natural history museum designed by starchitect Kengo Kuma.

Konoyu
Konoyu
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Ko no Yu

Health and beauty Tokyo

The last remaining public bathhouse (sento) in Wako does things the traditional way: its decor looks like something straight out of a black-and-white movie, while the tubs are filled with groundwater heated using a wood-fired boiler and maintain a steamy temperature. Well worth a visit, especially if you don't mind a hot bath. 

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Rafting in Nagatoro

Things to do Saitama

Gliding down the river in a traditional Japanese boat, you may be tempted to try snapping a few Instagram-worthy shots of the gorgeous Nagatoro nature. But don't get too carried away: the 20-minute ride also includes a few sudden rapids.

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

Things to do Saitama

This nearly 1,500-year-old sanctuary is known for granting wishes related to matters of the heart. There are plenty of matchmaking charms sold here, but the most popular one comes in the shape of a red pencil, symbolising the red string of fate. The shorter the pencil gets, the closer you come to your destined partner.

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine offers plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops, so it’s worth visiting in a kimono or yukata. There’s a picturesque tunnel of ema (small wooden prayer plaques) to walk through, and in summer you can find gates covered in colourful wind chimes, too.

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Shimeya
Shimeya
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Shimeya

Shopping Saitama

The city of Soka is famed for its senbei rice crackers. Try making your own hard, satisfyingly savoury cracker for a mere ¥70 at Shimeya, but take care not to burn your mouth when sampling it – the finished product will be very hot. 

Kimono Rental Vivian

Things to do Saitama

To blend in with Kawagoe Koedo’s traditional townscape, it’s worth getting dressed up in a kimono or yukata. One of the best and most reasonably priced places to rent a full traditional outfit is Vivian.

Located close to the Toki no Kane bell tower, Vivian offers kimono/yukata rentals for a mere ¥2,200 (¥3,300 for men; ¥4,400 for couples). The deal includes the actual kimono/yukata, undergarment, an obi belt, tabi socks, zori or geta sandals, and a bag. You can choose from 500 different kimono and yukata designs and a large selection of belts.

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Saitama Craft Center
Saitama Craft Center
Photo: Saitama Craft Center

Saitama Craft Center

Museums Saitama

You'll need to ride a local bus from the nearest station to reach it, but this centre for traditional craftsmanship is worth the trek: you can try your hand at woodworking, fabric dyeing, papier-mâché artistry and much more, no reservations required (but extra fees apply).

Kikizake Dokoro Showagura

Bars and pubs Saitama

Kawagoe may be famous for its beer, but ‘Little Edo’ also offers plenty of fun for sake-drinkers. Take this ‘sake experience’ spot, where you can use a vending machine to explore the offerings of 35 Saitama breweries and compare the flavour profiles of different types of sake. ¥500 gets you four tokens, each of which counts for one cup of sake.

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Iwatsuki Ningyo Museum

Museums Saitama

The city of Iwatsuki is renowned for its doll culture and highlights its heritage with this impressive museum, opened in February 2020 and centred on the vast and varied collection of doll connoisseur Tekiho Nishizawa. The exhibits, which focus on traditional Japanese dolls, are gorgeous down to the tiniest detail.

Sayama Hills

Attractions Tokorozawa

A 3,500-hectare oasis of greenery on the Tokyo-Saitama border, Sayama Hills is said to have served as one of the models for the woods seen in Studio Ghibli's classic ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. The serene forest is home to some 1,600 species of plants and animals and is maintained by local people and organisations.

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