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50 things to do in Saitama

Go on an adventure without the crowds just north of Tokyo, in the vast playground of Saitama

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Saitama Prefecture
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If you're looking for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, head north to Saitama, which is less than an hour away by train from central Tokyo. The Little Edo town of Kawagoe, in particular, has become a popular weekend destination for many a Tokyoite. Besides the name it shares with the well-loved protagonist of manga series 'One Punch Man', Saitama is best known for Kawagoe, also known as Little Edo Town, which can easily be accessed from central Tokyo in about an hour. We've compiled a list of places you can visit and things to do around the city while you're here for a weekend stay.

Energy Climbing Gym

Sport and fitness Saitama

Brave the 9m wall at Energy, a first-timer friendly gym that offers both bouldering and free climbing. All the necessary wear and gear can be rented, and weekend mornings are reserved for kids. Note that you'll need to pay a ¥1,650 registration fee on your first visit.

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.

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Zamzam Well
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Zamzam Well

Restaurants Saitama

Nishi-Kawaguchi is Saitama's Chinatown, an intriguing hodgepodge of cultures and flavours. Zamzam Well counts among the area's most interesting eateries and focuses on the halal cuisine of Lanzhou in northwest China, including the city's famous beef noodles, boiled dumplings and steamed baozi buns.

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- burning boiler and maintain a rather steamy temperature. Well worth a visit, especially if you don't mind a hot bath. 

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'Yakitori' in Higashi-Matsuyama

Restaurants Saitama

Stroll around Higashi-Matsuyama Station in the evening and you're bound to spot countless traditional lanterns along the streets. Most of these red paper lamps sell out 'yakitori', but instead of grilled chicken, in Higashi-Matsuyama that stands for skewered pork seasoned with miso — a local speciality that goes perfectly with a cold beer. 

Kawaguchi Aokicho Park

Attractions Saitama

The starting point of Saitama's leg of the 2020 Olympic torch relay, this park features a rather curious monument: a 2.6-ton cauldron cast to hold the Olympic flame at the 1964 Tokyo Games but rejected because it didn't meet the required specifications. While initially seen as a failure, it's now considered a symbol of Kawaguchi's industrial history. 

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Sopia

Shopping Omiya

The ideal shop if you don't have time to travel around Saitama in search of souvenirs, Sopia stocks a whopping 650 different items from throughout the prefecture. We love both the local sake and the chocolate crunch sold in packages featuring Fukka-chan, the cute mascot of the city of Fukaya.

Te' Pan Le Omus
Photo: Masaru Takeuchi

Te'Pan Le Omus

Restaurants Saitama

Specialising in black-haired wagyu and local vegetables, this upscale teppanyaki joint offers multi-course meals complete with domestic sirloin steak, which are best enjoyed while sitting at the counter watching the chefs at work. Halal wagyu is available too, but requires a reservation at least a week in advance.

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Nyannyan Kita-Urawa

Restaurants Omiya

Feeling a bit deflated? In Saitama, the shortcut to recovery is spelled ‘Stamina Curry’ – a delectably spicy mixture with minced meat and garlic chives, served over white rice and freely customisable with chilli oil. It's also available in ramen form for you noodle-lovers.

©️KENGO KUMA & ASSOCIATES ©️KAJIMA CORPORATION

Tokorozawa Sakura Town

Things to do Tokorozawa

Publishing house Kadokawa pulled out all the stops when planning this multifaceted complex, which is set for a July 2020 opening. Tokorozawa Sakura Town's highlights include an ‘anime hotel’, a Kadokawa company cafeteria accessible to the public, and a seriously impressive-looking museum designed by starchitect Kengo Kuma.

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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 hurt yourself when diffing in – the finished product will be very hot. 

Fruit Parlor 808
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Fruit Parlor 808

Restaurants Sandwich shop Saitama

Super-fresh fruit straight from the greengrocer's, lathered with just-right whipped cream and arranged amply and artistically between two simple slices of white bread; the humble fruit sandwich has never been more Instagram-friendly – or less suited to munching on the go.

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444quad
Photo: Kaoru Kawashima

444quad

Nightlife Omiya

Looking to dance until dawn? Located right by Omiya Station, 444quad puts on a diverse range of parties and other events, with the sweatiest sessions usually taking place on weekend nights. Note that you'll need to be 20 or older to enter – picture ID required.

Sakaya no Tonari

Bars and pubs Omiya

When this 126-year-old liquor store ended up with an empty storage space next door, the owners made the obvious decision and turned the extra room into a bar, where you can now drink sake on the cheap (¥350-600 per cup). About 10 to 15 cold and warm varieties are available at all times, along with a few booze-compatible eats.

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Starbucks Coffee Kawagoe Kanetsuki-dori

Restaurants Saitama

Starbucks is everywhere in Japan, but few of the ubiquitous coffee giant's shops fit in as perfectly with their surroundings as this one. Its modern Japanese architecture, inner garden and terrace seats make it hard to believe you're sitting in a multinational chain café.

Highlander Inn Chichibu
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Highlander Inn Chichibu

Bars and pubs Pubs Chichibu

Homesick Scots can get their fix of haggis and single malt in impressive surrounds at Highlander Inn, a down-to-earth pub housed in a 100-year-old traditional house. The marriage of tatami-mat seating and Scotch is a surprisingly amiable one, and a worthy addition to Chichibu's vibrant whisky scene.

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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.

Asami Reizo
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Asami Reizo

Restaurants Kakigori Saitama

Made with natural spring water from Mt Hodo, the quality shaved ice at this shop has been served since it opened in 1890. Their flagship store is near Kami-Nagatoro Station.

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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).

Ageo Gohan

Restaurants Saitama

A treat for both the eyes and the taste buds, the steak bowls at Ageo Gohan are pure perfection: medium rare, lean Akagi beef over steaming rice cooked in a clay pot, expertly put together by an Ageo-born chef whose custard puddings are also a thing to behold.

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Kumagaya Rugby Stadium

Things to do Saitama

One of the few rugby-only stadiums in Japan, the Kumagaya Stadium is well known for its annual high school competitions held in spring. It was renovated in 2018 and now has a capacity for about 24,000 spectators. It also hosts international rugby matches, so if there's a game here while you're in town, do consider checking it out.

Kinbue Soy Sauce Park

Shopping Saitama

Ready for a crash course in shoyu? Stop by Kinbue Soy Sauce Park, run by a 230-year- old brewery, where you can learn about this essentially Japanese condiment's journey from bean to bottle – and try several types of the stuff with udon noodles or ice cream, or even in jelly form.  

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Moomin Valley Park

Attractions Saitama

Saitama's latest family-friendly attraction opened on March 16, 2019 and is a must-visit for fans of the adorable Moomintrolls. Highlights include an interactive theatre, a 400m zip line stretching across the surface of Lake Miyazawa, and the obligatory studio for snapping photos with the Moomins themselves.

Alishan Cafe

Restaurants Cafés Saitama

Local vegetables meet organic produce from all over the world at this wonderful vegetarian café, which runs a grocery shop next door and does tasty and nutritious veggie burgers, pizzas and curry. If it's sunny out, aim for a seat on the open-air deck. 

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Brewpub Hikawa no Mori

Bars and pubs Craft beer pubs Omiya

Saitama's first brewpub swung its doors open in spring 2014 and has managed to attract a loyal following with a selection of around 10 beers, some of them even coming in two versions (extra malty or extra hoppy). The appropriately flowery Hana and the powerfully bitter Shuu are the stars here, while adventurous drinkers can try the Kampo Beer, flavoured with cinnamon and ginseng and served warm with a cinnamon stick, supposedly improving your circulation and warming up your body during the chilly months. Such trickery aside, Hikawa does a roaring trade in German sausages and other decent pub grub, making a visit all the more satisfying. The owner told us he's planning to start growing local hops in the near future, so this one might yet have plenty of room for growth.

Omiya Minami-Ginza
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Omiya Minami-Ginza

Bars and pubs Omiya

Known as ‘Nangin’ among the locals, Minami- Ginza on the south side of the station is Omiya’s number one party district, where izakaya and ‘snack’ bars rub shoulders with purveyors of more risqué grown-up entertainment. Remember to keep your wits about you when exploring the neon-lit alleys.

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The Railway Museum

Museums Omiya

Located about 45 minutes away from Tokyo, The Railway Museum offers a day’s worth of railway-themed fun. The museum features 36 real-life train cars–most of which you can walk intoand take a seat. The collection spans over 140 years of railway history, starting with trains dating back to the early Meiji years (1868-1912). Little ones will have a field day at the park next to the Kids Plaza, where they can test-drive several miniature trains along a 300m long track (¥200; numbered tickets will be handed out in front of the attraction from 10am). Those aged six and above, including adults, can go for the more immersive experience by taking on the various train simulators on the museum’s second floor, including the chance to ‘drive’ the famous Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa (¥500; numbered tickets are available from 10am in front of the attraction). The simulator pods are perfect replicas of the respective trains’ original cockpits, plus the curved screen in front gives the ride an almost 3D feel. You can even don the classic white gloves just like an actual train driver. When it’s time to fuel up, you could either grab an ekiben (boxed lunch sold at train stations) from the two ekibenya shops on site (from ¥900; train-shaped boxes from ¥1,250), or head over to the restaurant operated by the long-standing dining car operator Nippon Shokudo if you fancy a hearty meal such as beef stew, hamburg steak or beef curry.

Dog's Nose

Bars and pubs Saitama

A cultural hub run by a local music lover, this cosy bar is a safe choice if you're looking to kick off the evening with a few cold ones. In business for 28 years, it offers a plentiful drink menu and tasty pub grub, from small bites to pizza and pasta.

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Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

Things to do Saitama

Established almost 1,500 years ago and serving as protector of the area since the 1500s, this shrine has recently become popular amongst those hoping to inject a bit of romance into their relationships.

Sayama Curry Workshop Little Hot

Restaurants Saitama

Love Japanese tea? Expand your horizons with some tea-flavoured curry; located in the famous tea-producing town of Sayama, this adventurous eatery does a great hojicha pork curry and occasionally offers a deep-green, satisfyingly bitter matcha version.

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Kashiya Yokocho

Shopping Saitama

Turn off the main steet for a cluster of sweets shops and look for one store selling long 'loaves' of fugashi, which is baked gluten with brown sugar. Fugashi are usually around nine inches long, but these are almost three feet!

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Izumiya

Restaurants Omiya

Open from 10am, this homely izakaya oozes nostalgia and gets packed with local boozehounds as early as noon on weekdays. If you can't read the menu, written on paper slips hanging haphazardly around the room, just ask for whatever your neighbour's having – it'll most likely be delicious.

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Koshigaya Lake Town

Shopping Saitama

Saitama's premier mega-mall is always bustling with families but gets especially busy between early April and late October, when visitors are invited to try dinghy sailing in the lake that the complex is named after. Anyone can ride these one- to two-person boats, as long as they book with the Koshigaya Tourism Association at least a day in advance.

Kitchen2687

Restaurants Saitama

Hanno has more than a handful of noteworthy cafés, among them this wonderfully laidback, terrace-equipped spot that does both sweet snacks and more substantial fare, including great spaghetti bolognese. It's about 30 minutes by bus from Hanno Station, but well worth the trip.

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Tsuki Shrine

Museums Urawa

Rabbits are everywhere at Tsuki Shrine, a quirky sanctuary dedicated entirely to these furry friends. Revered as messengers of the shrine's deities, they're depicted in a wide variety of forms throughout the grounds. Seehow many you can spot!

Ageo Maruyama Park

Attractions Saitama

Local families come to let their young ’uns loose on the grass whereas stressed-out urbanites flock to breathe in the fresh forest air in this expansive park, which also features a playground, barbecue facilities and even a small zoo. 

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Bar Ash Saitama
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Bar Ash Saitama

Bars and pubs Urawa

Hoops fans from around the world will feel right at home at Ash, a welcoming watering hole that screens both NBA and international (including Olympics) games and puts on monthly DJ events, including ‘Monday Mellow Music’ nights. Not in the mood for alcohol? No worries – they’ve got a great mocktail and dessert

Musashi Winery
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Musashi Winery

Bars and pubs Wineries Saitama

Established by the former head brewer of Ogawa's venerable Musashitsuru sake brewery, this remarkable micro-winery prides itself on producing only fully organic, completely natural vino – which you can either buy to take home or savour on the shop's terrace right then and there. Non-drinkers will want to try the sugar- free, ‘frozen’ grape juice instead.

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Grand Chariot

Restaurants Saitama

Train geeks will have a field day digging into curry, beef stew and hamburg steaks at this unique restaurant, a faithful recreation of the restaurant car from the defunct Hokutosei sleeper train, which operated between Tokyo and Sapporo for 27 years before being retired in 2015. 

The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

Things to do Omiya

If miniature trees are your thing, missing out on this museum simply isn't an option. Enthusiasts from around the world come for its weekly changing exhibits of about 60 bonsai and a stroll in the picturesque bonsai garden. Audio guide is available in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

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Tachibanaya
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Tachibana

Restaurants Japanese Chichibu

Chichibu is renowned for soba made with this mountainous area's clear spring water. Taste the difference at Tachibana, where aromatic, somewhat coarsely ground buckwheat gets turned into smooth noodles that are best savoured cold (ask for ‘mori’ or ‘zaru’) – and with some walnut dipping sauce (¥100).

Chichibu Shrine
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Chichibu Shrine

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Chichibu

This shrine is one of the three main shrines in Chichibu City, and features several rare sculptures that are popular with visitors. The shrine's night festival, celebrated in December, is a designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

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Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Kawagoe Kimono Rental Vivian

Things to do Saitama

Strolling the streets of Kawagoe in kimono is high on many visitors' to-do lists. Vivian offers kimono rental and hair arrangement for only ¥2,160 (¥3,240 for men), including underwear, ‘geta’ sandals and accessories, and is conveniently located right in the middle of old Kawagoe.

Kikizake Dokoro

Bars and pubs Saitama

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

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Yamazakiya
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Yamazakiya

Restaurants Urawa

Saitama's lack of coastline means that freshwater fish has always been a big part of the local diet. The river delicacies are best savoured at eel eatery Yamazakiya, which has been going strong since the Edo era (1603-1868). Besides grilled eel over rice, specialities here include various carp dishes.

Sayama Hills

Attractions Tokorozawa

A 3,500-hectare oasis of greenery on the Tokyo-Saitama border, Sayama Hills is said to have served as inspiration for the woods in Studio Ghibli's classic ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. The serene forest is home to some 1,200 species of plants and animals and is maintained by the local community.

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Asaka Garden

Attractions Saitama

Need to rest your nerves? Engage in a few leisurely hours of lure or fly fishing and procure an entire dinner for yourself in the process. Catching and releasing is fine too, as long as you use a barbless hook and handle the fish with care. 

Hakushakutei
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Hakushakutei

Restaurants Omiya

Famished at 3am? Make a beeline for this 24-hour coffee shop, which is renowned more for its giant food portions than its joe. The eclectic menu ranges from old-school favourites such as omelette over rice and Japanese-style spaghetti to Thai, Sri Lankan and Indian cuisines, plus a few select delicacies from the owner's native Okinawa.

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Draft Labo

Bars and pubs Tokorozawa

You've heard of draft beer, but how about having your sake or wine pumped straight from the barrel? Whatever your poison, make sure to pair the fresh booze with some roast beef, iburigakko (pickled and smoked radish) or another pick off the extensive food menu.

Haole Skatepark
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Haole Skatepark

Attractions Tokorozawa

Japan has long a had a lively skateboarding scene, and the sport's inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics has raised its profile even further. Practice your own tricks or watch future Olympic hopefuls in action at Haole, which boasts a diverse line-up of miniramps and street obstacles.

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