Located to the north of Tokyo, Saitama Prefecture is considered to be part of the Greater Tokyo Area, with many Saitama residents commuting to Tokyo for work every day. But Saitama is just far enough removed from Tokyo to be able to preserve its gorgeous natural beauty and historic attractions.
Plant lovers can appreciate the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, viewing these carefully-pruned miniature trees in a beautifully landscaped Japanese garden. Saitama also has rugged, mountainous terrain that’s the perfect challenge for hikers, as well as easier paths for beginners, with majestic waterfalls and shrines waiting along the way! For those who don’t want to exert themselves too much, but appreciate a nice view, Saitama’s Chichibu Muse Park is the perfect day trip. While hikers can still scramble along their paths and bikers can blaze down trails, you can also take it easy and ride the Sky Train around the park, to see the various seasonal flower displays such as cherry blossoms and daffodils. But don’t miss the observatory, from which you can get an eyeful of the city of Chichibu, with tall peaks of Mount Biko jutting up into the clouds.
For those who are more inclined to visit historic and cultural sites, visit Kawagoe, which is considered the “Little Edo” of Saitama. Kawagoe City is home to the historic Kitain Temple, built in the year 830 and restored following the 1638 fire. Also, on a visit to this old merchant town of Kawagoe, you also can’t miss the Warehouse District, where traditional warehouses and other buildings can be spotted along the Kurazukuri Street, harkening back to the Edo Period.
After you’ve worked up an appetite by immersing yourself in the natural beauty and historic attractions of Saitama, there are a variety of classic Saitama foods you can’t miss. Be sure to try unagi (freshwater eel) a speciality of Kawagoe that comes from local rivers. The unagi fillet is usually glazed with a dark, sweet sauce that compliments the delicate texture of the eel, and served atop a bowl of rice. Kawagoe is also known for sweet potatoes, which are renowned across Japan for being some of the sweetest, and are made into delicious confectionaries. And what goes better with Kawagoe sweets than Sayama tea, which can stand up against the acclaimed teas from Uji and Shizuoka. As one of Japan’s top wheat producing areas, udon noodles are another staple of Saitama’s cuisine, so be sure to slurp down some of these thick, chewy noodles on your trip to Saitama.
Kawahaba udon was created in 2009 but its popularity has exploded since then, and it is now sold in restaurants throughout the prefecture. The dish is unique for its 8-centimeter wide noodles, paying homage to Arakawa River, the widest river in Japan, which runs through Saitama’s Kōnosu City. Suttate is another udon noodle dish eaten in the summer. This style of udon consists of the noodles and a separate dipping sauce of crushed summer vegetables, miso, and sesame.
Saitama has a history of growing and brewing tea, and is famous for its Sayama tea. Travelers can join the Sayama Tea Farm Tour in Saitama to pick their own leaves and learn more about the tea making process.
Gongendo Park has a 1 kilometer-long trail that’s lined with 1,000 cherry blossom trees. During cherry blossom season in Saitama, lanterns are placed along the path to light up the pink petals during the night. There are 100 shops open during sakura season, so visitors can enjoy street food and purchase souvenirs while viewing the flowers.
When visiting Saitama, make sure to see the bonsai gardens. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum showcases the art form of tending to and cultivating these stunning miniature trees, connecting the beauty of nature and manmade pottery.
Kawagoe is home to Kashiya Yokocho (“Candy Alley”), where visitors can socialize and try different dagashi and retro snacks from the area. There are also other souvenir shops in Kawagoe that sell traditional items, such as fox masks and handkerchiefs.