Saitama Prefecture Overview
Saitama Prefecture, with the preserved Edo buildings of Kawagoe and the mountain laden region of Chichibu, is diverse views and invigorating nature just a stone’s throw from Tokyo. Day trips from Tokyo comprise energetic hiking, lazy lunches, and Japanese culture in all its forms.
Overshadowed by its much more outgoing big sister Tokyo to the south, Saitama Prefecture may have a reputation for its bland residential areas housing Tokyo commuters but take a look past its bad repーand a little further into the prefecture past the Tokyo borderーand you’ll find fantastic colorful landscapes, profoundly spiritual sites, and towns that have kept their Edo charm.
On a sunny day, many a Tokyoite can be found whizzing off into the Saitama hills to enjoy the flourishing nature and some cooling fresh air. Nagatoro, around 2.5 hours from Tokyo in the northwest of the prefecture, offers refreshing strolls along the Nagatoro River, a beautiful tree-lined stretch where visitors dip their toes or opt for a more adrenaline-pumping trip down the river’s white water rapids on a boat. The streets that connect Nagatoro Station to Nagatoro River are a mishmash of food stalls and souvenir shops where you can pick up a Soka senbei (rice cracker) or try out the Saitama special: Jelly fry, a deep fried potato and tofu pattie.
The Chichibu District, which is in fact the home of Nagatoro Town, is arguably the centre of the best of Saitama’s sights. Miles of mountains spawn a variety of flora and fauna including a thick layer of forest which spreads across the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park and drops off at Chichibu City, the main gateway into the area. Just one direct 90-minute train from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station to Chichibu Station, the city is known for Mitsumine Shrine buried away in the forest and the acclaimed 1,000-year-old Chichibu Shrine which is at its prime on December 2nd and 3rd (3rd is a much larger festival) when the Chichibu Night Festival occupies the city with decorative floats, flower-like fireworks, and excitable crowds which have earned it the title of one of Japan’s top three float festivals.
Saitama’s beauty isn’t limited to its nature with the preserved buildings of Kawagoe City to thank for its naming as Little Edo once an important spot on the map for trading thanks to its proximity to Tokyo. In a throwback to the 18th and19th centuries, visitors can wander the old clay warehouses housing traditional sweet shops and quaint cafes and restaurants before heading to the city’s multifarious temples and castle ruins.
The lesser known Saitama City lures in train lovers to discover the exciting history of Japanese trains at the Railway Museum while Omiya Bonsai Village is almost an outdoor art gallery with bonsai comparable to impressive artworks scattered across the village’s gardens. Springtime in Saitama Prefecture invites cherry blossom hunters to Hitsujiyama Park where a vast lawn of moss covers the park in brilliant pinks.