Get Out And Have Fun In Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!
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Get Out And Have Fun In Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Saitama 2017.11.17

Saitama has plenty of history, culture and unique dishes to offer, so why not hop on the Red Arrow Limited Express and take full advantage of the Seibu 1Day Pass? You won't regret it!

Written by Hilary (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)

History buff and urban explorer in the Greater Tokyo Area - always looking for something new and exciting!

Time once again to get out of the city and luxuriate in a history rich area blessed with natural sights. Today, I set my sights on visiting even deeper into Saitama prefecture, to see the Hanno and Chichibu areas.

8:00 -- Visit the Tourist Information Center at Seibu Ikebukuro Station

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

With that goal in mind, it was vital that I get some reliable travel information, and get the right tickets for my journey, so I headed to the Tourist Information Center (TIC) at the Seibu Ikebukuro main entrance (East Exit) of Ikebukuro Station.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

The TIC is open from 8:00-18:00 every day, and is the best place to go if you are looking for information about sightseeing in Saitama.

Tourist information and assistance is available in various languages, with pamphlets in Japanese, English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Korean, and helpful staff who speak these languages, as well as Taiwanese, Thai, French, Malaysian and German on hand (depends on staff schedules). It was here that I learned all about the ticket I was looking for: the Seibu 1Day Pass.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

The Seibu 1Day Pass is a one day, all you can ride ticket for the Seibu lines (excluding the Tamagawa Line), deeply discounted for international visitors to Japan. It only costs 1000 yen and can be used alongside their limited express train tickets too.

The Seibu Ikebukuro Line operates from Ikebukuro Station to Hanno Station, while the Seibu Chichibu Line runs from Agano Station to Seibu-Chichibu Station - and all of these stations can be accessed via the Seibu Red Arrow Limited Express.

The Red Arrow Limited Express is a reserved seat train that allows you to travel in comfort and fast. It offers great amenities, including free wi-fi and rotating seats so that you and your friends or family can easily sit facing one another. By paying a small supplementary charge alongside the cost for the Seibu 1Day Pass, you can really get out and see different parts of Saitama - ones that you might not even know exist yet!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Here's my train - although it was a rainy day, there was nothing stopping me from heading out into the mountains of Saitama!

9:40 -- Visit the Fairytale-like Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

My first stop was at Hanno Station (limited express fare 500 yen). From here I took the express train to Motokaji Station. After a 20 minute walk from Motokaji Station, you will reach a wondrous place that is full of things to discover. As you slowly walk up the hill from the entrance...

A magical place will appear right before your eyes!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park or Akebono Kodomo no Mori Koen is a play land park filled with structures and art inspired by the idyllic northern European landscapes. This park is free to visit, and a fantastic place for families with children, couples on dates, or anyone just wanting to surround themselves with a dreamlike atmosphere.

While just viewing the grounds themselves is a lot of fun, you can also go inside each building and take a look around too. Just remember to take your shoes off at the door, first! In one building, you'll find a mini library tucked away full of picture books, and in another, there is a tiny kitchen, fireplace and more to check out. Plus, throughout the grounds there are cute benches where you can sit and take a rest.

At the main information center, you can find a sheet (available in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Korean) that explains a bit more about the history of the park, important points to keep in mind, as well as news on upcoming or annual events too, which is really helpful.

Please note that from January to March 2018, the park will be closed in order to undergo some maintenance work, so why not plan your trip there for April, when you can see the newly renovated park?

11:48 -- Check Out the New Seibu-Chichibu Station!

After strolling around and finding some of the unique statues in the grounds of the park, I headed back to Hanno Station and once again boarded the Red Arrow (limited express fare 400 yen from Hanno), this time headed towards the last stop, Seibu-Chichibu.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Photo courtesy of SEIBU Group

Although I've been through hundreds of train stations in Japan, the new Seibu-Chichibu Station made my jaw drop. It's beautiful! The station was completely renovated and reopened in April 2017, and looks incredible.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Everywhere you look you will see traces of Japan's history here, and as such, is it any wonder that the station was named as one of Japan's 100 Most Beautiful Stations? The noren curtains and other details of the station change to match the seasons and special events held in the Chichibu area too, so each time you visit, the station just gets even better.

12:00 -- Shop on a Taisho and Meiji Era Street - Banbacho!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

If you head out from the station and follow along the road to your left, you will find yourself suddenly feeling as though you've stepped back in time. Banbacho is the name of the small shopping street that leads towards Chichibu Shrine, and is a combination of Meiji, Taisho and Showa period buildings that house everything from butchers and greengrocers to bakeries and daily goods shops.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

The closer you get to the shrine, you will stumble across buildings that are well over 100 years old that look like the perfect blend of Western and Japanese architecture of the time. There are so many things to check out that you might find yourself getting distracted by all that there is to see here, but keep walking!

12:45 -- See Dragons, Tigers and Monkeys at Chichibu Shrine?!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Once you've walked through Banbamachi, you will find yourself standing at an intersection with this sight directly before your eyes. You've reached Chichibu Shrine!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Chichibu Shrine is said to have been first established all the way back during the first to third century by one of the legendary Emperors of Japan, Emperor Sujin, although the majority of the history that is documented dates to the Heian period (mid-800s). What makes this shrine so spectacular though, are its numerous painted wood carvings. All around the main shrine building, you will find different scenes, characters, and animals from Japanese myths recreated in great detail.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Here are the Three Happy Monkeys, the opposites of the Three Wise Monkeys (hear, see, speak no evil) found at Nikko's Tosho-gu Temple in Tochigi prefecture.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

And here is my personal favorite, the Tsunagi no Ryu (the Chained Dragon). It's said that there was a great black dragon's shadow causing trouble in a pond near the shrine, and that, when the carving of the blue dragon was wrapped in its chain, these problems ceased. If you look closely, you can still see the metal chain wrapped around the dragon carving to this day.

13:45 -- Dine on Chichibu's Best Local Products at Soba no Mori

Once I had spent some time gazing at the carvings and grounds of Chichibu Shrine, it was time for lunch. The temperature in Chichibu is a bit colder than that in Tokyo, so after being outdoors for a while, I needed something to help me warm up!

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Located in the Chichibu Furusatokan (Chichibu Hometown Hall), on the second floor, Soba no Mori is a fresh soba and regional dish-based restaurant. Here you will not only find some of the tastiest soba noodles around, but also other famous Chichibu delights, like miso potatoes, oname (fermented soybeans and barley with chopped ginger and eggplant), and of course, roasted miso pork.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

This is their roast miso pork rice bowl and hot soba set (1650 yen with tax), which is a very warm and filling dish! The miso pork wasn't chewy in the slightest, and the miso flavor really brought out the taste of the pork and rice well. And the soba - each noodle was perfectly springy and full of flavor, while the soup was rich and had a deep flavor all its own. If I lived in the area, I would probably stop to eat there everyday it was that delicious!

15:00 -- Soak in the Hot Springs at Matsuri no Yu

Now that I had enjoyed my lunch, I strolled along through Banbamachi once more, and then headed back towards Seibu-Chichibu Station to check out one last spot.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Matsuri no Yu is a hot spring facility that has its own restaurants, spa, relaxation spaces, food court and souvenir shopping area. It's got everything that you could ask for in a day spa, and is conveniently connected right to the station itself. Matsuri no Yu won a Good Design award in 2017 for its structure, which is very beautiful and designed with the comfort of its visitors in mind.

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

All of the signs and pamphlets here are available in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese, and the atmosphere is that of being at both a traditional hot spring and an ultra-modern spa all at once. Even the vending machines are housed in a Japanese house-like area behind a special curtain of their own! Please note though, that those with tattoos are not permitted to enter or use this facility.

Once I had checked out the facilities, including their premium lounge where you can enjoy your own private lounger and TV console, I headed down to the food court and souvenir shop area. One product that Saitama is known for is its sake, and as such, you can find plenty of sake and sake related products for sale here. There are even regional wines too, but I just had to try the Chichibu amazake (sweet sake; 220 yen per bottle).

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

This amazake wasn't too sweet, despite the name, and had a full, rich taste. From the staff, I learned that this amazake was a good match with the gelato available at Setaria, located in the food court. There you can get a double scoop of gelato for just 500 yen (with tax), so I picked their sour apple and sweet orange gelato - and they were right! What a great combination!

16:25 -- Head Back to Ikebukuro from Seibu-Chichibu

Get Out And See Rural Saitama Via The Seibu Limited Express!

Photo courtesy of SEIBU Group

I couldn't resist taking another look at Seibu-Chichibu Station at night, it feels more like something out of a movie instead of a train station. But I hopped on my last Red Arrow Limited Express for the day, heading back to Ikebukuro Station this time (limited express fare 700 yen). By the time I arrived back at Ikebukuro, it was starting to rain quite heavily, so I was glad that the weather held during my time in Chichibu and Hanno!

Discover Saitama, A Charm Filled Prefecture!

Saitama is a great place to visit if you would like to see more of Japan's diverse history at a slower place than in busy tourist destinations like Kyoto or Nara. There is a little bit of everything to enjoy in the Hanno and Chichibu areas, and the trip is made even more entertaining when you gaze out the windows of the Red Arrow train. Those wanting to get away from the city and really feel the atmosphere of Japan should definitely pay a visit to Hanno and Chichibu!

So, my whole journey today was:
Ikebukuro Station → Hanno Station → Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park → Hanno Station → Seibu-Chichibu Station → Banbamachi → Chichibu Shrine → Soba no Mori → Matsuri no Yu → Seibu-Chichibu Station → Ikebukuro Station

From Seibu Ikebukuro Station to every station: 1000 yen (Seibu Ikebukuro Line, using my Seibu 1Day Pass) + Limited Express Fee (1600 yen)
Lunch, souvenirs, etc: about 4500 yen for the whole day!

Supported by Seibu Railway

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