Besides the Rugby World Cup 2019 matches, lush nature and thousand-year-old history, we can also enjoy many cultural events (or matsuri in Japanese) in Saitama Prefecture as well. Every festival has its own form, and no matter how big or small, each matsuri can be a lot of fun for not only viewing the performances, but for also sampling the food stands to experience local foods and sake.
Kumagaya Uchiwa Matsuri is held for three days in July and is considered to be the best Gion Matsuri in the Kanto region. The name translates to the “Kumagaya Fan Festival”, as the custom with which fans were distributed is the origin of the festival. Twelve magnificently decorated floats (Dashi) parade around the city for your spectacle. Besides the parade, there are also many street vendors, known as Yatai, selling tasty foods and drinks.
Every year on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of October it's time for the exciting Kawagoe Festival! Known as one of the biggest festivals in the Kanto region, the Kawagoe festival has a history stretching back 300 years. The highlight is called “hikkawase,” which is the traditional battle of festival music. From their floats, each group battles through the music of flutes and drums. The Rugby World Cup 2019 matches are on at just the right time to see this festival, so we can see why it is designated a “National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property” of Japan!
Just 90 minutes away from Tokyo, Chichibu Night Festival is held on the night of December 2nd and 3rd each year. It is considered one of Japan's top three festivals (matsuri) that feature floats (hikiyama), alongside Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, and Takayama Matsuri in Gifu. The large-scale floats are certainly most fascinating during the festival alongside the fireworks, but you can also check out the festival’s floats anytime at the Chichibu Festival Exhibition Hall.
Saitama Prefecture is world famous for its Bonsai plants. Bonsai is a form of traditional Japanese art and culture where a tree is planted in a pot, and then meticulously groomed to the artists vision. The culture of Bonsai is to appreciate the shape of these branches, leaves and the trunk line. The art has history dating back to the ninth century. When you visit Kumagaya for the matches, be sure to see the Bonsai, as it is a wonderful place, perhaps the place, to see this great artwork and technique unique to Japan.
With the largest bonsai village in Japan, and a sacred place for Bonsai, Omiya invites many Bonsai enthusiasts from all over the world. At the Omiya Bonsai Village visitors can enjoy the atmosphere of all seasons to see many forms of bonsai. The ceramics that the trees are place in are also an artform themselves, so be sure to look closely at not only the tree, but the ceramics too.
Let's escape the city and enjoy an adventure to the nature of Saitama, from the mountain side to the river side! Even though it is very close to the Tokyo metropolitan area, Saitama Prefecture awaits visitors with abundant natural scenic landscapes and many kinds of beautiful flowers, such as the famous cherry blossoms.
Located in Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, Nagatoro River is a place of great natural beauty where you can experience rafting in Japanese wooden boats. Handled by the skilled boatman who use only one bamboo rod, one can enjoy the breathtaking natural beauties of the Iwadatami Rocks, which have been designated as a special national treasure!
Nearby in Nagatoro Town, there is also a cherry blossom viewing spot along Kitazakura street. Speaking of flowers, let’s look at the recommended spots for flower viewing in each season.
Kinchakuda is listed as one of the 30 most beautiful places in Japan to view flowers. Here the spider lily bloom into a heaven on earth from September to October. The blooming flowers are called manjushage and higanbana in Japanese. The flowers are only in bloom for 5 to 6 days, so if you are lucky enough to be in town at the same time, do not miss it! The carpet of deep and vibrant red flowers is such a breathtaking sight that tourists flock here by the thousands every day during the peak blooming time. The Rugby World Cup 2019 will occur at the same time as the bloom, making Kinchakuda a perfect side trip to the matches.
Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu is another green and lush area in Saitama Prefecture. It is most famous for its hill full of beautiful shibazakura (moss phlox) in spring. Here you can enjoy the carpet of shibazakura blossoms and the overlooking the great mountain.
Gongendo Park in Satte City is famous for its great number of cherry blossom trees. From late March to early April, more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees create a tunnel over 1 km long! Rape blossoms have been planted around the floor of trees, creating a brilliant contrast between the yellow of the rape seed and the pink cherry blossoms. This collaboration of colour is truly spectacular to behold.
In the city of Kumagaya, Saitama, Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi is another prime cherry blossom spot. Here a two-kilometer-long stretch of cherry trees line the river, making a gorgeous flower viewing spot within the town. Check out and stroll down the tunnel made by the cherry trees of vibrant pink!
With its many foods and drinks unique to the region, Saitama Prefecture is truly a gastronomical oasis. During the Rugby World Cup 2019, these are some foods and food cultures that you simply cannot miss.
Sayama Tea is a type of green tea made from leaves produced mainly in the southwestern region of Saitama Prefecture. Sayama Tea has been cultivated for around 700 years. Thanks to the cold climate the leaves are thicker, which gives a rich and robust flavour.
Known as Unagi in Japanese, Eel is a staple of Kawagoe, that became popular during the Edo Period (1603-1867.) Unagi is usually enjoyed with a sweet sauce made with Japanese sake.
Since wheat is produced in the northern part of Saitama Prefecture, one of the staple foods of Saitama Prefecture is udon noodles. There are many styles of Udon noodles, from thick ones to thin ones. Udon is served with many dishes, so you are sure to find something that catches your taste.
Saitama Prefecture is well-known for the quality of its rice, vegetables and fruits. The region is also famous for its sake (Japanese rice wines), craft beers, wine, and even whiskey. Not the mention the delicious flavour, the decorative bottles also make unique souvenirs.
Just a 3 minute walk from Omiya station, on the second floor of the “Omiya Sonic City” building you will find the store called SOPIA (そぴあ). At SOPIA you can purchase the special products of Saitama, as well as collect tourist information in one place.
Saitama is a major city within half an hour by train from Tokyo, filled with many historical sites unique to the area. Why not check out these top 5 places to visit if you have a chance to be in the area.
Koedo Kawagoe is a historically preserved and nostalgic townscape from the Edo period. In the Edo period Tokyo was known as “Edo,” and the main area that is now Tokyo, “Big Edo” (Oedo.) Kawagoe is dubbed "Small Edo” (Koedo) in contrast to the bigger city, and is one of the most famous castle towns in Japan. Once you step in you will experience kura-zukuri buildings, which are strong, fire-resistant type of buildings. These old warehouses and houses still stand strong along the street today. Visitors also have the opportunities to enjoy a rickshaw ride, try tasty authentic traditional sweets, and see several shrines in Kawagoe, which are all unique to Japan.
A pleasant 20 to 30-minute walk from Omiya Station in Saitama City, Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine has more than two thousand years of history behind it. The shrine used to be the head Shinto shrine of the former Musashi Province, which sprawled from Tokyo to large parts of Saitama. After a long walk through Torii gate, the two-storied Romon Gate in vivid red marks the entrance to the main shrine grounds. Here you will find the main hall, the praying hall and a dancing and performance stage.
1,100 meters high up near the peak of Mt. Mitsumine, nestled amongst many ancient and grand cedar trees the sacred Mitsumine Shrine stands. The shrine is well-known as one of the best spiritual spots in Kanto region. Mitsumine Shrine attracts many tourists all year around due to the spiritual feelings it evokes.
With its many ancient tombs, Sakitama Kofun Park is best known as the discovery place of the famous national treasure “Kinsakumeitekken”. Kinsakumeitekken is gold-inlaid iron sword that attracts lots of attention to the ancient tomb, known as a “Kofun” that was found here. Fans of history should really check out the great kofun and its peaceful surrounding landscape.
Kumagaya City is a host city of the Rugby World Cup 2019, and a home to a great deal of Japanese history. One such historical attraction is the Shodenzan Temple. Shodenzan Temple is known as one of the three major Shoden temples in Japan, and is as such designated a National Treasure. The main building, called Shodendo, features beautifully carved art similar to the famous Nikko Toshogu in the Gongen Zukuri building.