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Saitama - located to the northwest of Tokyo - is full of fun spots for active sports, good food, history, culture appreciation and hands on experiences! Come with us today as we showcase a few of the many locations you are sure to enjoy during your next visit to Japan! Grab your camera and your chopsticks, and let's go!

Sugito-Machi: TAKAHASHIIYA: History served up delicious!

There are many grilled freshwater eel restaurants in every part of Saitama. And today, we'd like to introduce one place in particular - Takahashiya. First opening back in the Meiji Era, Takahashiya is a long-established eatery, and is popular with celebrities such as Kabuki actors. If you dine here, who knows who you will bump into!

After the freshwater eels have been caught in the Furutone River flowing directly in front of the shop, the staff at Takahashiya repeat a hundred year plus process of grilling and steaming the freshly caught freshwater eel repeatedly, removing the bones by hand, and finishing the delicacy with a secret, savory sauce that has been cultured for over 100 years!

Some come, relish in the flavor fancied by discerning diners and experience the beautiful taste of grilled freshwater eel for yourself! Takahashiya is a short 2 minute walk from Tobudobutsukoen Station, so be sure not to miss it!

Arakawa River: "Nagatoro Line Kudari"

In the Nagatoro area of Chichibu, you can enjoy "line kudari," a traditional river rafting activity. This sort of river rafting is less of a white-water experience and more of a tour, where in you will enjoy breathtaking scenery that changes season to season, natural monuments such as the Iwadatami Rocks, as well as some thrills as the skilled boatment guide the long wooden boats through the river rapids.

The boats generally carry up to 20 passengers, and are operated by two boat drivers who wear traditional attire and use long poles to help navigate the 15 to 20 minute ride down the river. The time of the cruise is entirely dependent on the flow of the river as these boats have no motors. That means that in parts of the river that have no white water at all will be quite silent. The only sounds you will hear are the "plop" of the poles going into the water, and the calls of local birds and other sounds of nature.

This river rafting experience is generally limited to the March to December time, but there are occasional winter-time rides, which include a special space heater to help keep you warm.

Yoshimi Hundred Caves

FIrst visible as you cross the Ichino River to the east, the "Hundred Caves of Yoshimi" appears like an anthill or beehive. As you approach, you will see that there are several holes in the side of the hills, creating a curious spectacle.

Despite the name, there are actually a total of 219 caves, dating back approximately 1400 years. The caves were once thought to be home to a race of people smaller even than ancient Japanese people, but they are now understood to have originally been burial grounds.

A small section of the caves were converted into a factory during WWII, but conclusion of the war prevented it from going into operation. Now, the site contains two museums, which, in addition to part of the site, are open to the public. The museums display artifacts found in the local area. Visitors can enter for 300 yen per person, 200 yen for elementary school age children, and free for younger children.

For those who wish to explore the caves and see this curious part of Japanese history, a jacket is recommended even in the summer, as the temperature inside is quite cool even in the summer. And don't forget your flashlight!

Ukiyo-e of Okegawa

What is Ukiyo-e?

Ukiyo-e is a style of Japanese art which flourished from the mid-Edo period to the Meiji period. Artists created woodblock prints and paintings of kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, female beauties and erotica; historical scenes, and landscapes, as well as flora and fauna.

What is a Shukuba?

Shukuba, also called shuku-eki, were post stations between the 17th and 19th centuries in Japan, and were generally located on one of the Gokaido, or "Five Highways". Here, travelers could rest on their journeys.

Okegawa: UKIYO-E

Okegawa is the sixth post town of the sixty-nine stations on the Nakasendo, one of the "Five Highways" of ancient Japan, and it is said that you can walk there from Edo, or current day Tokyo, within a day. There is an ukiyo-e painting that illustrates a traveler, and you can get a glimpse at what it was like so long ago. The Okegawa Tourism Association offers a short activity to help you experience the process of making ukiyo-e.

Inside the tourist office located on the main street, you can try your hand at making a simple, ukiyo-e style postcard with a simple, 3-step process. Okegawa has even created a more modern version of ukiyo-e, so swing by and learn a bit about history as you create your own unique souvenir!

Menuma Shodenzan

Menuma Shoden-zan Temple is a national treasure of Japan. This ornately decorated temple is a masterful work of art representative of the special relationship between the Nikko Tosho-gu shrine and the decorative architecture of the Edo period.

It is nicknamed Ko Nikko in Saitama due to its relationship with Tosho-gu. During the Edo period, both Nikko Tosho-gu and Menuma Seitenzan offered a mixture of shinto and buddhist rituals. It wasn't until the government ordered a separation during the Meiji period. Now, Tosho-gu is a shrine, and Menuma Shodenzan is a temple. Even with the same background of being a mixture of two religions, the two now remain as opposites of each other.

Unlike many temples, here you will find an informative leaflet in English, as well as volunteer English guides who will show you all the interesting aspects you might otherwise overlook. But with or without a guide, Shodenzan should surely be on your to-do list!

Between the many sights to see while floating down the Arakawa River, the endless tunnels to explore in the Yoshimi Hundred Caves, and the beautiful designs of the Menuma Shodenzan Temple to marvel at, you are sure to have a thrilling time in Saitama. And of course, scrumptious eel cuisine makes a great treat no matter what's on your itinerary! Just don't forget to check out the classical art of ukiyo-e while in Okegawa to help make the perfect journey!

To read more articles about Saitama, just visit our site! There, you'll find more about the topics listed below in addition to the topics we covered in the article above!

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What strikes your fancy? Where will you start your adventure this time?