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Saitama: 4 of the coolest new reasons to visit Japan's 'uncoolest' place

'teamLab: Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest', Saitama © teamLab

Saitama is a prefecture just next to Tokyo famous for its cheeky nickname 'Dasai-tama', a wordplay on the prefecture’s name and the Japanese word ‘dasai’ meaning uncool

That's because for years it's been serving as the capital’s bedtown – huge numbers of commuters leave Saitama every morning and only return to sleep. But never underestimate an underdog! With many exciting openings and new places you can't miss, a new Sait-amazing era is dawning! All of the places can be visited either on a fun daytrip to escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or as an overnight stay to fully immerse yourself and rediscover what makes Japan’s 'uncoolest' place secretly pretty cool!

©Moomin Characters ™

The first three places are located in Tokorozawa where Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki lives and this town is known as THE inspiration for creating Miyazaki's famous animation ‘My Neighbour Totoro’! Make sure to prick up your ears because arriving at Tokorozawa station you can listen to two train jingles based on the film’s theme songs! Walking through Tokorozawa you can find 28 manhole covers with popular characters that light up after dark, and there's even a Totoro Forest in the area, to boot! By now Saitama probably isn't looking so uncool anymore but what are the new openings putting Saitama on the map?

Resonating Art

'teamLab: Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest', Saitama © teamLab

Heading to Saitama, the 'teamLab: Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest should be at the top of your VIP priority list. Visit Tokorozawa’s Musashino Woods to see this constantly changing Digitised Nature exhibition which evolves with the presence of people. Forests like this were one of the primary food sources to people in the Jomon period (14,000 - 300 BCE) who lived in harmony with nature and this exhibition wants to celebrate that deep connection. Using digital technology, nature is transformed into interactive art you can be a part of. The adorable ovoids you can see on the picture reflect their surroundings during the day and light up at night! When pushed by people or the wind, they change colour and release a tone, both of which resonate out to the other ovoids in a chorus of colour and song! The trees also take on colours at night, they are connected to the rhythm of the ovoids. Each tree is individually illuminated and emitts sounds and colours that are transmitted between the trees and ovoids.  

'teamLab: Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest', Saitama © teamLab

teamLab is an art collective known for their unforgettable exhibitions around the globe that make the visitor feel like a part of art rather than a viewer. You can find their permanent and temporary exhibitions around Japan with one of the most popular set ups located in Tokyo's Odaiba
The next stop of our journey is located right next to the acorn forest and we’re not exaggerating how close it is!

Popculture Heaven

©Kadokawa Culture Museum

Tokorozawa Sakura Town opened its doors to the public in November 2020 and has been amazing its visitors ever since! The entertainment complex greets you with a sleek modern exterior but what’s actually hiding here will put you on the edge of your seat. Inside, you can find the Kadokawa Culture Museum - an outstanding combination of art, natural history, and books. The museum has a special library with 8 metre tall shelves which transform into a bookshelf theatre for dazzling projection mapping shows. Fans of anime in particular will not be disappointed - a trip to the Tokorozawa Sakura Town lets you explore the EJ Anime Museum and stay overnight at the EJ Anime Hotel! When it’s time to do some shopping, you can hit the bookstore "Da Vinci Store" to get all the latest releases and exclusive anime merch.

That said, there are still a tonne of surprises in store for the uninitiated, much like the Japanese shinto shrine that was constructed especially on the premises. A celebration of modern Japanese design, it was named ‘Musashino Reiwa’ by a Japanese scholar with a concealed meaning that only people who have studied Japan’s ‘Manyoshu’ collection of ancient poetry might guess! Essentially, the shrine’s name means ‘COOL JAPAN’ and was created in the hope that Japanese culture - from ancient poetry to anime and manga - might continue to flourish.

Another Side of Japan

The Seibuen Amusement Park, also located in Tokorozawa, has been a part of the local landscape for 70 years but it deserves special attention right now because of it’s ongoing revamp! Set to reopen in spring 2021, the theme park is going to greet its visitors with new flare and take them back in time to the 1960s, a time nostalgically revered by many in Japan. Seibuen will turn into an interactive experience separate from the modern world where you can spend time with your loved ones. Heading down the street you can fully immerse yourself in the retro 1960s landscape and interact with people as if you were living down the road. By the entrance you will find a tram from that period, brought here from Nagasaki, as trams were the most common mode of transport. The park eateries will be filled with dishes popular at that time but the main attraction we're hyped for is a new ride! Created in collaboration with the Japanese movie director and visual effects artist Takashi Yamazaki known for directing ‘Space Battleship Yamato’ and ‘Always: Sunset on Third Street’, this adrenaline machine will blow your mind. The ride is currently being constructed inside a recreation of a 1960s cinema (the most popular entertainment in post-war Japan) and we can’t wait to see it and soak up the retro vibes!

Childhood Reimagined

©Moomin Characters ™

Last but not least we have a real treat for every Moomin fan out there! The Moominvalley Park opened in 2019 and is located in Hanno, which lies on the same train line as Tokorozawa. These trolls created by a Finnish author were popularised in Japan in the 90s by an animation that many of us might have seen without even realising it came from Japan! The park is a great combination of indoor and outdoor entertainment: the exhibition building will introduce you to the author and the Moomins, whilst you can grab a bite at one of the restaurants or cafes, and stock up on Moomin merch at the souvenir shop. 

©Moomin Characters ™

Walking around the park you can visit the famous Moominhouse (supposedly built by Moominpappa), take a break to enjoy live shows at Emma’s theatre, visit the Lighthouse (be careful of the Hattifatteners), or hop on Hobgoblin's zip line and fly over the lake. It’s a great spot for people of all ages with plenty of activities and workshops, and a playground which will be sure to keep your little ones entertained. The park is situated by a charming lake which, combined with the surrounding nature, lets visitors step out of the Tokyo crowds and straight into the lush green world of our favourite friends.

Got a little more time?

Saitama is shaping up to be the portal to many different dimensions - futuristic forests, anime worlds, Ghibli settings, 1960s Japan - but just as importantly, it is the 'torii' gateway to the landscapes of Old Japan. Far before its recent revival, the traditions, architecture and aethetics of Japan of Yore were well-preserved in places like the merchant town and candy capital of Kawagoe, and the wooded mountain pilgrimage around Chichibu Shrine

All within easy reach of Tokyo and Saitama's other sights, a journey back in time to one of these heritage locations is a trip you won't regret!

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