Situated around 30 kilometres to the north of Tokyo, the lively city of Saitama and its prefecture make for an easy day trip from the capital. Its home to excellent museums, leafy parklands and enormous shopping malls, combined with picturesque surrounding landscapes to explore.
Sprawling across the Kantō Plain, Saitama is largely a manufacturing area, home to Honda factories and those producing “hinamatsuri” dolls and ornate “kabuto”, or samurai helmets. It’s also a residential commuter hub, with its proximity to Tokyo and high-speed rail connections making it a popular place to live, and divided into ten different wards or ku, each of which has been assigned its own official colour. It is home to the cutting-edge Saitama Museum of Modern Art within picturesque Kita-Urawa Park, together with the outstanding Railway Museum where around 30 railway cars, simulators and mini trains are on exhibit. Just to the east lies Omiya Park, renowned for its cherry blossoms, zoo and Hikawa Shrine which are framed by ancient Japanese elms, together with the Omiya Bonsai Museum, the first of its kind in the world dedicated to bonsai art. Saitama is also renowned for its sake, with around 35 breweries scattered throughout the surrounding prefecture where visitors can sample directly from the makers. Kawagoe’s “Little Edo” just to the west of Saitama City boasts plenty of traditional Japanese architecture within its picturesque alleyways or shoppers can delve into the retail therapy at AEON Lake Town, comprising three shopping malls that combine to make one of the largest super-malls in Japan. Saitama’s surrounding natural beauty is also worth exploring, whether that be white water rafting through the stunning landscapes of Nagatoro or witnessing the tiny “shibazakura”, or moss phlox, which create a giant flower carpet in Chichibu Hitsujiyama Park each spring.
Saitama is connected by high-speed train to Tokyo and beyond from the Ōmiya Station, from where there are connections along the Tobu Noda line to many of the area’s tourist attractions. A number of Saitama’s city sights are also accessible on foot and situated within 30 minutes’ walk from Ōmiya Station.
Saitama city was founded as recently as 2001, incorporating the former cities of Urawa, Ōmiya, Yono and Iwatsuki. But its name has ancient roots, originating from that of the district’s northern area, Sakitama, which was mentioned in the 8th century poetry of Man’yōshū and whose pronunciation has changed to Saitama over time.