For a quick breath of fresh mountain air
If you’re looking for a no-hassle escape from the city, Saitama is the place to run to.
While much of eastern Saitama is swallowed by Tokyo’s metropolitan sprawl, the prefecture’s western borders remain safe havens of rural tradition, preserved history and a rocky mountainous landscape. Mount Fuji is clearly visible across much of the prefecture and is a promise of the natural beauty that lies just beyond the grey commuter towns. Since everything is located within a 100 kilometer distance of Japan’s capital, it’s one of the region’s most accessible destinations for day trips, offering a quick escape from the urban grind.
For a taste of traditional Japan, it’s a 30 minute train ride to Kawagoe also known as ‘Little Edo’. Picturesque alleyways are lined with historic houses and quaint shops offering up the local speciality of sweet potato in various surprising forms (potato ice cream, anyone?). Transfer at Kawagoe station for the scenic countryside of Hidaka which is especially beautiful during Autumn when Kinchakuda Park transforms into a sea of blood-red spider lilies.
Head further into the mountains to Nagatoro, a small but pretty town that takes full vantage of its position along the raging Arakawa river by offering a variety of outdoor sports from traditional river boating to whitewater rafting to paragliding. There’s camping, hot springs and other requisites for a proper outdoorsy weekend.
Chichibu is also a popular mountain getaway. The area receives a spike of visitors in late April to Hitsujiyama Park to see the shibazakura, a giant pink and purple carpet of tiny moss phlox, and again in December for the jam-packed and very rowdy Chichibu Night Festival.