Category Archives: Winter

Ao no Doukutsu, Yoyogi Park Illumination

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This beautiful illumination is called “Ao no Doukutsu”, meaning Blue Grotto, was in Nakameguro in 2014. It has relocated to Yoyogi park this year (2016).
The illumination runs from November 22nd through January 9th. I didn’t have a chance to go to the Nakameguro Illumination, but I’ve heard they moved the illumination in favor of the much wider street of Yoyogi park.
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The Illumination starts on Shibuya Koen Dori (Shibuya park street) and those Japanese Zelkova trees were lit up for your 750 m walk. I recommend stopping by there when you are in the downtown Tokyo area. Check out the Illumination website to see the video for directions. – Mai Takahashi, December 2016

Ao no Doukutsu, Shibuya : http://shibuya-aonodokutsu.jp/
Illumination time in 2016: 5 pm – 11 pm, November 22nd – January 9th  (the illumination starts at 7 pm on November 23rd, December 4th, December 25th, and January 9th)

Direction:
To get to the illumination spot, the closest station is Shibuya. The street is on the opposite side of Meji Shrine in Yoyogi park, so make sure to get off at Shibuya Station, not Harajuku station.
To Shibuya station, take Ome/Chuo line to Shinjuku, and then transfer to Yamanote line towards Shibuya and Shinagawa.
From Shibuya station, exit from Hachiko exit and then cross the famous crowded intersection. And then take the street that is to the right of the building that is all glass and has a large tv display. You will see a Starbucks and TSUTAYA video store in this building. Keep walking until you see the blue lights on the trees.
img_2421Once you find the blue trees, follow them to Yoyogi park.
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Daruma Doll Festival-Haijimadaishi Temple

Looking for a fun New Year’s activity? Look no further than the Daruma Doll Festival, in nearby Akishima. A visit to a shrine, within the first few days of the new year, is  very important aspect of Japanese culture, known as hatsumode.
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The lines to get to the front of the shrine will be very long,  but we bypassed the line and had a great time wandering the festival. Daruma is a good luck doll for the upcoming year. You buy a new Daruma doll each year (there were many to choose from of all sizes), and color in one eye when you make your wish. If your wish comes true during the year, you color in the other eye.2015-01-02 13.57.15
You bring last year’s Daruma to throw in the fire, which is part of the Japanese approach to the new year, “out with the old, in with the new”.
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Also look for the kabura-ya, or arrow with a “turnip” shaped tip, for a fun souvenir. These are modeled after arrows that the samurai used, to attach messages to and shoot them into a fortress or other enclosure. Now, they are sold at Shinto shrines at the new year, as protection from evil spirits.
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Of course, as with all Japanese festivals, there will also be FOOD! There were many vendor stalls set up selling your favorite Japanese street food; yakisoba, yakiniku, takoyaki, etc.2015-01-02 13.50.28

The festival is held at the Haijima Daishi temple every year on January 2nd and 3rd. Parking is extremely limited. The website recommends taking the train, closest station is Akishima station (which is the Moritown station), then it is about a 20 minute walk from Akishima station. Jamie Cowan, December 2015

Website:http://haijimadaishi.com/daruma-ichi/
Hours: 0900-1600, January 2nd and 3rd.
GPS to the shrine: 35.7056997,139.3449119

Fukubukuro- New Year’s “lucky bags”

2015-01-01 08.09.13New Year’s Day is the most important Japanese holiday, where many “firsts” are celebrated. Some of these special firsts include; first prayer, first sunrise, and first …SALE! The Japanese phenomenon known as fukubukuro, (orlucky/happy bag”), entails heading to a store on January 1-3 and buying a bag with unknown contents for a set price. The only guarantee is that the bag will be worth more than you paid, sometimes several times more, but it’s a gamble.

If you are a risk taker at heart, you will love this custom! Some stores show the contents of the bags, but most do not, it’s a complete surprise. Opening your lucky bag has all the anticipation of Christmas morning, and possibly some of the disappointment. Was it money well spent, or not?2015-01-02 08.49.17-1

For example, I spent Y3000 for this bag at a kitchen wares store, and this was its contents; a  small roasting pan with rack, frying pan, spatula, “pig” microwave lid, utensil holder, and two fish shaped kitchen sponges. This bag was definitely worth more than what I paid.

 

Head to your nearest mall, specialty store or grocery store January 1-3, to join in the fun. But, beware, if you don’t act fast you’ll miss your chance! Lucky bags are only around while supplies last. Jamie Cowan, December  2015

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and SightsIf you are new to Yokota, or been here for years, this comprehensive guide can help you find new and exciting things to do year-round. Created with the seasons in mind, simply click on the link and find out what’s happening. Time to work on that Japan To-Do list!! Click on the links below to be able to zoom in and start your adventure! Created by Linda Bell, May 2015.

PDF: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Excel: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

 

 

Yomiuri Land Amusement Park

DSC03727Looking for a closer alternative to Disneyland? Yomiuri Land is a compact amusement park with over 25 rides for all ages. Some of the main attractions include a standing roller coaster (MOMOnGA), the Bandit rollercoaster, go carting, laser tag, a haunted house, and a couple of Tour de Chutes; the Crazy Hyuuuu and Crazy Stooon. For younger members of the family, there is a Ferris Wheel, an animal coaster and a train ride.

In summer, the park offers 5 pools and 3 waterslides. They have a large swimming pool, a five meter deep diving pool, a kid pool, and a lazy river. Various shows, including synchronized swimming performances, are also held here during the summer months.

IMG_5928From the beginning of November to mid-February this park has an excellent illumination display that rivals the Sagamiko Pleasure Forest illumination presentation (2014-15). When we visited Yomiuri Land, we saw 6 to 7 light shows that were choreographed to music. Three of these shows were held at the wave pool and they had lights and fountains choreographed to music. The majority of the shows begin at 17:00 and take place every 10 to 15 minutes. See the park’s map guide, located at the entrance, for a list of times. People who are photosensitive might like to note that the “tree tunnel”, in the back left-hand corner of the park, features a strobe lighting effect during its show.

Restaurants and food stalls are located throughout the park and offer everything from ramen and curry bowls to hot dogs, churros and crêpes. While there are quite a few stairs around the park, there are a lot of ramps to make this park stroller friendly. There are coin operated lockers located around the park as well. The mascot and symbol for the park is a white ‘land dog’.

For more information about Yomiuri Land, please see the park’s website http://www.yomiuriland.com/english/#Attractions. Their website has PDF files linking you to height and age restrictions for each particular ride as well as a map.

DSC03673There are a number of admission options and prices. A One Day Pass allows you access to all the attractions and the sea lion show; it costs ¥4000 for adults and ¥3000 for children (3 years old to high school students). For families with kids under elementary age, the park also offers the Hiyoko Pass (chick pass) which allows kids to ride on 16 of the age-appropriate/accompanied rides and access to the sea lion show. For adults and children the Hiyoko Pass costs ¥3000 and ¥2000 respectively. Park entrance without any rides costs ¥1200 for adults and ¥600 for children under the age of 3. Rides can be purchased individually and, in general, cost ¥300-600, with the exception of the Bandit and Bungee Jump attractions which cost ¥900. A Night Pass, with rides (from 16:00), costs ¥1800 for adults and ¥1300 for kids, while entrance alone (includes illumination) costs ¥1000 for adults and ¥500 for kids and teenagers. To purchase a pool pass, beginning of July through mid-September, add ¥700 to the regular One Day Pass for both adults and children. Entrance to the park and aquatic area, without use of the attractions, costs ¥2900 and ¥1900 for adults and children respectively. Please check with the park’s website/staff for admission prices for folks over 60.

The park is generally open from 09:00 or 10:00 and closes anywhere from 17:00 to 20:30 depending on the time of year. Please check this website for the park’s schedule, http://www.yomiuriland.com/information/calendar/Linda Bell, January 2015.

DIRECTIONS

To get to Yomiruri Land, take the Chuo Expressway and use the Chofu Exit. The GPS coordinates to the parking lot are 35.62426, 139.51680. In light traffic, the trip can take just under 1 hour (according to Google Maps) from Yokota, the tolls are ¥1000 each way. Parking for standard vehicles is ¥1000, and they have 1500 spaces. The closest train station to Yomiuri Land is Keioyomiuri Land Station and you can get here via the Keiō Sagamihara Line. From the station, you can either walk 1.2 miles uphill or take the 5 minute Gondola Sky Shuttle for ¥300 (one way) to reach the park entrance.

Winter Illuminations, Central Tokyo

Here’s a list of some of the top illumination displays in central Tokyo.  These are great places to visit during the dark winter months, and they’re all free.  Be prepared for some illuminations to end on Christmas Day; check Time Out Tokyo ( http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo) for specific illumination dates. I have listed the destinations in order of my preference, however, Sagamiko Pleasure Forest’s winter illumination is my most favorite illumination around Tokyo (2014-15).

Tokyo MidtownMidtown Tokyo:  (Roppongi Station, Hibiya Line – H04, exit 8). This mall has a nice light tour from the Plaza, along Higashi Street and through the Garden. It ends with an amazing finale at the Grass Square. The lights run from 17:00 – 23:00, between the middle of November to Christmas Day.

Nakameguro Canal Nakameguro: (Naka-meguro Station, Hibiya Line – H01, North exit). Cross the road, after you take the North exit, and follow the crowd north. These amazing canal lights give you the impression that the river runs through a beautiful blue cave. The lights are lit 17:00 – 21:00 from the end of November to Christmas Day, EXCEPT WEEKENDS!※The blue illumination relocated to Yoyogi park in 2016. The trees are illuminated in an orange-gold color in 2016 instead.
This illumination differs every year. Please make sure to check the info before you visit there!

-Yoyogi Park, Shibuya
The above blue cave has relocated to Yoyogi park in 2016. Please see the separate entry for more information.
Ao no doukutsu: http://yokotatravel.com/ao-no-doukutsu-yoyogi-park-illumination/

ShidomeShiodome: (Shiodome Station, Oedo Line – E19, or Shinbashi Station, connected to several lines). The Caretta mall runs an illumination show every 20 minutes. The GPS coordinates for the display are 35.6648195,139.7624616. Illumination is from 17:00 – 23:00 and begins mid-November to mid-January.

Roppongi HillsRoppongi Hills/Keyakizaka Street: (Roppongi Station, Hibiya Line – H04, exit 1C). This romantic illumination is located near Mori Tower, and in previous years, they have had a Christmas market that runs until 9 pm. The GPS coordinates for the Roppongi Hill lights are 35.6592006,139.7298473 and the trees are lit 17:00 – 23:00, from early November to Christmas Day.

The 4 locations, above, can be visited relatively ‘easily’ as most of them are on the Hibiya Line, but there is quite a bit of walking involved. I suggest seeing the lights at Nakameguro (H01) first, since these lights turn off the earliest and ending with Tokyo Midtown or Shidome. To get to Shiodome, take the Oedo Line to Shidome (E19) from Roppongi Sation (H04).

Tokyo Dome/La Qua: (Served by several lines and can be reached via Kasuga Station, Korakuen Station, exit 2 or Suidobashi Station, West exit). When we went to this display, it was not vast, like the illumination spots above. However, it was colorful and the frequent light shows were well choreographed to music. You may want to see the ‘fountains to music’ display at La Qua too. La Qua also has over 50 restaurants located on the Ground floor and 5th floor. You can see the lights between 17:00 – 01:00 from early November to mid-February.

Shinjuku: (Shinjuku Station also served by a number of lines including the JR Yamanote Line, South exit). There are displays all around Shinjuku Terrace City with a number of them located on Shinjuku’s Southern Terrace, south of JR Shinjuku Station. The lights are generally lit from 17:00 – 24:00 mid-November to mid-February. You can catch some Valentine’s Day lights here too.

Inside Omotesando stationBetween Meji-jingumae Station and Omotesando Station: (Meji-jingumae Station, Chiyoda Line – C3 or Fukutoshin Line F15, and Omotesando Station, Chiyoda Line – C4, Ginza Line – G2, or Hanzomon Line- Z2).  Meiji-jigumae Station is a 10 minute walk from Harajuku station which is on the JR Yamanote Line. Along this ritzy stretch of road, there are a lot of lighted Gingko trees. On the left as you go from Meiji-jingumae Station to Omotesando Station, you can take a quick look at the illumination displays on the rooftop in Tokyu Plaza, next to Starbucks, and then further down the road inside the Omotesando Hills Shopping Mall; where there is a 26 foot tall fake Christmas tree and a cute miniature German house scene. You can catch the lights between sunset and 21:00 from early December to early January.

Yebisu Garden Place: (Ebisu station, Hibiya Line – H02, and the JR Yamanote Line to name a few lines. exit 1 or East Exit). This is a 10-15 minute uphill walk from Ebisu Station, or if you can find it, the “Yebisu Skywalk” is easier. The GPS coordinates for this illumination display are 35.6426292,139.7137002. When we visited, the plaza had a red carpet lined with lit trees and a gigantic crystal chandelier at the end. This illumination is generally lit between 16:00 – midnight and runs November to mid-January.

Tokyo Tower: (Kamiyacho Station, Hibiya Line, exit 1 or Onarimon Station, Mita Line, exit A1 or Akabanebashi Station, Oedo Line – E21, Akabanebashi exit). Besides the tower itself, there are other lights at the base of the tower that are usually theme based. The year we went the lights ‘worshipped’ some anime creature that we didn’t know. It costs 900 yen to get to the main observation tower. For more information on Tokyo Tower, see this Yokota Travel entry http://yokotatravel.com/welcome-fellow-yokotans/tokyo-tower/. These lights are lit between 16:00-0:00 and run between early November to December 25.

Here are a few more illumination destinations that I have not visited, but are well-known illumination spots in central Tokyo. They are a little further from Yokota, but good spots to check out if you are staying at the New Sanno during the winter months.

Tokyo Station: (Tokyo Station is serviced by a number of lines. Use Yaesu exit and exit 4a/4b for Michi Terasse). Tokyo Station usually has a couple of attractions from 17:00-23:00 early December to early January. Tokyo Station’s, Yaesu, Grand Roof is lit with alternating colors. From 16:30-20:30. December 24-28/29 Tokyo Station’s Michi Terrace (or Tokyo Station’s façade) usually has an annual 3D holographic projection display.

–  Tokyo Skytree: (Oshiage Station is also serviced by a number of lines). The Solamachi Christmas Market and Christmas illuminations around Tokyo Skytree run from 10:00-22:00 early November to Christmas Day. The pathways connecting the tower, Tokyo Skytree and Oshiage Stations are lit from mid-December and you can usually see projection mapping shows as well.

Ginza District: (Ginza Station on the Hibiya, Marunouchi and Ginza Subway Lines and Yurakucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line, JR Keihin-Tohoku Line and Yurakucho Subway Line). The lights in Ginza are generally lit between 11:00-22:00 from mid-November to mid-February.

– Odaiba: (Daiba Station, Yurikamome Line). Odaiba has a large “Daiba Memorial Tree” lit from 17:00-01:00 in mid-November to mid-March. Other illumination points around Odaiba include “Odaiba Kaihin Park, in front of the of Decks shopping center, Venusfort and Diver City”, according to http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2303.html.

Linda Bell, December 2014.

 

Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest

This is an amazing park that can entertain a wide variety of ages and interests. It’s no Disneyland, but it’s only a 40 minute drive from Yokota Air Base and it’s cheaper. The park is divided into four zones; the Amusement Zone, Outdoor Zone, Hobby Zone and the Hot Springs Zone.

DSC02893The Amusement Zone has a Ferris wheel (you may have seen this on top of a mountain on your way to/from Mt. Fuji), a mini rollercoaster, two types of go-carts, a pirate ship, a merry-go-round and a number of obstacle courses for kids, just to name a few. There are 30 attractions in all; some have height restrictions. For the go-carts the height restriction is 140cm/55in. 130cm/51in is the height restriction for the swinging pendulum, and for a couple of the other rides the height restriction is 100cm/39in.

There is an Outdoor Zone that can be used for camping during the day or for overnight use. The Hobby Zone has a mountain bike course, and one of the largest radio-control car courses in the Kanto area.

Finally, there is a Hot Springs area called Sagami Lake Onsen Ururi. Apparently, this has a few pools and open-air hot springs that have views up to the mountains and valley. I am unsure whether this onsen has ‘mixed-gender’ pools. For more information, please check out this link: Sagami Lake Onsen Ururi. Or paste this into your browser http://www.sagamiko-resort.jp/ururi. The first link uses Google Translate.

IMG_5156Starting November through the middle of April, Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest hosts an amazing lights display in one portion of the park. The year we went (2014), the park had the biggest light display in the Kanto region with approximately 5 million lights. Classical music was played as we walked along the hillside. There is a chairlift that can take you up through the lights and to a Ferris wheel. The chairlift is an additional cost (cost unknown), as is the Ferris wheel (¥500). Please check the park’s website for illumination hours. They are generally 17:00 to 21:30 with the last admission at 21:00. The section of the park we visited with lights was stroller friendly, aside from the chairlift. INSIDER TIP: The lights are best if you walk around them in a clockwise fashion. And, if you get there before 17:00, you will experience the lights turning on, which includes a full light show coordinated with classical music. To avoid lines, show up early (16:30).

Throughout the park, there are restaurants and BBQ areas. The BBQ areas may need reservations. For more information on Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest Park, please use this link: Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest. Or paste this into your browser: http://www.sagamiko-resort.jp/english.

DSC02828Admission to the Amusement Zone costs ¥1700 for adults and ¥1000 for children. Rides can then be purchased for ¥200-¥800. An all day pass for adults costs ¥3700, while the children’s free passes cost ¥3000. Admission for the Hot Spring Zone is ¥950 for adults and ¥500 for children during the week. Admission is ¥1000 and ¥500 for adults and kids respectively over weekends and holidays. Admission for the Light Display is ¥600 for adults and ¥400 per child. The cost for the Hobby Zone or General Entrance to the park, outside of the Amusement Zone, is unknown (please feel free to share if you know). Parking costs ¥1000, but for large cars and vans it’s ¥2000 and ¥500 for motorbikes. Parking is free with a receipt from the hot springs. There are at least 2,500 parking spaces, and there a number of parking lots around the park.

Please check the website for the most current park hours. The park is generally open from 09:30 to 16:30 daily, EXCEPT for Thursdays. The onsen hours are typically from 10:00 to 22:00, but occasionally the onsen may be randomly closed, please check the website for the most current information. Linda Bell, December 2014.

DIRECTIONS

IMG_5139The GPS coordinates for the entrance to the parking lot closest to the Amusement Zone and winter lights display are GPS:35.60120 139.20004. To get to the park you can take the Chuo Expressway west to the Sagamiko Exit. The park is about a 10 minute drive from the exit. Driving takes about 40 minutes one-way, and is just under ¥1400 in tolls, round trip. You can avoid the tolls if you travel via Mt. Takao. This route takes a little over 60 minutes, according to Google Maps.

Sapporo Ice Festival

While stationed at Yokota AB one of the best things to do in the winter is to take a trip up to Sapporo for the annual Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events.  About two million people come to Sapporo to see a large number of massive snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park, the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino.  For seven days in February, these sculptures turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland. Many of the ice sculptures are larger than houses and are really a sight to behold!
We took our two young children, ages 4 and 7 and they had a great time. They loved the giant ice slides! There was plenty for kids to do and see. We watched the extreme snow boarders jumping and enjoyed the ice skating rink.
It took us one full day to see all the sculptures. There are many other things to do while in Sapporo as well if you would like to stay a couple of days. Some other highlights in the area include the Sapporo Bier Garden for some great beer and BBQ, the chocolate factory, many museums, and “Ramen Alley,” for what people claim is the best ramen in the world. The area is also famous for their giant crab, sort of like Alaskan king crab. We had some for dinner one night and it was delicious.
Please note that they do not shovel the side walks or plow the roads there and the streets are very slippery. I definitely suggest snow boots with good traction to avoid falling. The festival is not at all stroller friendly though. I think a baby in a back or front carrier might be OK if they could be kept warm enough. The day we toured the festival it was in the 20’s and snowing hard!
Yokota ITT offeres two tours a year during the snow festival which are a great value. Their trips sell out quickly and usually go on sale the first of December. There were many people waiting in line that morning so book early if you would prefer their package deal. The Yokota Recreation Center also has a ski package to Sapporo which is usually a couple days before the festival but you still get to see many of them being built or even completed before the festival officially kicks off. Many people also book the trip by themselves. The flight up to Hokkaido, the northern island where Sapporo is located, only takes about 1 1/2 hours from Haneda Airport.  It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! Very “cool” (pun intended)! – Kelly O’Donnell, February 2013

Fujiten

Sara Curry Photo Fujiten 2013Fujiten is a ski resort at the bottom of Mt. Fuji about 90 minutes from Yokota Air Base.  It is an easy day trip and a great place to learn how to ski. Fujiten also offers a separate sledding area with two hills and a snow playground consisting of snow tunnels, a man-made igloo and snow “mountains” to climb.  It is perfect for children 0-10 years of age who want to enjoy a day in the snow.   A central movable walkway helps little ones and their parents climb the hills so there is more time for sledding.  The entrance fee for sledding is ¥600 per person for the day.  Kids can purchase a lunch set and sled pass for ¥1100 a day.  Plastic sled rentals are available for ¥500.  The large ski lodge offers a variety of Japanese and Chinese lunches as well as chicken nuggets, french fries and corn dogs.  Our family has gone sledding here for the last three years and our kids have a blast in the snow.  It is also a great place to take pictures of Mt. Fuji on a clear day.  I recommend going during the week or on an American holiday like Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Superbowl Monday or Presidents’ Day to avoid the crowds. – Sara Curry, January 2013
DIRECTIONS: The Yujo has maps and directions available from the base.  Also, check the webpage: http://www.fujiten.net/pc/.  GPS Coordinates: 35.441862, 138.687444.

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Nagano Snow Monkeys

The opportunity to visit the Nagano Snow Monkeys is a truly unique experience. You are able to view these wild monkeys close-up in their natural habitat. There are no enclosures. If you enjoy photography then it is an especially great trip in the winter. During the winter months the monkeys sit in the hot springs to keep themselves and their babies warm. They are accustomed to people watching them and they didn’t seem interested in us at all. They let us get really close and I didn’t see any of them displaying aggressive behavior. Please note that it is strictly forbidden to feed them in order to maintain their disinterest in humans. I went on this trip in January with an ITT tour. I highly recommend it.  It is important to note that from the area where you park you have to walk about one mile up the mountain in order to get to the monkeys.

On the day I went it was lightly snowing and the path was very icy and slippery. On a day like this I recommend wearing a pair of snow or hiking boots with a lot of traction and bringing a sled for any small children in your group.
There are some steps but most of the way is fairly flat. There are bathrooms available at a small hut near the monkeys and hot chocolate is available for ¥100. It’s well worth the visit. – Entry & photos by Kelly O’Donnell, January, 2012

Directions:
Check at the Yujo for directions. GPS coordinates for the parking lot: 36.730547, 138.444708.

Additional Information:

If you forget to pack something, there are items to purchase or rent at the site. You can rent a jacket for 500 yen and boots for 800 yen. Or you can purchase gloves/earmuffs/socks for 500 yen, scarf/beanie 1000 yen,crampons for 1350 yen and boot for 4000 yen.  -Raquel Zaragoza, February 2017

 

 

 

Seibuen Amusement Park

seibuen sarah strausLocated about 30 minutes from Yokota is an amusement park to delight any fancy. Seibuen is a spacious, beautifully landscaped park, filled with over 20 attractions. A giant ferris wheel dominates the skyline, while rocket rides, a carousel, a pirate ship, teacups and much more are tucked into the hillsides of the park. The center has a cute Hello Kitty Land.  They even have a heart stopping roller coaster that loops and twists over water.   A unique rotating observation deck provides spectacular views of Sayama Dam.  While modest, seibuen sarah strausSeibuen is a lovely place to spend the afternoon without venturing too far from base. There are several water attractions, including a “wave” pool. These are open only in the summer months.  Parking is readily available and costs ¥1000. For ¥3200/adult and ¥2700/child you can buy a one-day pass with full access to the park, no additional charge for rides. General admission is ¥1000/adult and ¥500/child 3-12. This allows admission to the park, but you will have to purchase tickets for the attractions. The ticket machines are located near the entrance of each ride. Depending on the ride, tickets range from ¥200 and up. In December the Christmas lights are spectacular.   There is also ice skating from mid December to mid March.  During the Christmas lights display arrive at 4pm and purchase an all inclusive ticket for ¥1300/person (unless you are planning to ride, then it will cost Y2300).  Lights turn on at 5:15pm and it is fun to enjoy all the rides in a sea of Christmas lights. Food stalls and drinks are readily available, but kind of pricey. You can bring your own lunch.  GPS coordinates to parking lot: 35.770426, 139.440549.
seibuen sarah strausDIRECTIONS:  Exit the East gate and turn left.  Turn right at the 7/11 and go straight for 1 kilometer.  Turn left onto Route 59 (also Route 55) as if you are going to Aeon Mall.  Pass the Aeon Mall and continue on this road as it winds past Noyama Kita Obstacle Course Park and into the mountains.  This road parallels the running/biking path on the right and also Tama Lake.  Before you reach Seibu Dome the road dead-ends into a T intersection.  Turn right here and then an immediate left (do not go over the bridge that crosses Tama Lake).  Continue along this road past Seibu Dome and to the amusement park.  This road dead-ends at another T intersection at the amusement park.  Turn left and look for road down to the Seibuen parking lot on the right.  –  Donna Alexander, updated Sarah Straus, December 2012

sarah straus seibuenComments & Photos: Sarah Straus, December 2013: We went to Seibuen again this year for the Christmas lights display.  At ages 4 and 6 our kids were just the right age to really appreciate almost all of the rides in the park, though I think they would be fun for older kids too.  Last year we went on a night that was really crowded.  This year we went on a Saturday night in the middle of December and it was quiet – which made the whole experience even more enjoyable for us.  We were able to ride everything multiple times and get right on the Ferris Wheel.  The rotating observation deck has a really lovely view – don’t miss it.

Big Bear Chalets, Hakuba

Big Bear Chalets, located in Hakuba outside Nagano, is possibly the best cabin that we’ve stayed in.  It has all the amenities of a house plus private in-cabin onsen and it makes for a fun destination in itself.   We had so much fun at the cabin that we found it hard to leave. Our 2 bedroom cabin fit up to 6 adults comfortably and there’s plenty of space to squeeze the kids in.  Bedrooms have American sized full beds. Bring your own food and cook in the full sized kitchen minus an oven.  It is located walking distance to local eats (sweet, savory, or noodles – Mexican too) as well as a 7/11.  Staying here you can enjoy nature hikes, bike trails, and fishing pond.  In winter come for the skiing and walk from the chalet to the ski lifts.  Tip: Owner Darrin suggests that the best time for skiing is late March/early April.  At that time, there are fewer people, much less traffic and the cost of lodging is almost half the December – March price. The snow quality is much better as well.  During peak season (Dec-Mar), the snow is not optimal due to crowds. Hakuba become a popular ski spot after the winter Olympics took place here in 1998.  In winter it fills up with Australians and skiers from all over Asia.  The chalet is expensive, but priced for the unit, not by person.  Split the cost with another family or two to make for a more cost effective vacation.
Directions: GPS 36.705053 ,137.840202.  About a 4 hour drive, located in Hakuba. – Anna S., November 2012

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