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47 Prefectures from A to Y


Surprising sights in a sunny place

Only an hour north from the heart of Tokyo, Saitama Prefecture has historically served as the Kanto region’s main agricultural breadbasket and as a “bed town” for legions of commuters working in the metropolis. A transition zone between Tokyo and the countryside, the prefecture has a lot to offer visitors, including modern-day marvels, a thriving traditional arts scene, and the fact that it is one of the prefectures with the greatest number of days of annual sunshine.

Located a two-minute train ride from Omiya Station, Saitama’s largest, stands the massive and magnificent Railway Museum. Opened in 2007, the museum displays Japan’s railway history. The trains on exhibit range from the first steam locomotive that ran in Japan to the lavish, customized cars once used to transport the Japanese royal family.

What makes the museum heaven for train buffs, however, is that visitors can get hands-on experience at every imaginable aspect of Japan’s railway system here. That includes operating miniature trains equipped with current technology on a track complete with traffic signals. In addition, simulators allow guests to experience driving full-scale trains—including the bullet train and the world’s only steam locomotive simulator—which they control from inside life-sized control cars.

A short distance from the Railway Museum is Bonsai Village. Bonsai, of course, is the traditional Japanese art of growing miniature trees in various shapes and styles. Bonsai Village includes the tranquil Omiya Bonsai Museum, the world’s first public bonsai museum. Detailed exhibits lucidly illustrate how to spot the sublime beauty in bonsai in a range of different styles. Unlike most bonsai exhibits, where only the final products are shown, the museum is unique in that the art is practiced onsite in its pristine outdoor bonsai garden. World-renowned bonsai artworks are on display here that are sure to inspire both experts and casual observers alike.

Half an hour by train from Omiya in Kasukabe City in the outskirts of the urban sprawl is the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel. The humble ground-level entrance does nothing to prepare visitors for the rest of this mind-boggling subterranean behemoth. The channel was designed to mitigate flood damage in the surrounding area, and incorporates five massive containment silos, each of which could comfortably hold the Statue of Liberty, and a pressure-adjustment room the size of two soccer pitches, all connected by 6.3 kilometers of tunnels. The pressure-adjustment room has fifty-nine massive pillars reminiscent of the Basilica Cistern of Istanbul, giving the room a temple-like appearance, leading to it being featured on TV and movies on nearly one hundred occasions. The gargantuan size of the Channel, an impressive example of Japanese engineering, can only be comprehended when one stands inside it.

Although its proximity to Tokyo sometimes causes the appeal of sunny Saitama to be overshadowed, the opportunity to experience some singular examples of the modern and traditional aspects of Japan make a trip to this prefecture a must.

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