Incorporating the former cities of Urawa, Omiya, Yono and Iwatsuki, Saitama was founded in 2001 and lies in the Greater Tokyo area being only 15-30km north of central Tokyo. Many of the locals actually commute to Tokyo for work, so I guess this is more of a bedroom city with most tourists only coming to Saitama for a day. Its name comes from the "Sakitama" district that has an ancient history and is mentioned in the famous 8th Century poetry anthology "Man'yoshu". The pronunciation changed from Sakitama to Saitama over time.
Sitting in the heart of the Kanto Plain, its landscape is that of lowlands and plateaus falling below 20m above sea level with not a mountain or hill in sight. The western part of the city is down in the lowland of the Arakawa River, whilst the rest of the city is perched on the Omiya Plateau.
"Little Edo" at Kawagoe is a stunning example of traditional Japanese architecture where you can meander alleyways that will have you dreaming of yesteryear and you can poke your nose into quaint artisan stores stuffed with Kawagoe's specialty product, Japanese sweet potato - think mini-candies, ice cream (mmm...) and giant crackers. You can go river boating on the Arakawa River in a traditional wooden riverboat or hurtle along the rapids in a dinghy, depending on your mood and maybe whether you have gorged yourself on sweet potato ice cream. If you are in the frame of mind to paint yourself red and destroy your vocal cords screaming, then head to an Urawa Reds game at the Saitama stadium. For the thirsty soul there are tours of sake breweries when you will get the chance to more than sample the famous sake of Saitama.
When the headache threatens to kill your brain waves, head to Chichibu and chill out gazing at more than 400,000 tiny "shibazakura" (aka moss phlox) blooming or pig out on steamed rice buns.
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