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Welcome to Omiya, the gateway station to Saitama!

Welcome to Omiya, the gateway station to Saitama!

Ōmiya Station (大宮駅 Ōmiya-eki) is a stop on more than half of the Shinkansen routes in Japan, but the surrounding museums, shrines, gardens, and local cuisine of Saitama Prefecture still feel like some of Japan's best kept secrets. For an off-the-beaten-path spot in Japan that's so accessible it's a stop on the Shinkansen, try a visit to Omiya, and stay a night in Saitama!

 

Saitama: A prefecture with plenty of surprises

Scenic spots near Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

As Tokyo's northern neighbour, Saitama is an unexplored treasure trove of culture, food, and fun for many travellers visiting Japan, most of whom never seem to save enough time for the trip just outside the borders of Japan's capital. Those who make the journey to Saitama are rewarded with tranquil Japanese gardens, bustling museums, ancient shrines, luxurious meals, and friendly nightlife.

 

And yet, many tourists leapfrog the area in favour of better-known destinations. Fortunately, Saitama is easy enough to get to from Tokyo, or even better, directly from Narita or Haneda Airport. And every JR EAST Shinkansen line heading into Japan's picturesque northern regions first stops in Saitama's Ōmiya Station, which is both a transportation hub and a thriving centre of Saitama city life. If you're planning a trip from Tokyo or its airports to Sendai, Aomori, Niigata, Nagano, Kanazawa, or any of the other well-known areas in the northeastern half of Japan, Ōmiya Station is already on the way! For travellers hoping to pack in as many of Japan's wonders as will fit into a journey through the country, a stop in Omiya and a quick look at Saitama is the perfect way to add a whole variety of new experiences to the trip.

 

To find some of Saitama's hidden treasures, we consulted with those who know best: the JR staff at the local Saitama train stations! Join us as we check out their recommendations for the best things to do in Saitama.

 

Ōmiya Station: A station for train lovers

Welcome to Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)


The Railway Town Omiya. (Image credit: JR EAST)

 

Ōmiya Station was first established in 1885, when the Nippon Railway was building some of the first train lines to connect Tokyo with regions further north, and the rush of people travelling those popular routes turned it into the busy major station found today. The Omiya area entered the modern era hand in hand with the local railroads, and it's now one of a handful of "Railway Towns'' across Japan, officially dubbed "Railway Town Omiya". These days Ōmiya Station is one of the top ten busiest JR East stations, and the many JR EAST Shinkansen lines passing through make it one of the most convenient gateways to Saitama and northern Japan, but they also make it a wonderland for fans of bullet trains.

 

Inside Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

Ōmiya Station has three Shinkansen platforms lined up next to each other, something of a rarity even in Japan, and the central platform even has an established Shinkansen viewing area for the trains. But the Shinkansen platform isn't even the only popular spot for train-watchers at Ōmiya Station!

 

Next door, the Omiya General Rolling Stock Center was built with tracks connecting to Ōmiya Station back in 1894, and it still operates as a maintenance facility for JR trains of all kinds. Take a peek at the area beyond Ōmiya Station's track 11, and if you're lucky, you might just be able to join some fellow railway fanatics in checking out a super rare train on its way for repairs.

 

The many shops and restaurants inside Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

Ōmiya Station is bustling on both sides of the ticket gates, with a whole mall of shops and restaurants attached to the station facilities, event spaces often used to sell regional products from around Japan, and ample options for eki-ben (駅弁 train station lunch boxes) to eat during your next Shinkansen ride.

 

A hint from Ōmiya Station’s staff: if you're not sure which eki-ben to choose, they recommend Tōge no Kamameshi (峠の釜めし) from Oginoya, the Gyūniku Domannaka (肉どまん中) that features Yamagata domannaka rice and wagyu beef, or one of the handful of heated(!) bento boxes made with Sendai beef tongue (牛タン gyūtan)! 

 

The JR EAST Travel Service Center at Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: JR EAST)

 

But one spot that travellers will want to check out in the station is the JR EAST Travel Service Center, where JR travel experts are waiting to help visitors plan the trip of their dreams, or just offer a helpful suggestion or two. It's a great place to get some fresh ideas to add to your travel plans, and the Station Work booths hidden away beside the counter are probably the best place to find a little peace and quiet while waiting for a train, according to Ōmiya Station’s staff. 

 

If you need a meeting point to find your friends or family after exploring the station, Omiya locals will tell you that the huge metal Mamenoki (豆の木 bean tree) is everyone's favourite spot. Meet back at the Mame no Ki before you get on the train, or before you head out of the station and into the Omiya area.

 

Explore the nightlife around Ōmiya Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

For a dose of rich local culture, spend the evening in the area around Ōmiya Station for good food and plentiful drinks. The many railway workshop workers populating the area for the last century have made napolitan pasta (spaghetti with ketchup sauce) a local favourite, to the point that many local restaurants specialise in the dish, and belong to the Omiya Napolitan Association.

 

For izakaya pubs buzzing with the locals, plus other bars and general nightlife, a couple of the streets near the station are particularly popular after dark. According to the Ōmiya Station staff, Suzuran-dori Street (すずらん通り Suzuran-dōri) is the place to go for Japanese chains and bigger places where they're more likely to speak English, whereas nearby West Side Street has more little hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants. No matter which establishment you end up in, though, you'll get a good idea of what Omiya nightlife is all about!

 

BONUS: Travel back in time at The Railway Museum

The Railway Museum. (Image credit: The Railway Museum)

 

Near the station, The Railway Museum is worth a visit whether you're a railway fanatic or not, to see the fabulous rolling stock room filled with real trains both old and new, along with one of Japan's largest model railway dioramas, and hands-on exhibits on everything from the science of railway mechanisms to music and movies inspired by trains. Their many railway simulators are especially popular with museum visitors, offering the chance to drive a simulated Hayabusa Shinkansen and a simulated steam locomotive, or even try working as a train conductor by opening train doors and making announcements.

 

Dining inside an old train car. (Image credit Japankuru)

 

If you're feeling hungry, you can pick up a real eki-ben and eat your bento in an old train car! To get to the museum, you can take Saitama New Urban Transit New Shuttle just one stop to Tetsudō-Hakubutsukan Station (鉄道博物館駅 Tetsudō-Hakubutsukan-eki), which is directly connected to the museum entrance.

 

The Railway Museum (鉄道博物館)
Address: 3-47 Onari-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama 330-0852
Access: 1-minute walk from Saitama New Urban Transit New Shuttle Tetsudō-Hakubutsukan Station (鉄道博物館駅)
Operating hours: 10am5pm (closed on Tuesdays & New Year's holidays)
*Note: Ticket prices due to change from April 2024.

 

Saitama-Shintoshin Station: Spend a night at a swanky hotel

Spend a night at Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

After a day of seeing the sights, Saitama-Shintoshin Station (さいたま新都心駅 Saitama-Shintoshin-eki) offers an ideal place to end the night. To the east of the station, the Cocoon City complex of shopping and dining options offers a place to wind down for the night and grab a bite to eat. West of the station, the Keyaki Hiroba plaza often hosts markets and light displays for a little bit of evening entertainment.

 

And just a few steps outside of the station, Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin provides a comfortable place to spend the night with Superior Single, Double, and Twin rooms, alongside the more deluxe Executive Twin rooms. This four-star hotel is known as the go-to spot for travellers going to events at the nearby Saitama Super Arena, but it's actually a favourite for railway fanatics too, thanks to the birds-eye view of Saitama-Shintoshin Station offered from the stationside guest rooms.

 

Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin’s breakfast buffet. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

Guests also choose the Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin for its breakfast buffet, which takes full advantage of fresh eggs, soy sauce, and other ingredients grown or produced locally to create flavorful Japanese and Western breakfast staples. Their quiche and their inaka-jiru (田舎汁 countryside soup) miso soup always get rave reviews, and the house-made dressings at the salad bar are so popular that the staff apparently get asked to sell bottles of it with some frequency.

 

Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin’s breakfast counter. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

Unfortunately, the dressing isn't available for sale, but the hotel's custom-made coffee and tea blends are! At other times of day, the hotel cafe also offers lunch with a la carte mains, along with dinner on Saturdays. The desserts available with the lunch buffet often include seasonal specialties, like sweets made with local Amarin strawberries—specially developed by a Saitama-based research facility—available for a limited time (15 January–29 February 2024). Plus, at night, the cafe and lobby walls also serve as a huge canvas for seasonal projection mapping!

 

Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin (ホテルメトロポリタン さいたま新都心)
Address: JR Saitama-Shintoshin Bldg 510F, 11-1 Shintoshin, Chuo-ku, Saitama 330-0081
Access: 1-minute walk from Saitama-Shintoshin Station (さいたま新都心駅)
Check-in/check-out times: 3pm / 11am

 

BONUS: An unassuming shrine with profound history

The gate to Hikawa Shrine. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

After a night in Saitama, a trip to Hikawa Shrine is the perfect way to enjoy one last bit of local sightseeing before moving on. There are actually 250 Hikawa Shrines around Japan's Kanto region, but this oneofficially called the Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine (武蔵一宮氷川神社 Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa-jinja)is the head branch of them all, and shrine tradition states that it was established in the year 473 BCE.

 

Hikawa Shrine’s inner compound. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

The shrine's big claim to fame is the official shrine path leading to the entrance, which stretches a full two kilometres straight out from the entrance, with the very furthest shrine gate located just about a block away from Saitama-Shintoshin Station. It's the longest shrine path in Japan, and although it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, the picturesque tree-lined walk is a refreshing way to start the day. Once you reach the end, you're rewarded with the shrine itself, with its grand halls and wide-open grounds.

 

Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine (武蔵一宮氷川神社)
Address: 1-47 Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama 330-0803
Operating hours: 6am5pm
Access: 30-minute walk from Saitama-Shintoshin Station (さいたま新都心駅) via the shrine path, or 18-minute walk from Ōmiya Station (大宮駅)

 

See you soon in Saitama!

Aerial view of Saitama-Shintoshin Station. (Image credit: Japankuru)

 

There's nothing better than a Shinkansen adventure in Japan, and one of the best things about taking a traininstead of a plane or busis all the stops you can make along the way. So the next time your travel plans include a trip to the green mountains of Japan's western coastHokuriku (北陸) or Shinetsu (信越)or the snowy northeastern reaches of Tohoku (東北), add a stop in Omiya to your itinerary. Stop by Saitama to add a little extra to your next trip to Japan!

 

Want more information on hidden gems that you can find in areas in Saitama? Then hop over to JAPAN RAIL CLUB and check out their blog article as well, where you can find out more about museums, delicious local food and beverage recommendations, and a historical district that takes you back in time!

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass, and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass is an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At ¥15,000, you can use it not just to Omiya, but also within Tokyo, the neighbouring regions, and many other places within the designated areas. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Header image credit: Japankuru

 

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*The information above is accurate as of December 2023.

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