Saitama #1: Soka Senbei (草加せんべい)

Saitama’s very first card features Soka-style Senbei, made famous in the Soka City area. Senbei are rice crackers that are baked. They’re pretty big crackers, and come in many flavors. Senbei became popular because it was easy to transport the crackers to Tokyo (then known as Edo) by boat along the river, and the cracker became fashionable as a snack. Today, these senbei are eaten everywhere in Japan.

The crackers you can buy in grocery stores and snack shops are inevitably machine made these days, but a few shops in the more traditional areas still often have a senbei shop making them by hand. And of course, if you stop by Soka City in Saitama, you can head to one of the over 70 shops making them to this day!

I’ve never been to Soka, but I’ve certainly bought senbei at one of the shops that sell that style. This particular one is in Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma Prefecture… but due to their popularity, they can be found all over Japan!

Let’s enjoy some senbei from now on!

Saitama #6: Iwatsuki/Girl’s Festival Dolls (岩槻人形(雛人形) )

Iwatsuki, a ward in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, grew famous in the 17th century as a major producer of hand crafted dolls because of the large amounts and high quality of the kiri (paulonia) trees that grow in the area. They became most famous for producing the special dolls displayed during Hina Matsuri, or the girl’s festival held every March 3rd. Saitama’s 6th postcard celebrates this long tradition in the “doll town” of Iwatsuki.

You can read more about the origins and traditions of Hina Matsuri here, and all about the dolls and what they stand for. There are up to 7 levels of dolls, and it is common in Japan for grandparents to buy their granddaughters a set (or at least the top two main dolls) to display at this time. I have seen many of these dolls, though I don’t have a set myself, and each one is beautiful and unique!

A town I lived in until recently has an annual display of Hina Matsuri dolls, with local collectors and owners lending the dolls to be displayed in town.

My town’s Doll Festival display

A close up of the upper levels. Most girls have at least the top two dolls, representing the emperor and empress.

Iwatsuki is the main producer of Hina dolls in Japan, so any retailer selling around the country is probably selling dolls from Iwatsuki! But if you’d like to get up close and personal to the dolls and makers themselves, Iwatsuki is an easy trip from Tokyo, and there is a lot to do in the town.

Of course, if you can visit on March 3rd, that is the best time to see not only the dolls, but a real life procession, and other fun events. However the two museums, Tougyoku Dolls Hall and the Tokyu Doll Museum are open to visitors year-round. Moreover, with a walk around the area it is easy to spot workshops and stores around the area.

Enjoy girl’s day and these beautiful dolls!

Saitama 5 – Kangiin Shotendo (歓喜院聖天堂)

Saitama postcard number 5 is the building called “Shotendo” at the temple Kangiin in Kumagaya City, Menuma area. Although it is a well known shrine in and around Saitama, it is difficult to get to and is far away from other popular sights, and therefore is relatively unknown to Japanese living outside the general area, and completely unknown to tourists visiting Japan. As such, it is hard to find good information on it in English. Luckily Saitama’s tourist info site has a good English description of it. You can read about it in English here, and the official site of the temple is here (Japanese only).

Kangiin is nicknamed “Little Nikko” because of the beautiful and ornate craftsmanship of the inner building. It is truly reminiscent of Nikko to those who have visited both, and was declared Saitama’s first “National Treasure Structure” (最初の国宝建造物) in 2012.

Unfortunately, when trying to find this temple, I was sidetracked by a different one very close to it, and as a consequence was too late to take the tour to see the building up close. So these pictures are very bad ones! I will have to go back when I can (earlier this time!) to take better pictures to post here, but meanwhile, here is what I have:

Gate at Kangiin

The main shrine area; Shotendo is attached to the back of it.

Since I was too late to get in, I had to content myself with peering behind the fence at it

This was the best I could do… oops!

Around the corner… still can’t get a good view!

Oh well, it’s only an hour from me, I’ll go back for better pictures another time!