Atsugi, Kanagawa: The city of rich culture, history and natural beauty
Surrounded by beautiful mountains and hot springs, Atsugi is an attractive city full of history and rich tradition.
Located at the west end of the Kanto Plain, Atsugi is a fairly accessible city via the Tomei Expressway.
Despite the name, Naval Air Facility Atsugi is not situated within the city, but in neighboring cities of Ayase and Yamato.
Atsugi has an interesting history. It developed early on by producing a lot of large bells for Buddhist temples in the medieval era and throughout the modern feudal era.
“Atsugi, especially around Hon-Atsugi Station, will offer you nice strolling experience,” says Fritz Suga, Stars and Stripes Zama District Manager. “While strolling there, you can see new and old attractions coexisting within the town.”
Suga is right. During a trip with my wife, we found historical Atsugi Shrine and Hoanji Temple along with traditional tofu, tatami-mats and futon shops situated on the same street as old-style American diners and bars.
Kotobukicho Town behind Atsugi Central Park was known as an entertainment district where geisha girls used to stroll under the sound of shamisen (Japanese banjo). Today, you’ll see nothing but a few old-looking eateries and pubs scattered in quiet residential area. But, once the eateries and pubs turn on their lights at night, the district gains a somewhat elegant look and that would remind you of good ol’ days, according to Suga.
The town offers attractions for children, as well. Atsugi City Children’s Museum of Science is a nice museum where kids can learn basic scientific theories and technologies through playing various games for free. By purchasing one-year passport (800 yen [adult] - 200 yen [ages 4-12]), you can enjoy various astronomical shows at the planetarium housed in the museum throughout the year.
Post Hobby in the Aeon Mall is known as the biggest hobby shop in the region. The numbers of model figures, minicars, railroad models and other hobby items overwhelm those of other shops.
Post Hobby Atsugi
Location: 1-5-10 [8F] Nakamachi, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Atsugi City Children’s Museum of Science
Location: 1-1-3 [7F] Nakamachi, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tasty lunch at a tiny café
Having enjoyed strolling through Atsugi, we drove about 30-minutes before dropping by a popular tiny café in Aikawa Town.
Hosaku is a café situated on the second floor of a tiny storehouse along the road running between Atsugi and Lake Miyagase. After walking up a steep staircase, we entered the café. It was a cozy interior with clean white walls, as well as high ceilings and accommodated 10.
Locals and tourists frequent it between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for well-priced lunch specials.
Following the shop owner Kazuyo Yogi’s recommendation, we ordered the Daily Lunch Set for 1,000 yen ($9) and a Roast Beef Bowl for 1,400 yen ($12.50).
The daily set features local fresh mountain vegetables. Although they were not strongly-seasoned, as they were really fresh, the sweetness of each of vegetable really stood out in the homemade dressing. The roast beef was juicy and chewy and went perfectly with black rice.
In brief, the dishes were tasty as well as very healthy.
“We always try offering dishes as healthy as possible,” Yogi said.
The lunch sets came with vegetable soup, salad and hand-dripped coffee.
The rich flavor of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans were really refreshing, and to fully enjoy the high-end coffee, we ordered homemade chiffon cake and pound cake with black sesame. The cakes were also wonderful!
Location: 482 [2F] Hanbara, Aikawa Town, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.,
Garage shop open only weekends
In Aikawa Town, there is a popular interior and accessory shop called Débutant, which offers a hidden retreat for those who are touring outside the Atsugi area. Although the shop is open only weekends and holidays, tourists are frocked to the casual garage shop seeking rural feel and unique cute accessories and house items.
“I hope my shop is a place for anyone escaping from the hustle and bustle of town life,” says owner Hiromi Morita.
A Japanese shiba dog, Hatsu, welcomes customers into the shop, which is housed in an old wooden garage. It offers a wide-range of interior goods, accessories, gardening items and stationaries for reasonable prices. Among hundreds of items available in the shop, glass flowers for around 300 – 2,000 yen ($2.50-18) are especially popular, according to Morita.
Drop by Débutant the next time you’re looking for some unique, Japanese items.
Location: 534-10 Mimase, Aikawa Town, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: Sat, Sun and Holidays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/zakka.debutant
Down on the farm
Located in Aikawa Town, near Café Hosaku and Débutant, Hattori Farm is a picturesque tourist farm and a must-see attraction for animal lovers. The farm has horses, cows, donkeys, rabbits, chickens and goats. There are ice cream parlor and souvenir shop within the farm, as well.
Location: 6087 Hanbara, Aikawa Town, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Spa a natural for healthy and smooth skin
Situated near the zipline park, Nanasawa Onsen is a peaceful natural hot spring resort, known as “spa for the beauty,” as its strong alkaline spring water is known to help to keep skin healthy and smooth.
After parking, we saw wild boar cages in the parking lot. According to a staffer, there are a lot of boar in the area, and they catch them to cook them for “Shishinabe” (pan of wild boar pork), a popular local delicacy from October to April every year.
With 900 yen ($8) for admission, we entered one of the seven hot spring inns to bathe in its hot spring pool.
In male bath hall, I found a large wooden pool with a bamboo garden and water-wheel for a backdrop. With moderate sunshine filtering through the bamboo trees, the garden was very quiet and peaceful.
The hot spring was amazing. I could feel the strong alkaline spring water - heavy, smooth and slimy. It felt like I was bathing in soap. With moderate water temperature, and no other bathers, I was able to enjoy a good, long soak to my heart’s content.
When I got out of the water, I was nice and warm while my skin felt wet and smooth.
Location: 1751 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Pref. (40-minute drive from NAF Atsugi)
Admission: 900 yen, chartered bath (40 minutes) for 2,000 yen
URL: www.fukumatsu.co.jp/ (Japanese)
TEL: 046-248-0324 (Japanese)
Adventure Park a zippin’ good time!
Situated in the hilly terrain of Nanasawa, the 270,000-square-foot Tree Cross Adventure is a popular athletic attraction, which houses six adventure courses and more.
The park’s safety systems allows you to enjoy your adventure at your own pace, without help of instructors and others.
The course is laid out nicely, as it starts with an easy activity and gradually gets tougher as you proceeded. With each activity you finish, you become more and more comfortable with the gear, which helps in the tougher sections. One of the platforms was nearly 50-feet above the ground, and the variety of courses include activities, such as a zipline, Tarzan swing, bouldering and more.
The highlight of the adventure is a 570-foot long zipline over 100 feet above the ground. After completing all the various other activities, the giant zipline felt rewarding. The 20-second long zipline that runs about 24 miles per hour, felt as if we were flying through the woods, and gave us a great view of Nanasawa Town.
Tree Cross Adventure Atsugi Nanasawa
Location: 1826 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: Mon. - Fri.: 10 a.m. - sunset; Sat., Sun. and holidays: 9 a.m. – sunset (close Wed. for Dec – Feb) Schedule may change due to weather conditions.
Admission: 18 or older: 3,600 yen; 10-17: 2,600 yen; One-Year Pass: 10,000 yen
TEL: 080-3306-7738 (reservation)
Joint serves up tasty Thai food
Wai Wai is a tiny yet tasty Thai food joint located at the entrance of Nanasawa hot spring resort.
Following some advice, my wife and I dropped by to get a taste of Wai Wai’s lunch.
We ordered tom yum kung ramen for 820 yen and a plate of green curry and fried chicken for 820 yen. During lunch time (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.), each dish comes with dessert and pickled vegetables. Cold chai with tapioca, and mango juice with tapioca for 400 yen, went well with these Thai dishes.
I’m a big fan of Thai dishes, which typically have all four basic tastes – sweet, bitter, hot and sour at the same time.
Despite my belief that Thai foods must be always extremely spicy, the dishes at Wai Wai were rather gen-tle and mild.
Being fully flavored, and shrimps, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients were really fresh and tasty, the four basic tastes stood out respectively. So, I actually didn’t feel to apply any more spice or seasoning to the dishes. If you wish to make it even spicier, you can use the furnished Thai seasonings on the table.
According to Mami Ikeda who runs the restaurant with her husband, Akira, their soup was made from famed natural spring water of Tanzawa Mountains and homemade herbs and vegetables.
“Nanasawa is blessed with clean spring water and vegetables, and that greatly helps us to cook tasty Thai dishes” Ikeda said.
According to Ikeda, their food experiences during a trip to various Asian countries drove them start the restaurant.
“We found Thai dishes the most delicious among Asian dishes,” she said. “My children, especially, were hooked on mild and tasty Thai noodles.”
Confident that Thai noodles would be accepted and enjoyed by Japanese, Ikeda’s husband quit his job and started learning how to cook Thai. When they finally began making their own soup 22 years ago, they started by selling out of a mobile truck.
“It has been 6 years since we opened the current restaurant in Nanasawa,” Ikeda said.
“We love beautiful mountains of Nanasawa as much as tasty Thai foods.”
If you stop by Nanasawa for the onsen or zip lining, be sure to drop by Wai Wai for some tasty Thai and warm hospitality.
Location: 1432 Nanasawa Atsugi City, Kanagawa Pref.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (closed Mon.)
TEL: 046-281-8581 (Japanese)