A great day trip to Hidaka and Iruma towns in Saitama
The cities of Hidaka and Iruma in Saitama Prefecture are perfect for a quick getaway to the Kanto Plain. A short 40-minute drive from Yokota Air Force Base will take you to countless area attractions, such as a Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple, a nostalgic neighborhood of old American military homes, sprawling green spaces, and more. .
On a clear day, my wife and I decided to take the road to Hidaka and Iruma to enjoy the warm sun.
From our home in Yokosuka City, we left around 6am and enjoyed a smooth ride with little traffic on the Yoko-Yoko, Daisan Keihin and Kan-etsu expressways. Soon, we arrived at Koma district of Hidaka city before 9 am.
The area is surrounded by lush green forests and mountains, which create a perfect backdrop for the majestic Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple.
Koma Jinja is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the ancient Korean Komanokogi Jakko, who arrived in Japan 1,300 years ago, and Shoden-in Shorakuji is a Buddhist temple with a grave for Jakko.
Both the shrine and the temple are considered strengths of power that provide success in business. Four Japanese politicians who would become Prime Minister during their careers are said to have achieved success after their visits to Komanokogi Jakko shrine and worship.
According to the Koma Shrine, when the ancient Korean kingdom Koguryo (c. 100 BC – 668 AD) fought the allied forces of the Tang and Silla kingdoms, Koguryo’s envoy Komanokogi Jakko was sent to Japan to ask for support military. The defeat and fall of the Koguryo Kingdom in 668 meant that Jakko could not return to Korea.
The Japanese government gave Jakko undeveloped land where Koma District is today. Jakko and other Koreans stayed and developed the land. The Koma District Shrine was built posthumously to enshrine Jakko’s soul, respect his virtue and achievements.
Today, the sanctuary welcomes thousands of visitors in search of luck. As you walk around, there are elements of ancient Korea in the shrine. You will find a pair of stone-carved Korean chansun poles, an amulet to ward off bad luck and evil at the entrance gate, and colorful traditional Korean clothing and paintings displayed in wooden huts built in the shrine . Another interesting fact is that all the priests in this shrine are relatives of Jakko, and the current head priest is the 60th generation in the line of Jakko’s descendants.
Shoden-in Shorakuji, is a five-minute walk away. This is where you will find Jakko’s grave.
Built on a hill, the temple gave us a panoramic view of the district, the Tanzawa and Okutama mountains, and Mount Fuji from the main hall of the temple.
On the back ground of the temple, there is a 16-meter-tall Korean-style memorial tower to console the souls of Koreans who died in Japan, a Korean-style octagonal pavilion, and statues of historical Korean kings and great figures.
After walking in the footsteps of Komanokogi Jakko and ancient Koreans, my wife and I then headed to the nearby town of Iruma.
Koma Jinja (Shinto shrine)
Location: 833 Niibori, Hidaka City, Saitama Prefecture
Shoden-in Shorakuji (Buddhist temple)
Location: 990-1 Niibori, Hidaka City, Saitama Prefecture
TOWN OF IRUMA AND JOHNSON TOWN
Beyond Costco and a mall for shopaholics, Iruma City has a few tourist attractions related to its unique history as an Air Force hub.
In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army established its Air Force Academy in Iruma. Then, at the end of World War II, the US military took control of the airfield and named it Johnson Air Force Base. Johnson would become one of the most important bases during the Korean War and throughout the 1950s. In 1962, the land was returned to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
Today, visitors flock to Johnson Town where the wooden 1950s-style American military housing has been renovated and a few have been turned into shops or restaurants.
We pulled into a large coin-operated parking lot in Johnson Town and a sign said about 130 American homes in the 25,000 square meter area had been restored.
Homes in the Johnson Town neighborhood had neatly trimmed lawns and porches and American-style street signs that made us feel like we had wandered into an old Hollywood movie.
Shops inside some houses sold vintage clothing, antiques, and 1950s American memorabilia. We stopped at Koigakubo, a cafe inside one of the restored American houses, for lunch. Here we enjoyed various baked goods and coffee. The rice flour bread was springy and had a lovely sweetness, which matched the freshly roasted coffee. The cafe also offers fresh ice cream made from local Sayama tea, but we didn’t try it this time.
After our visit to Johnson Town, we headed to central Iruma where we were greeted by vast fields of the same Sayama green tea used for ice cream. The area is known for this high quality green tea, so we stopped at Nakauchide-en, a small tea shop and farm.
The owner of Nakauchide-en offered us a cup of freshly brewed green tea with some great tips for making our own at home. We enjoyed the refreshing aroma of the high-grade leaves and the sweet, crunchy flavor profile. The tea was so tasty that we couldn’t leave without buying a few sachets.
To end our trip to Iruma and Hidaka, we made a final stop at Sainomori Iruma Park, which was built on land ceded by the US military to Japan.
The large park is close to Johnson Town and features two ponds connected by a 225 meter long stream, a barbecue garden and vast grassy fields overflowing with seasonal flowers. We walked along a one mile trail to enjoy the pleasant, wooded atmosphere and the seasonal tulips.
Soon we were back on the road and back home in Yokosuka City after a three hour drive. Although we spent a lot of time in the car, the attractions of Iruma and Hidaka and the lush greenery of the area were worth spending a day exploring. Both towns are a great way to spend a day if you’re in the Kanto region, so make plans!
Town of Johnson
Location: 1-6-1 Azumacho, Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
Nakauchide-en (tea shop)
Location: 660 Shimofujisawa, Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
Koigakubo (bakery & Cefe)
Location: 1-2-27 Azumacho, Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sainomori Iruma Park
Location: 2 Koyodai, Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
SAYAMA TEA PICKING PARTY
Green tea is an essential drink in Japan. This superfood is rich in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins, so you’ll find it everywhere, from drinks to desserts.
Iruma City produces about 2,000 tons of Sayama tea leaves, its flagship product, every year. The tea harvest season begins in May and ends in June. This year, Saitama Prefectural Tea Leaf Laboratory in Iruma City will hold a tea leaf picking event called “Sayama Tea Picking Festa 2022” on June 4th.
During the event, visitors will learn about Sayama tea and how to pick tea leaves for free. No reservation is required. Visit their website for more information on the activities planned for the festa.
2022 Sayama Tea Picking Festival
Date: June 4
Hours: 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Location: 244-2 Kamiyaganuki, Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture