We took a trip out to Hanno, Saitama to visit Moomin Valley Park. Our first overnight trip as a family and first time leaving Kanagawa in over 8 months.
I decided to take a week off work for a nice autumn break – my first proper break since January when my brother came to visit. Rather than just lay around the house we took advantage of GoToTavel, a Japanese government program during covid to subsidize domestic tourism. The program subsidizes both hotel bookings and provides a set amount of vouchers for local spending (we got ¥6,000).
Our main destination was Moomin Valley Park about 90km away. We could have gone by train, but it would have taken an hour longer and require that we go to central Tokyo first. Cost wise is about the same with tolls and gas, so we decided to go by car. It was our first long-ish trip since we go our Honda Freed in April. I am fairly happy that we managed to get 19.5kpl (46 mpg) on the highway.
Our route was simple, too. Take the Shonan-bypass to the Ken-o expressway and get off at the Hanno exit. It was uneventful except for when I a wrong turn and got the highway instead of changing to the Ken-o expressway. In addition to accidentally getting off the highway, I also missed my turn to get back on. In Texas there's nice long on-ramps for getting on the expressways, but in Japan it's more like a small road to a curvy ramp so they're easier to miss. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Besides the human errors, after settings adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, the car mostly drove itself down the highway.
Metsä Village is a Scandinavian themed shopping center and park. Inside the park there's shops that sell Scandi wares from the like of Artek, Marimekko, Arabia, Scandinavian themed restaurants and cafes, and the crown jewel, Moomin Valley Park.
The entire area is centered around Lake Miyazawa. With all the trees and the water the air smelled so fresh and clean. It was great. The whole area allows dogs, so there were almost as many dogs as children running about as well.
They say that Moomin's second home outside of Finland is Japan. And with Moomin Valley they've recreated parts of the world of the Moomin universe, including Moomin's house, which you can tour inside.
The park starts on the east side of the lake and extends along the north side of the lake. While Moomin Valley Park technically an amusement park, there's not roller coasters or rides. Instead there's plenty of space for kinds to run around, a huge jungle gym in the forest, a craft workshop, and a Moomin Museum. For families with young children it's great.
It's a small 4-story house that is modeled in quite detail. Unfortunately there's no photos allowed of the inside. With covid social distancing restrictions they're limiting the time it to one group per floor at a time. The basement and the first floor are free and we had a day-pass so we could visit the top two floors as well.
Leo really liked Moomin's house so we saw the first two floors 4-times :-)
Up in the forest is a huge playground where we spent a solid 45-minutes to an hour playing. Leo was too little for the high-speed twisty tube slide, but we found another fast slide that you had to walk across rope suspension bridges in the trees. After a few times holding hands across to go across the bridges, Leo found the confidence to do it all by himself.
We had dinner at the Denny's next to our hotel. Japanese Denny's isn't anything like Denny's in America - no burgers or grand-slams, just hamburg, Japanese fried-food, and other family friendly foods. The last time I was in a Denny's was probably well over a year ago and Leo had a small melt down while we waiting for food. This time around, he was well behaved, ate his dinner and was stress free. They do call them "family restaurants" for a reason, I suppose.
Day two was a half-day. We didn't have much of a plan other than to visit the original Moomin Park, which is part of a city park, and grab lunch at an organic vegetarian cafe I'd heard about. We almost didn't visit the cafe as we were still quite full from the hotel breakfast.
While killing time in the morning we walked to the station. Leo can't walk past a station and not ride trains. So we rode from Hanno to East Hanno station about 1 minute away. While waiting for our local train we got to see the Seibu 0001 series, Laview, which was a real treat. I'd seen it on TV, but wasn't expecting to see it in person.
Laview is an express train that goes from Ikebukuro in Tokyo to Chichibu, deep into Saitama. Besides just coming out last year, what makes it unique is the giant windows to allow passengers to see more of the beautiful Saitama country side. It didn't disappoint and I'm glad Leo made us ride the train.
Tove Jannson is the author of Moomin's and as such this park is also Moomin themed. Unfortunately all of the structures were was closed at the Tove Jannson Akebono Children's Forest Park when we visited, so we were only able to walk around briefly outside.
You can't miss their building, as it's great big red American barn house. The food was really good, too. I had a tomato stew with quinoa, Leo had one slice of pita pizza and Yumi's pumpkin croquette.
All of the seating was outside on a large balcony overlooking a clear river. Between the fixtures of the American-style barn house and view from the balcony, it almost felt like I was back in Wimberly, Texas.
After lunch Leo and I spent a few minutes watching the fish and ducks swim around doing their thing.
The drive home was easier than the drive there. Part of that is that I'd gotten more used to the highways and knew better what to expect. The other part was that the navi routed us home without needing to ride the Shonan bypass, so we just needed to ride the Ken-o expressway for around an hour.
Hannō was a lot of fun and I can't wait to go back again some day.