The second place I visited over the Golden Week holiday period was Totoro’s Forest (トトロの森) in Sayama, Saitama. Located just outside of Tokyo, it took less than an hour to get there by train from my dormitory.
Sayama Hills (aka Totoro’s Forest) is apparently the woodland area from which Hayao Miyazaki got his inspiration for the film My Neighbour Totoro.
My adopted Japanese grandmother called Atusko, who is one of my customers at the tearoom, invited me to go visit Totoro’s Forest with her.
This forest has been under threat since the 70s/80s as more of the land has been lost to urban development, so Mr Miyazaki set up the Totoro no Furusato Fund in 1990 to protect the environment. There is a walking map guide of the woodland area that has several paths marked out that you can follow to explore Sayama.
The first place we headed for on the map was the House of Kurosuke (クロスケの家). This is a traditional house that is over 100 years old and is now the office for the National Trust Totoro Fund. Kurosuke is actually the name of the Japanese “Black Soot Sprites” that you see in the film.
In this area there are 3 traditional buildings from the early Showa era, including the main office building. You can enter these buildings but only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10am-3pm (very weird days and times) so unfortunately it was closed when we went. But apparently they have all the original memorabilia from the film on display inside the buildings, so I plan to go back there again with Atsuko in the future.
We sat outside the building above (an old storage house) for a mid-morning snack and as I was taking photos of the building I noticed that underneath the beams there were several soot sprites dotted along the walls! Such a cute feature!
Round the back of the main building is a traditional tea factory house which has the old machines that were used to make green tea.
It is such a quiet and peaceful area that is full of plants and flowers, as well as farm land and tea bushes. Atusko insisted that I go and pose next to the bamboo trees surrounding the buildings and asked me to pick a bamboo “Boyfriend” to stand next to for the photos haha.
After we finished taking photos, we decided to see what else is in Sayama and headed towards Lake Sayama for lunch. It turns out that Atusko’s first husband owned a cottage in this area in the 60s but it no longer exists as they sold it and it was taken down. She pointed out where it was before, but the land is just full of greenery now. There are two lakes in this area – Lake Tama and Lake Sayama. The scenery was breathtaking and the weather was perfect.
Since it was such a lovely day, we decided to walk further and head for a different train station instead to come back. We trekked through some mini forests and farmland, and also came across a temple/shrine along the way.
It was a bit weird seeing this temple/shrine as it just appeared out of nowhere on our way to the station. The decorations and ornaments were very elaborate and Atusko was sure it wasn’t a Buddhist/Shinto temple since it wasn’t very Japanese. We saw a sign saying something about Nepal so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.
Dragons seemed to be the theme of this temple as these stairs had a dragon running down either side.
The day ended with dinner near Tokorozawa station at Ootoya, a reasonably cheap chain restaurant that serves Japanese food. Dessert was obligatory and boy was I stuffed at the end of the meal!
I’m so lucky and grateful that Atusko is willing to take me to all these wonderful places. We have plans to do more things together in the future, depending on the weather, so I’ll keep you all posted!
Thanks for reading!