Not all cities in Japan are as well-advertised as Tokyo. Hidden within the crevices of each Prefecture in every region are gems of places to travel in. Kumagaya is one of those cities.
What is Kumagaya?
Located in the Saitama Prefecture in the central Kanto Region of Japan, Kumagaya has a total land area of approximately 160 square kilometers with a population density of about 1,250 persons per square kilometer. It is one of the largest cities in northern Saitama Prefecture. 8 national highways and 3 railway lines benefit the city: JR East Joetsu and Nagano Shinkansen, Takasaki Line, and Chichibu Railway.
Its fertile land, green environment, and abundant water supplies have combined to provide a good balance of agriculture, commerce, and industry. The attractions of Kumagaya include the designated national treasure of the Shotendo Hall at Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple, the cherry blossom walk along the Kumagai Sakura Tsutsumi embankment, the Kumagaya Uchiwa Matsuri Festival, and the historical Kumagaya Fireworks Festival.
The city is a mere 60 kilometers from central Tokyo, 45 kilometers from Saitama City and sits on the southern edge of the Arakawa River with the Tone River to the north. It’s home to many schools (56 of them – from elementary to senior high school) and one university, Rissho University – Kumagaya Campus.
The Expansion of Kumagaya
Designated as a city on April 1, 1933, Kumagaya became a new, bigger city on October 1, 2005, after taking in the district of Osato and Menuma. After absorbing the town of Konan on February 13, 2007, Kumagaya became the first city in the Northern Saitama Prefecture to have a population of more than 200,000, making it the eleventh biggest city in Saitama.
Learn More About Japan: The History of Kumagaya City
Kumagaya City was named after a 12th-century warrior named Kumagai Naozane. Starting out as a small trading post during the Edo period, the city prospered through its silk and cement industries during the Meiji Period. In 1889, the municipalities system was established, creating the modern town of Kumagaya.
From 1923 to 1932 the villages of Koizka, Narita, and Oohata were absorbed and Kumagaya became a city in 1933. Unfortunately, on August 14, 1945, Kumagaya was heavily bombed with 74% of its infrastructure destroyed and 28% of its population decimated—mere hours before the formal acceptance of the surrender of Japan by the US. From 1954 to 2007, the villages of Chujo, Beppu, Nara, Mishiri, Yoshioka, Ooi, Hoshimiya, Osato, Menuma and the town of Konan were annexed, turning Kumagaya into the commercial, administrative and transport center of northern Saitama Prefecture that it is today.
One of the Largest Cities in the Saitama Prefecture
There are 40 cities located in Saitama Prefecture which has a total land area of 3,798 square kilometers and a population of around 7,240,000. Although reportedly one of the largest cities in the Saitama Prefecture, Kumagaya City only has a population of about 200,000 compared to Saitama City which is home to about 1.264 million people. Saitama City has a population density of 5,814 persons/square kilometer against Kumagaya City’s 1.240 persons/square kilometer—making it almost 5 times denser than Kumagaya City.
A Guide to Exploring Kumagaya
It’s always smart to come equipped with knowledge about a place you’re visiting before you get there. While Kumagaya isn’t exactly comparable to the tourist spot that Shibuya is in terms of popularity, its charm is sure to capture your heart. You can discover an exhaustive list of new places to see and exciting things to do here - from amazing sights to historical monuments, natural attractions to places to eat and drink-- adventure and entertainment await any traveler who visits Kumagaya.
Things to Do in Kumagaya
- Twenty-five minutes by bus from the Kumagaya Station, one can visit the first building in Saitama Prefecture to be listed as a national treasure-- the Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple. This temple, whose main hall is covered by colorful scriptures, is one of Japan’s three greatest temples that enshrine Nandikesvara.
- From late April to early May, 40,000 ground pink flowers from 9 different varieties may be viewed and admired covering a land area of approximately 17,600 square meters. The site is approximately 50 minutes by Chichibu Railway from JR Kumagaya Station to Ohanabatake Station.
- For some outdoor fun, one can take a boat ride and enjoy the magnificent canyon scenery of Chichibu and Nagatoro. Both locations have been designated as Special Natural Monuments and may be reached by a mere 5-minute walk from the Chichibu Railway.
- Visit the Menuma Kangiin Shodenzan Temple. The Shodenzan Temple starts at the Kisoumon Gate, which was built in 1851. Behind the Main Hall of the temple is the Inner Hall, which houses a statue of Shoden, the God of Bliss. The second name of the temple is Kainggin, which means Temple of Bliss. The outer walls of the Inner Hall feature quite an impressive amount of colorful wood carving from the mid-Edo era.
- For those who like playgrounds, Beppunuma Park should be part of their itinerary. There are beautiful cherry blossoms in the main park and in the hiroba on the east side. Driving? Parking is not a problem since there are a large central parking and a few other smaller car parks.
- Every year on the 2nd Saturday of August, witness the Kumagaya Fireworks Festival when 10,000 rockets are shot into the air and exploded over the Arakawa River in a period of 2 hours. This is the concluding summer event of Kumagaya, which started with the Fan Festival in July.
A Hub for Rugby – Visit Their Special Stadium
For the sports minded, the Kumagaya Sports Culture Park Athletics Stadium is part of a larger complex that includes a rugby stadium and a large arena and is in the Kumagaya Park. The city was also selected to be one of the hosts of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
What and Where to Eat in Kumagaya
- Hideman—for those who fancy a delicious, traditional Japanese seafood meal, this is the place to go! Large platters of snow crab, mussels, huge scallops, fresh tuna, and clams served family style with tatami mat seating accommodations washed down with sake served in traditional bamboo square cups. All at very reasonable prices, too.
- Unagi Kawigiku—the specialty in this restaurant is unagi or Japanese eel. The ambiance is reminiscent of the Showa era, and although the place gets crowded from the early afternoon, the elegant, delicious taste of the food is well worth the wait.
- Izakaya Hanjiro—Here is Japanese cuisine at its finest. Apart from consistently receiving excellent ratings in food, service, and value, the store provides an excellent location for group work functions and is highly recommended for anyone looking for an Izakaya.
- Kappa Sushi—Enjoy watching and picking your favorite sushi from a conveyor belt! The prices are very reasonable, and the sushi is delectable.
- Uobi Kokusaiji—Although a bit crowded on weekends, Uobi is known to be the sushi bar in Fukaya with very reasonable prices. Highly recommended are the salmon and tuna sushi.
- Azuma Sushi—Right across Route 17 from the Kagohara Station, Azuma Sushi is known for its reasonable but great tasting sushi lunches.
Hotels to Stay the Night While Around Kumagaya
There are numerous hotels in Kumagawa that suit almost any budget. The following hotels offer reasonable rates with decent accommodations for a place to stay.
- Marroad Inn Kumagaya—Basic accommodations with small but adequate rooms are offered. The restaurant on the top floor provides a good breakfast and the desk staff is friendly. There are 161 rooms in this 3-star hotel, with smoking and no-smoking rooms available. Laundry service, self-service laundry, and free high-speed internet are provided.
- King Ambassador Hotel Kumagaya—This elegant hotel is in a good location with a nearby train station and shopping malls. The rooms are relatively spacious compared to other hotels, clean and well-maintained, and the staff is professional, friendly and helpful.
- R&B Hotel Kumagaya Ekimae—The 2.5-star hotel has 191 rooms and is conveniently located in front of the Kumagaya train station, restaurants, shopping centers and a supermarket. Although reasonably priced, the rooms are a bit small and tight for 2 people. A breakfast of bread selection, hard boiled eggs, soup, coffee, and juice is included in the room rate. The fifth floor is a non-smoking floor.
- Hotel Sunroute Kumagaya Station—Only 2 minutes away from the railway station, this 110-room hotel features small but modern looking rooms and free, fast wifi. The staff is pleasant and accommodating and the rooms are quite clean. Breakfast selections are limited but sufficient for short stays.
Take Part in the Uchiwa Matsuri, Kumagaya’s Fan Festival
Celebrated from July 19 to 23, the Uchiwa Matsuri is accompanied by lots of noise, fanfare, and the handing out of uchiwa (flat fans made of wood and plastic) to passersby and the participating crowd. Displayed are tall decorative floats topped with mannequin figures of legendary persons from the past.
The uchiwa, rumored to have originated from Korea, were given out originally in the past by shrines and stores to help keep customers cool during the notoriously hot and humid Kumagaya summer. The noisy and boisterous even features a parade of 12 floats along with musicians and taiko drummers who put on an exciting show that’s not to be missed. Street food vendors and happy celebrating customers abound in an atmosphere of pomp and fun.
What Is the Weather Like in Kumagaya?
Kumagaya has the reputation for being one of the hottest places in Japan. On August 16, 2007, it registered the highest temperature of 40.9 degrees Celsius, breaking the hottest temperature record in Japan in existence for 74 years. That doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t snow – as it does in the middle of winter; January and February. Temperatures do hit as low as -1.8 degrees Celsius during these months, so come prepared.
When the weather is clear, one can catch an impressive view of snow-covered Mount Asama. During the cherry blossom season, people converge under the cherry trees with food and sake to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Information About Kumagaya Station
The station in Kumagaya, known to the Japanese as “Kumagaya-eki” or “熊谷駅” is operated by two companies and is thus subdivided into two more stations – the one handled by JR East, and the other handled by Chichibu Railway. A map of the station is available online.
The JR East station was opened as early as 1883, and is the busier among the two, taking on 30,432 people every day, as of 2014. It has 3 island platforms, and 1 side platform, and is 64.7 kilometers away from Tokyo. It takes on 3 lines; Joetsu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, and Takasaki Line. Its address is 2 Tsukuba, Kumagaya-shi, Saitama-ken, Japan.
The Chichibu Railway station, on the other hand, takes 5,841 people daily as of 2014. It has 2 tracks, 1 island platform, and goes all the way to Hanyu, which is 14.9 kilometers away. It takes on one line; the Chichibu Main Line. Its address is 1-202-1 Sakuragi-cho, Kumagaya, Saitama-ken, Japan.
The Inner Workings of A Nation
It’s not always about the larger cities – sometimes, smaller cities should have a turn at the spotlight of recognition for contributing to its country. Whether that’s great food, fun, or cultural lessons, Kumagaya is another city that you should add to your list to visit.