Japan City Guide: Warabi
Warabi is a small city in the south-east of Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. Warabi is the smallest city in Japan in terms of area. With a population of about 70,000 inhabiting just over 5 square kilometers (1.9 sq miles), Warabi is the most densely populated city in Japan; however, this density is by no means readily apparent to the visitor. Warabi is also well known for its sizable Kurdish population, mainly from Turkey.
There are numerous stores, restaurants and other commercial premises around Warabi Station. Most of Warabi's sights are on the west side of the station.
The first documented reference to Warabi goes back to the mid-14th century, and the remains of many large residences around the current city hall suggest that it was a thriving town on the Nakasendo highway.
Warabi Shrine 和良比神社
Warabi Shrine is the best-looking of Warabi's sights: an imposing Shinto shrine recently reconstructed in clean, golden timber, and on spacious grounds, said to have been built in the 14th or 15th century to spiritually guard the now vanished Warabi Castle. Warabi Shrine is about 12 minutes walk west of Warabi Station.
Warabijoshi Park 蕨城址公園
Warabijoshi Park is a small, atmospheric park right next to Warabi Shrine and which could easily be mistaken for part of the shrine grounds. Warabijoshi means "The Site of Warabi Castle," but nothing remains in Warabijoshi Park of Warabi Castle, which was built in the 14th century by the local Shibukawa clan. The Shibukawa were defeated, and the castle destroyed, in 1524 by Ujitsuna Hojo, who extended the Hojo clan's control over the Kanto region in a campaign begun by his father.
The donjon of the castle is thought to have encompassed the park, the neighboring Warabi Shrine, and, on the other side, the Warabi Community Center (Warabi Shimin Kaikan 蕨市民会館) whose lawn the park merges into. Nothing whatsoever remains of Warabi Castle. There is just a slim stone marking the site. A visit Warabijoshi Park will show nothing related to Japanese castles.
There is a nude female bronze statue in Warabijoshi Park that commemorates the first Coming of Age ceremony to be held in Japan - in 1946 as a means of encouraging a revival of national spirits after defeat in the Second World War. This initiative by what was then Warabi Town in then Kita-Adachi-gun (now Warabi City) spread nationwide, leading to the establishment in 1949 of the January 15th Coming-of-Age Day national holiday.
Warabi City Hall 蕨市役所
Warabi City Hall is a rather grim, gray building located about 3 minutes walk west of Warabi Shrine.
Warabi City Office, 5-14-15 Chuo, Warabi-shi, Saitama-ken 335-0004
Warabi City Museum of History & Folklore 蕨市立歴史民俗資料館
The Warabi City Museum of History & Folklore is a small, quite modern museum a few minutes walk from Warabi Station. Most displays relate to Warabi's role as a stop for travelers on the Nakasendo highway and the city's tradition of woven goods.
Fans of scale models will be impressed by the museum's large glass-cased scale model of old Warabi with the Nakasendo running through it. There are reconstructions around the museum, too, of typical rooms in the many inns that served the highway and merchants' facilities. There are also some old wooden looms used to weave cloth, including Warabi's trademark striped futako-ori fabric.
The Museum also holds seasonal special exhibitions, featuring the work of local artists.
Attached to the museum building is a small outdoor exhibition space called the Warabi Honjin, a honjin being an inn designated for use by daimyo (i.e., clan lords). Facing onto the old Nakasendo highway, the inn here hosted numerous Edo era luminaries, whose names are listed in a glass case.
5-17-22 Chuo, Warabi-shi 335-0004. Tel 048 432 2477.9am-4.30pm. Closed Monday except when Monday falls on a public holiday when it is open Monday but closed Tuesday. Closed public holidays, except April 29 (Showa Day) and November 3 (Culture Day). Closed December 29 - January 1. Free entry.
Warabi City Museum of History & Folklore Annex
The Annex to the Warabi City Museum of History & Folklore is about 230 meters down the road (southwards), and is an old preserved home that once belonged to a local cloth merchant. This wooden house with garden is typical of Meiji era architecture, and makes for a pleasant few minutes taking in the atmosphere and enjoying the greenery. The fabric store section of the house, facing the old Nakasendo Highway, was built in 1887.
5-19-3 Chuo, Warabi-shi 335-0004.
Same hours as main Museum.
Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum 河鍋暁斎記念美術館
The Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum is an art museum dedicated to the works of the famous Japanese painter and caricaturist, Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-89) who is renowned for his vivid style, immense output, and his fearlessness as a politically aligned artist whose works got him imprisoned several times.
Hours: 10am-4pm. Closed Thursdays. Closed from the 26th to the end of each month. Closed over New Year. 320 yen adults for regular exhibits, 540 yen for special exhibitions.
About 20 minutes walk from the West Exit of Nishi-Kawaguchi Station.
4-36-4 Minami-cho, Warabi-shi, Saitama-ken 335-0003. Tel. 048 441 9780
Warabi Park 蕨市民公園
Warabi Park is the biggest of Warabi's parks, the city's main green space, and about the only area of interest east of Warabi Station. This 3.3 hectare area is mainly grassy, but with a lot of trees around its edges and facilities for both health and relaxation, such as the obstacle course of wooden construction, a sand pit, swings, a pond, and even a barbecue area that can be hired for a few hours. Warabi Park is more readily accessed from Nishi-Kawaguchi Station than Warabi Station.
About 20 minutes walk south-east of Warabi Station or 12 minutes walk north-west of Nishi-Kawaguchi Station.
5-1 Tsukagoshi, Warabi-shi, Saitama-ken 335-0002
Access to Warabi
Warabi Station 蕨駅
Warabi Station is on the Keihin Tohoku Line and runs in a north-west direction through Warabi City.