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Tokyo in the summer is blazing hot, but there are a lot of ways to beat the August heat. Some might prefer splashing in the ocean to cool off, but we decided to get out of the heat by heading up to the mountains of Kanto instead. Numata City in Gunma Prefecture is usually several degrees cooler than down on the plains, and features a good range of fun activities for all ages. After browsing some of our choices, we settled on visiting Tambara Lavender Park to see the beautiful lavender flowers, and then on to Harada Farm for some fun fruit picking experiences.
Numata is about two hours from Tokyo on the Joetsu Shinkansen to Jomokogen Station, from which a special seasonal bus can take you directly to the park during the peak of the lavender season. During other times, a transfer to nearby Numata Station by local train, then taking a local bus will get you up to the park. Local buses will also take you to Harada Farm from both Jomokogen Station and Numata Station as well. However, with very young children who we knew wouldn't be able to sit still long on public transportation, we elected to drive there instead of taking the trains in order to be more flexible.
Tambara Lavender Park
Tambara Lavender Park is actually Tambara Ski Park in the winter, but as the snow melts from the slopes, it reveals a plethora of lavender plants just waiting for the spring rain and summer sun to burst into fragrant bloom. It is also very kid-friendly in all weather, featuring large open areas, plenty of bathrooms and changing areas, and several restaurants and shops for food and snacks. During the summer season, lavender-flavored cookies, drinks, and soft serve ice cream are featured, and fun for the kids and adults alike to try. As for getting up to the flowers , visitors can choose to walk about 10 minutes up a slight slope to the main building, from which there is a bit more walking among the flowers, or take one of the chair lifts up. Although we decided against the stroller in favor of a carrier for the baby for this trip, I saw several strollers riding up the chair lift behind families with young kids, so I made a mental note for our next visit that we could bring our stroller as well.
The day was rainy when we arrived, but the rain was mostly in spurts and generally more of a sprinkle. Along with many other people, we entered the park right at opening and headed up to the main area using the chair lift after buying our tickets. It doesn't go much faster than a walk, but the kids had lots of fun watching the ground go by underneath them. At the top, we had the chance to grab some umbrellas to use while we explored, but after a few minutes of the three year old swinging it around, decided to just get wet instead of risking her with a big umbrella!
The main building also has bathrooms available, as well as a lot of seating both inside and out. I had hoped to let the baby crawl around on the grass, but it was so wet that we switched off on carrying him in the carrier for the most part, which he wasn't thrilled about. There is a bit of walking involved, and it seemed that some of the flowers closer to the main building had been clipped already, so we had to walk up to the top area to find the best flowers. However the paths are mostly paved, so it is not a difficult walk at all, even for the younger kids. There are also a few benches to rest on along the way.
After walking around and taking lots of pictures, we headed back down the slope for a treat and a break. It has mostly stopped raining by that point, so after heading back down to the entrance building on the chair lift, we finally had the chance to let the baby crawl around a bit before finally heading off to lunch. We had passed a small hole-in-the-wall style place on the way up that had soba and udon dishes, and some local grilled river fish, so that was our destination after we left the park. And we were especially happy that both kids got the chance to nap in the car once they had eaten!
Our second destination of the day was Harada Farm, a big fruit-picking enterprise in Numata that was very popular given how many people were there when we arrived. We had made reservations in advance, but I had made them much later as I overestimated how long lunch would take. We arrived over an hour early, but luckily they were very flexible and we were able to change the times for our fruit picking experiences, which I was very grateful for! Our first experience was peaches, so we got our tickets and started to walk to the orchid. Of course, half way there our daughter needed the bathroom, so we turned back and went back to the main building, as there were no bathrooms out in the fields and trees. I would say that while there was a crib for changing a baby, it didn't look well-kept, so I was glad that the baby didn't need a diaper change. Bathroom break taken care of, we tried once again to get to the peaches.
Each group is given a ticket with the number of people who will be participating in the harvesting. At three, our daughter was included, but under two is free, so the baby was not. Each paying person gets to pick two peaches, then as they are not ripe right when you pick them, they are also given a third ripe peach to eat right then and there. So our first job was to pick our peaches.
Successful at our peach picking endeavors, we took our sticky kids back to the main building for our second fruit experience, grapes! This time we waited for a bus to take us out to the vines, but otherwise the procedure was exactly the same. When we were there, there were two kinds of grapes to pick, the small Delaware grapes, and larger Buffalo ones. We wanted to try both, so we decided that one parent would each take a kid to pick one kind of grape. As we got there though, we realized that the grape types were right next to each other, so we got to stick together instead and just pick both kinds! And again, once you pick, you are also able to eat some there on the spot. They were delicious!
As we ate our last few grapes, the bus came back to pick us up. We had also been given a ticket for a free drink and dessert in the cafeteria, so after an afternoon snack, filled with fruit and smelling sweetly of lavender, we called it a successful day, and headed back home with more fruit to eat in the coming days. It was a great experience for our kids, and fun for the adults as well. Thank you Numata for a cool day!
By Jess McCullough, japan-guide.com