Interested in a day of art, anime and pop culture, away from it all? Then this easy day trip from Tokyo to Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture is for you. Read our guide to visiting digital art collective teamLab’s Acorn Forest exhibition, plus the contemporary cultural hub of Sakura Town next door.
once being known as Dasaitama (dasai meaning uncool in Japanese), Tokyo’s neighbor Saitama has always had a lot to offer visitors in the way of nature, with the mountainous Chichibu area at the top of the to-see list. But in recent years, the prefecture has been making strong efforts to attract day-trippers with interests other than hiking, including art and pop culture experiences (like a Moomin theme park). Enter the teamLab Acorn Forest exhibition and the Sakura Town complex in Tokorozawa City.
Just under an hour from central Tokyo, these new installations make for a great day out—particularly for families with kids. The teamLab Acorn Forest opened at the beginning of August, 2020, while Sakura Town had its “pre-opening” around the same time. Its grand official opening is set for November 6, 2020, having been pushed back due to the COVID-19 situation.
Explore the teamLab Acorn Forest in Tokorozawa
The newest exhibit from world-famous digital art collective teamLab, the Acorn Forest—officially known by the title Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest—is a permanent feature in Higashi Tokorozawa Park. Much smaller than the indoor teamLab Planets and teamLab Borderless exhibits in Tokyo, the Acorn Forest is entirely outdoors, nestled among trees on a hillside. This corner of the park is known as the Musashino Woods.
Like all teamLab artworks, the Acorn Forest is an interactive experience: you meander along paths dotted with shiny silver sculptures called ovoids (these “acorns” come up to about the hip on an adult), and you are encouraged to knock them (gently). Doing so emits a sound that sets off the other ovoids, resonating through the little forested area. This blends harmoniously with the tinkly wind-chimes-and-Zen background music that is characteristic of teamLab exhibits.
When I visited, I was the only human in the forest, so the sound was rather lonely, but if you go in a group, presumably you can get a kind of cool choral effect going. I did hear a bunch of birds when I visited, though, including the azure-winged magpie. That was a bonus.
At night, the ovoids and trees are lit up, adding an extra dimension to the experience.
There is a tiny cafe that overlooks the exhibit, but it wasn’t open when I went. Due to open in the coming months, it will probably be good for a quick cuppa—but not much else. You’re better off getting refreshments at Sakura Town (from November onwards, when the restaurants open), or at one of the cafes or restaurants along the road that runs from the station.
When to visit the teamLab forest
Although the Acorn Forest is cheaper to visit during the day, we recommend waiting until dusk to go in. As darkness falls, the silver ovoids and trees light up in all different colors, creating a far richer visual experience.
Your best bet is actually to head to Sakura Town first, and then pop into the Acorn Forest on the way back to the station. In terms of timing, allowing 2-3 hours at Sakura Town is probably sufficient, and 30-40 minutes is all you really need at teamLab. This means that the Tokorozawa trip is best scheduled for an afternoon. If you aim to leave Tokyo around 1pm, you can look forward to an easy day out.
While it seems that you can explore the teamLab exhibit in light rain, the paths could get a bit slippery, so we recommend going on a clear day—or at least checking the official site before you set off.
Tickets to teamLab Acorn Forest
Entry tickets can be purchased in advance online (in Japanese), or at the ticket booth on the day.
It costs ¥500 for adults for daytime entry from Monday to Thursday, and ¥600 for daytime entry on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Nightime entry is ¥1,000 from Monday to Thursday, and ¥1,200 on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
The exhibition is closed on Tuesdays, as well as in strong rain and windy conditions.
Booking online gets you a ¥100 discount. And residents of Tokorozawa get a special discount.
COVID-19 safety precautions
Before entering the teamLab Acorn Forest, you will:
- Have your temperature scanned (wrist)
- Be asked to sanitize your hands with the alchohol spray provided
- Be asked to put on a pair of disposable plastic gloves
And as is the norm nowadays, you ought to be wearing a mask.
Check out Sakura Town
Sakura Town in Saitama is a pop-culture hub comprising several different parts.
The Kadokawa Culture Museum
Tokorozawa Sakura Town made international headlines when it announced its core feature—the Kadokawa Culture Museum. This museum, which is the gray, cuboid granite building pictured here, was designed by the legendary Kengo Kuma—giving it instant architectural cred.
The Kadokawa Museum is named after the Kadokawa Corporation, the Japanese publishing house that developed Sakura Town in partnership with the Tokorozawa local government. Kadokawa is well known for its manga publications.
The Kadokawa Museum features a library with a “theater of books” (including, unsurprisingly, thousands of manga titles), a dedicated anime museum, art gallery and science section, as well as displays on book publishing, and a cafe.
Until November 6, 2020, general access is limited to the first floor (featuring manga and the grand gallery space), and the maximum time you can stay is one hour, due to COVID-19 prevention measures. The remaining four floors are closed off, unless you book a special tour (more on that below).
Outside the museum is a shallow pond/water feature, which, in an unusual move for Japan, you are actually allowed to paddle in. This is nice for the kids, who can splash around on a hot day.
Tickets to the Kadokawa Museum
General admission tickets cost ¥1,600 for adults, and must be booked online (in Japanese). You need to register on the site first. You can buy your teamLab Acorn Forest tickets on the same site, if you like.
As of September 4, 2020, on Fridays and Saturdays it seems that you can book special tours, for a little more cash. ¥2,000 gets you access to both the first and fourth floors—the latter is where you’ll find the “theater of books”, as well as “Edit Town”.
The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
COVID-19 safety measures
In addition to the time you can spend in the museum being limited, the following preventative measures are being taken:
- Visitors are expected to wear masks
- Your temperature will be taken before entering
- You’ll be asked to sanitize your hands using the alcohol spray provided before entering
- The museum is being ventilated and cleaned in line with COVID-19 prevention guidelines
The anime shrine and anime hotel in Saitama
Other features of Tokorozawa Sakura Town include a hyper-modern Japanese pop shrine (the Musashino Reiwa Shrine, also designed by Kengo Kuma), a rather pricey anime-themed hotel (the EJ Anime Hotel), set to open in October, 2020 and expected to be popular among cosplayers and otaku, an events hall, restaurants and office space.
Getting to teamLab Acorn Forest and Sakura Town
The closest train station to teamLab and Sakura Town is Higashi-Tokorozawa. To get there from Shinjuku, you can take either the JR Saikyo Line, changing to the JR Musashino Line at Musashi-Urawa Station, or the JR Chuo Line, changing to the JR Musashino Line at Nishi-Kokubunji Station. Either way, the cost is ¥570, meaning it’s ¥1,140 for the round-trip. Because those are JR lines, you can use the JR Pass, if you have one.
When you exit the ticket gates at Higashi-Tokorozawa Station, turn right and walk straight along the road for about 10 minutes. On either side, you’ll find cafes and restaurants, so you can stop in for seafood, Indian curry, coffee and more if you’re in need of fuel.
If you look down at the sidewalk, you’ll see manhole covers featuring anime characters; these indicate you’re heading in the direction of Sakura Town.
When you see this giant rabbit sign (it should be on the left side of the road), turn left immediately afterwards.
That will lead you to Higashi Tokorozawa Park, which houses teamLab, and then Sakura Town is across the road from teamLab. You can’t miss the looming Kadokawa Culture Museum building.
Bonus: There is also a playground in the park, where you can let the kids burn off any extra energy before heading back into Tokyo.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.