Have you ever wanted to visit an observatory in Japan to see the stars but wondered about finding a suitable accommodation to spend the night in? Or do you want to do more than stargazing but have no idea what other activities you can engage in? If you are keen on sleeping under the stars in comfortable and affordable settings and want to do more than just stargazing, how about considering this unusual observatory at Tokigawa-machi in Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県ときがわ町)?
The Dodaira Observatory (堂平天文台) is perched on top of Mt. Dodaira which is located in Tokigawa-machi. The town is in the middle of Saitama Prefecture and a mere 60 km away from the Tokyo Metropolitan area. As 70 percent of the town is covered by forests, the lush greenery seen from the top of the mountain in the daytime and the magnificent night view of the Kanto Plain are bound to be unforgettable visual treats for you.
However, what’s special about the Dodaira Observatory is that it is no longer used for astronomical research and observation purposes. Actually, the predecessor of the Dodaira Observatory was the Tokyo Observatory which was located in Mitaka City, Tokyo. However, as the city became more developed, the light pollution made it impossible for astronomical research to be conducted; so the observatory was shifted to Dodaira partly because of the higher number of fine days in the Kanto Plain area during winter.
Unfortunately, as the area around the mountain got developed, the Dodaira Observatory ended up in a similar situation as its predecessor and had to be closed in 2000. When the Tokigawa-machi government took over the management of the defunct observatory, they redeveloped it into a recreation and day camp site.
At present, the town’s Hoshizora Kanboukai (星空観望会) organizes stargazing sessions twice a month at 8 pm on Fridays, between March and December (only once in December). These sessions are free with the use of the observatory’s equipment, including the second reflecting telescope produced in Japan which is still working fine today. The schedule of sessions for 2017 can be found on this website (Japanese only), and you would need to make reservations 10 days before the date of your choice.
Note that the session may be canceled without prior notice as weather conditions may change; the final decision is usually made by 4 pm on the day concerned.
1. Blueberry picking
If you arrive in the day, you may wish to start your adventure at Dodaira by picking blueberries at the field sandwiched between the main entrance & car park and the accommodation area.
For a small fee of 200 yen, which is payable at the administration office, you will be given a plastic bag that allows you to fill about 100g worth of blueberries. However, it is highly recommended that you call the hotline at 080-2373-8682 to confirm if this can be done during your visit and if there are available slots for the blueberry jam-making classes (Japanese only) taking place between early July and late August. These classes require you to pick about 500g worth of blueberries and pay 500 yen for the use of additional ingredients and equipment needed to make the jam. Bringing along your own apron is also highly recommended.
Note that the blueberries here can only be obtained by your own effort and that they do not sell these blueberries to visitors.
2. Panoramic views
In the daytime, if the weather allows, you will be able to get a panoramic view of the Kanto Plain while surrounded by greenery on Mt. Dodaira. As such, it will be ideal to see this and make a comparison with the brightly lit night view of the same area as shown in the photo above.
With regard to the accommodation options available here, you can choose whatever fits your budget and needs.
1. Cosmo Room
Ever wanted to stay inside an observatory and experience how it feels like to be an astronomer? Since the observatory is no longer in use for astronomical research, the staff quarters have been modified to become the “Cosmo Room” where up to five people can stay. Other facilities include a living room, a dining area, a kitchen, a TV, and bathrooms.
Depending on the season of your visit, prices can range from 13,390 yen to 17,510 yen, and this does not include the facility usage fee of 1,000 yen per person regardless of which accommodation type you choose. This is the most expensive option among the four choices but it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to stay inside an observatory. And if you look at the cost per person (on the basis of five people), it comes up to just 4,502 yen (based on the peak season’s rate), which is probably cheaper than most lodging options you can find in Japan.
Take note, though, that the observatory’s telescope can only be used during the stargazing sessions so if the day of your visit doesn’t coincide with that, you won’t be able to access the telescope which is also on the second floor as the Cosmo Room.
2. Canadian-style Longhouse Amanogawa (天の川 – Milky Way)
The 8-jo (tatami mat) Japanese-style room in this longhouse accommodates up to four people, with prices ranging from 10,300 yen to 14,420 yen. The public area and bathrooms of this longhouse are also shared with the occupants of the Mongolian-style tents and the wooden bungalow.
3. Mongolian-style Tent
There are three small tents with an area of 14 square meters, namely “Vega (No. 1)”, “Altair (No. 2)”, and “Deneb (No. 3)”, and one large tent measuring 28 square meters named “Sirius.” The small tents allow up to six people to stay, while the large tent can accommodate up to 10 people.
If you want to fall asleep under a blanket of stars, this is probably the most suitable option as the roofs of the tents are made of acrylic boards. You can lie down in the comfort of your warm tent even during the colder seasons and admire the stars above as you drift off to sleep.
Prices range from 10,300 yen to 14,420 yen for the small tents, while the large tent’s price ranges from 12,360 yen to 16,480 yen.
4. Wooden Bungalow
This bungalow made from the timber of Tokigawa’s trees is named “Canopus.” Measuring 8-jo, it comes with air conditioning and heating. Up to four people can stay here and prices range from 10,300 yen to 14,420 yen.
If you would like to find out whether the day of your intended visit falls on the off, on, or high season, you can check out this calendar.
On the other hand, if you prefer to sleep in your own tents, you can pitch them at the grass field for a fee of 3,090 yen per zone, and pay 520 yen per person for the facility usage fee.
Last but not least, there are some important things you should take note of when planning a visit or stay here:
- For those intending to do a day-camping trip, operation hours are between 10 am and 5 pm (4 pm during winter). The facility usage fee for adults and children is 520 yen and 310 yen each, respectively. This allows you to borrow some cooking utensils, crockery, a gas stove for you to cook your food, and the usage of their restrooms.
- As there is no shop at the site, you will have to bring your own food and drinks. Toiletries, towels, and toothbrushes are also not supplied.
- Pets are not allowed on the site.
- Only gas stoves and charcoal fires are allowed for cooking purposes, and bonfires are banned on site.
- Guests staying overnight on site will be given priority to the limited parking spaces.
- The gate to the site will be locked at night once all the overnight guests check in by 5 pm. Check-out time is at 10 am. If you are reaching after 5 pm, you will need to let the office know beforehand.
- Please bring your trash back so as to protect the natural environment.
- Please do not throw the remains of your fireworks and cigarettes anywhere as it may lead to a forest fire.
- Audio speakers are not allowed to be used outdoors after 9 pm so as to avoid disturbing other guests.
- Drones and photography using them are not allowed on site as prior approval needs to be obtained from the town government.
- Booking of the accommodation can be done six months in advance via the hotline 080-2373-8682. If you cancel in less than seven days before your scheduled stay, there will be a cancellation fee. You can check the availability of the accommodation options via this website (Japanese only).
- Due to the location of this site, you will have to either hike up the mountain for about three and a half hours or drive a car. Alternatively, you may wish to consider taking a taxi if driving is not an option. The official website warns visitors that the mountain road is quite narrow and can be icy during the colder winter months, so it may be best not to drive if you are not familiar with the roads or not good at driving.
How about planning a visit to the Dodaira Observatory soon to stargaze and spend a lovely day (or night) away from the city bustle?
Dodaira Observatory Website *Automatic translation available