What if I told you that I live in a place that literally doesn’t exist? And before you say it, no, I don’t live in Middle Earth, Atlantis or a place with sensible politics. That’s just being silly. No, for those of you who follow me regularly you’ll know I live in Saitama City, just north of Tokyo. It’s a fairly sizable place, home to some 1.3 million people, and like any city of size Saitama comprises of sub-sections: Iwatsuki, Omiya, Urawa and Yono. I live in the Yono area.
Except…not really. You see, those four places used to be their own independent cities until as late as 2003 (2005 for Iwatsuki), when they merged like the Megazord from Power Rangers to form Saitama City. But did the old cities keep their name, becoming areas or wards? Yes and no. Some place names survived the translation – Omiya City (大宮) became Omiya Ward (大宮区) for example – but some places received redrawn boundaries and new names, including – yep – my area, Yono. What was old Yono now resides in the Chuo-Ward (中央区), which translates to Central Ward. Much less exciting, and it sounds like the A&E Ward of a hospital if I’m honest.
The spirit of Yono lives on, though. Four stations in the area still bear the name of Yono, a lot of municipal areas and buildings retain the Yono name (for example, the park near me is Yono-Koen (与野公園) and many schools sport Yono in their title), and if you look carefully you’ll still find remnants of old Yono City realia (for example some of the man holes on the streets are still embossed with the Yono (与野) name. It’s like a very boring episode of Time Team.
Yono was always the small kid on the team while the big boys on the block were Omiya and Urawa – these are places with the biggest train stations, the city halls, sports stadia and tallest shopping malls – but the Yono area still has its own charms and features worth checking out if you find yourself in the area. Yono has a reputation as being ‘the Rose Ward’ for the abundance of the flower you can find throughout the spring and summer, and the aforementioned Yono-Koen has a huge Rose Festival in May where the park explodes in a riot of colorful petals. Even if you’re not into flora (like me) it is still an impressive sight and there’s plenty of the traditional Japanese festival fare like food stalls and live music to enjoy, making the Rose Festival one of the earliest proper festival experiences in the calendar.
Up in North Yono you’re right next to Saitama-Shintoshin, a futuristic area packed with a sprawling shopping precincts (at least 4 areas at last count) and the massive multipurpose Saitama Super Arena, a top tier venue for sports and music (I saw Muse there!). On the front porch of the arena is the handsome Keyaki Hiroba, a handsome half-park half-rooftop beer garden which hosts a different event almost every week, from Christmas illuminations to the famous twice-annual Beer Festival.
But for me the jewel in Yono’s crown is the bypass. No, you didn’t read that wrong: the actual drive-on-a-car two-tier road bypass that runs through Yono. Well, I don’t care about the actual bypass itself, but the effect it has on the surroundings is pretty cool: of course, nobody wants to live next to a bypass, so this massive road is instead lined with restaurants, shopping malls, electric shops, DIY stores, discount stores…you name it, it’s on the bypass. And if you’re thinking, well that’s great, but doesn’t every area in Japan have those? Yes, but they’re not crammed into tiny booths in a crowded shopping centre, but in big, spacious places away from the heaving masses. My local Don Quijote is only a five-minute walk away, is massive and is the least crowded Don Quijote I’ve ever been to.
All of those things may not add up to making Yono a top-tier tourist destination of course, but it does put Yono in very high demand for people who are moving. In fact, the Yono area is one of the most rapidly developing areas in Saitama Prefecture, second only to Toro, just north of Omiya. Yono pride!