Whilst looking at places to see Winter illuminations last Christmas I came across Moominvalley Park in Hanno City which is about 40 kilometers northwest of Tokyo. It actually only opened last March but I was a little put off by the entrance price. It’s not ridiculously expensive but for someone with very little knowledge of the Moomin universe I didn’t feel it was worth it.
However, in my research I came across another Moomin Park not so far from the main one. It’s called Tove Jansson Akebono Children’s Forest Park (893-1 Azu, Hanno) and is just 6-7 kilometres south of Moominvalley Park. More importantly, you can get your fix of the white bipedal creatures resembling hippopotamuses for free at this place which takes about 20 minutes on foot south of Motakaji Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line.
This is certainly no ordinary park as it’s a collection of wonderfully quaint buildings with great attention to detail which one probably wouldn’t expect in a place with no entrance fee whatsoever. The centrepiece of the park is undoubtedly the mushroom house which is a very cool-looking building. You can go inside too.
As is the custom in Japan, shoes have to be taken off on entrance to the mushroom house which really is in good condition for a place that has been around for 20 years. There are three floors to this picturesque house from another world. The ground floor is the kitchen and lounge area where elaborate, wooden staircases with iron railings lead up to the bedrooms and a maze of wooden structures with plenty of small windows for children to climb through.
One of the other buildings is known as Forest House. The first floor is basically devoted to Tove Jansson; the Finnish children’s writer whose Moomin books are highly acclaimed all over the world. Upstairs is a library of story books, figurines, newspaper clippings and information boards detailing significant parts of Moomin history.
The Children’s Theatre Restrooms is another architectural wonder with a dome-shaped roof made of 100 year old Japanese cypress logs.
The hall itself is fairly sparse with just a few Moomin story strips on the walls. It is supposedly used for concerts and events.
The blue Cafe Puisto (puisto is Finnish for park) also doubles up as a gift shop selling Moomin-related products like pens, cups, key-rings and so on.
Other features include a lighthouse in the centre of a small pond and interestingly-shaped metal benches dotted around the park. Even if you have no kids or any interest in the likes of Moomintroll, Moominpappa, Moominmamma and Snorkmaiden then this alternative Moomin Park is still a pretty good place for a half day trip from Tokyo as it’s quiet (there was pretty much no one else in the park other than a couple of gardeners and the staff in the cafe and gift shop) and there is also a hiking course going into the hills of the forest.
Bonus: A few days later I stopped by the Moomin Drink Stand at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro to get a tapioca drink. The thirst for these drinks went through the roof last year as a tapioca boom swept the nation. Many boba drink stands kept popping up all over the place with the more popular ones often having ridiculously long queues of people.
Moomin Stand has been around a while but maybe the tapioca drinks are a quite recent thing. On this occasion I chose a caramel tapioca drink (480 yen) which was really tasty. There’s a choice of 22 different flavours in total (including a Hattifatteners straw in each) with mixberry milk the most popular choice it seems.
Click here to read ‘Dining Out: Moomin Bakery & Cafe (Finland)’
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