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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK

Saitama - A colourful mix

Known as the "Land of Colour", Saitama may be more aptly described as the land of patchwork because it is a difficult place to sum up.

For most Japanese people living there, it has become the new suburb of Tokyo as the chaotic capital sprawls ever outwards.

The tentacles of industry and urban development continue to pierce deep into the heart of Saitama's open countryside, but there is still plenty of the real Japan to see in the prefecture.

It gained its colourful moniker because the area is known for its fertile countryside, forests and rivers, where different flowers bloom throughout the year, and the dramatic changes that happen with seasons.

Area facts

  • Population: 1m
  • Location: North of Tokyo on central island Honshu
  • Local team: Urawa Reds
  • Sights: Iwatsuki Doll Town, beautiful countryside, 34 kannon temples
  • Top food: Spinach and broccoli
  • Certainly there are plenty of places to be at one with nature, such as the picturesque scenery of Chichibu and Musashino.

    And, if you want culture, then there are a large number of temples and shrines to see as well as the Iwatsuki Doll Town.

    Not only was Iwatsuki once the well-established centre for high-quality chests of drawers and wooden clogs, it also has gained a reputation for traditional Japanese dolls.

    Saitama also has some buzzing towns such as Omiya, Urawa and Yono.

    Omiya is the first big town you come to after heading northwards out of Tokyo and has enough shops, bars and restaurants to keep the infrequent visitor distracted.

    But Urawa, the capital of Saitama, is probably the place to be during the World Cup for one simple reason - it is absolutely football-mad.

    This is because it is the hometown of the one of the Japan's most popular J-League clubs, the Urawa Red Diamonds.

    Some English football fans may feel at home as it has a lot in common with a certain Premiership club.

    The team plays in red shirts and black shorts and is often known as Mitsubishi Urawa Football Club, or MUFC for short - does that sound familiar?

    In fact, Manchester United have even played there on a pre-season tour to Asia a few years ago.

    One thing is guaranteed - a great atmosphere.

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