Journey to Chichibu: A Guide to Saitama's Enchanting City

by Nana Young


The icicles of MisoTsuchi are huge icicles in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture.

Nestled in the western part of Saitama Prefecture, Chichibu is a captivating destination that beautifully intertwines natural beauty, historical significance, and cultural heritage. Often overlooked by tourists in favor of more well-known locales, Chichibu is a hidden gem that promises a unique and enriching experience for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle and venture off the beaten path. Join us as we embark on a journey through the wonders of Chichibu and uncover the secrets of this remarkable destination.

Exploring Chichibu: A Brief Overview

Gate and approach to Chichibu Shrine. Chichibu, Saitama

Chichibu is located in the westernmost part of Saitama Prefecture, a little less than two hours from Tokyo. Situated in the Chichibu Basin, the region is surrounded by forested mountains and lush forests, making it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The Arakawa river, which flows through the region, adds to the area's scenic beauty, providing a serene backdrop for various recreational activities.

The region is home to several historical landmarks and sites that offer a glimpse into its rich past like the Chichibu Shrine, which has been a center of worship and pilgrimage for over a millennium. In addition to its religious significance, Chichibu played a crucial role in Japan's industrial development during the Meiji era. The Chichibu area was a major producer of silk, particularly , and the remnants of old silk mills and related industries can still be seen today, serving as a testament to its industrial heritage.

Throughout the year, Chichibu hosts various cultural festivals and events including the famous Chichibu Night Festival, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event, showcasing the region's vibrant festival culture. Additionally, The Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage and traditional crafts, such as Chichibu Meisen silk, reflect its enduring cultural practices.

Top Attractions in Chichibu

Brimming with natural beauty, historical sites, and unique expriences, the charming region of Chichibu offers a variety of attractions and activities that cater to both adventure seekers and those looking to immerse themselves in Japan's cultural heritage.

Hitsujiyama Park

Landscape of Colorful Shiba Sakura ( Phlox Subulata, Pink moss ) Blossom in Spring at Hitsujiyama Park with Mount Buko in background

Hitsujiyama Park is a breathtaking destination renowned for its stunning floral displays, particularly during spring. This expansive park is famed for its vibrant moss phlox, or shibazakura, which blankets the hillsides in a brilliant array of pinks, purples, and whites, creating a picturesque landscape that attracts thousands of visitors annually.

Arakawa River (Ara River)

Rafts on Arakawa river, Chichibu, Japan

The Arakawa River, one of the major rivers in the Kanto region, flows gracefully through Chichibu, further enhancing the area's natural beauty. The river is not only a scenic highlight but also a hub for recreational activities such as river boating, fishing, and riverside picnics.

Chichibu Railway

The Paleo Express hauled by a steam locomotive travels on Seibu Chichibu Railway

The Chichibu Railway, a charming local rail line in Saitama Prefecture, offers a scenic journey through the picturesque Chichibu region. Established in 1914, this historic railway stretches approximately 71 kilometers, connecting the bustling city of Hanyu with the serene town of Mitsumineguchi. Known for its nostalgic atmosphere and vintage trains, the Chichibu Railway provides an ideal way for travelers to explore the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Chichibu at a leisurely pace.

Mitsumine Shrine

Mitsumine Shrine is located in Chichibu, Saitama

Mitsumine Shrine, nestled atop Mount Mitsumine in Chichibu, is renowned for its breathtaking views and spiritual ambiance. Founded over 2,000 years ago, this sacred site is dedicated to the wolf deity, worshipped as a protector from misfortune. At the entrance of the shrine stands a triple torii gate where two stone wolves (instead of the usual stone dogs) flank the entrance.

Spiritual Sites: Exploring Chichibu Shrine

Chichibu Shrine is one of the most famous shrines in Saitama Prefecture.

With a history of over 2,000 years, Chichibu Shrine is one of the oldest and most revered shrines in the Saitama Prefecture. It stands as the region's beacon of spiritual reverence and cultural heritage, serving as a vital center for religious worship, community gatherings, and cultural festivals, embedding itself deeply into the fabric of Chichibu's history.

The architectural style of Chichibu Shrine is a beautiful example of traditional Shinto architecture, characterized by intricate wooden carvings and elaborate roofing structures. One of the most captivating features of the shrine is its vibrant and details carvings, depicting a range of mythological creatures, deities, and scenes from Japanese folklore, each telling a story and reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the region.

A Spiritual Journey: Chichibu Pilgrimage

The Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage is another cultural gem of the region. This pilgrimage route, established in the 14th century, consists of 34 Buddhist temples dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Pilgrims travel through the scenic countryside, visiting each temple and seeking spiritual solace. The pilgrimage not only offers a spiritual journey but also a chance to explore Chichibu's rural charm and historical architecture.

Chichibu's Cultural Heritage: Museums and Historical Sites

Chichibu boasts a wealth of museums and historical sites that offer deep dive into its storied past.

Chichibu Chinsekikan

Chichibu Chinsekikan

The Chichibu Chinsekikan, also dubbed the Hall of Curious Rocks, is a unique museum boasting a remarkable collection of over 1,700 naturally formed rocks that strikingly resemble human faces and various intriguing shapes. Founded by Shozo Hayama, a devoted rock collector who dedicated over 50 years to amassing these extraordinary stones, the Chinsekikan stands as a testament to his passion and fascination with nature's artistry.

Otaki History and Folk Museum

Otaki History and Folk Museum

Located within a roadside station, the Chichibu Folk Museum stands as a guardian of the region's rich cultural heritage. This museum offers visitors an immersive experience into the daily lives of the people who have inhabited this region over the years.

Hijiri Shrine and Wado Copper Mine

Hijiri Shrine and Wado Copper Mine

Japan's first official coinage, wadokaichin (Japanese copper), was minted from the Wado mines in 78 AD. Today, the Hijiri Shrine is believed to attract good fortune and prosperity due to its connection to the copper mine. A brief stroll from the shrine unveils the remnants of the copper mine and a 5-meter tall Wadokaichin monument.

Natural Wonders of Chichibu

Newly fallen snow, a bridge, and large natural crystal clear ice pillars in Onouchi Hyakkei Valley, Chichibu, Saitama

At the heart of Chichibu's natural wonders lies the Chichibu Geopark, a sanctuary of geological marvels that showcases the region's rich natural history and stunning landscapes. Covering a vast area, the geopark boasts a variety of geological formations, including limestone caves, ancient rock layers, and striking river gorges, each telling a story of Earth's evolutionary history. The region's natural beauty evolves with the seasons, providing a distinct experience year-round—from the delicate pink and white hues of cherry blossoms in spring to the tranquil blanket of snow covering the mountains in winter.

Chichibu offers a diverse range of outdoor activities tailored to hikers of all skill levels, with an extensive network of trails to explore. Among the favorites is the Mitsumine Shrine Trail, guiding hikers through ancient cedar forests to the revered Mitsumine Shrine atop Mount Mitsumine. Beyond hiking, Chichibu's natural landscapes lend themselves to a variety of outdoor pursuits, including river rafting and kayaking on the Arakawa River, as well as winter activities like skiing and snowboarding.

Festival Calendar: Year-Round Celebrations in Chichibu

Mt. Fuji and colorful pink moss foreground at Shibazakura festival with clear blue sky

Chichibu comes alive throughout the year with a rich tapestry of festivals and cultural events that celebrate its heritage, nature, and community spirit. One such event is the Shibazakura Festival, held at Hitsujiyama Park from mid-April to early May. This festival showcases a mesmerizing carpet of moss phlox flowers, known as shibazakura in Japanese, blanketing the park's hillsides and marking the arrival of spring. Visitors are treated to a visual spectacle as these the fields burst into a vibrant display of pink, white, and purple flowers against the backdrop of Mount Buko.

The Chichibu Ondo Dance Festival, observed annually on August 14th, stands out as another prominent event in Chichibu's festive calendar. The festival centers around the iconic "Chichibu Ondo" song, a cultural gem with a legacy of approximately 200 years and recognized as one of the Kanto region's three major folk songs.Visitors can also explore the Chichibu Festival Museum, which features exhibits on the Chichibu Night Festival. These displays vividly bring the festival's history to life, allowing visitors to appreciate the artistry of the festival floats up close.

The Grand Chichibu Night Festival

Parade lantern float event at Chichibu Night Festival in Japan. Chichibu Yomatsuri festival was added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

The Chichibu Night Festival, known locally as Chichibu Yomatsuri, stands as a testament to the region's rich heritage and is recognized as one of Japan's top three float festivals. It is held every December 2-4. The Chichibu Night Festival traces its roots back over 300 years, originating as a religious procession to express gratitude and seek blessings for a bountiful harvest. Today, it has evolved into one of Japan's most revered festivals, recognized as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of the nation.

The heart of the Chichibu Night Festival lies in its grand floats, adorned with intricate wood carvings, lavish decorations, and glowing lanterns. As night falls, the festival bursts to life with a captivating procession of these floats parading through Chichibu's streets, accompanied by traditional melodies and rhythmic chants that evoke a sense of celebration and reverence. The festival's climax is a breathtaking fireworks display, painting the sky with vibrant colors. Visitors can also check out the Chichibu Festival Museum which features displays of the Chichibu Night Festival, bringing to life the festival's history to life and allowing visitors to appreciate their artistry up close.

Chichibu’s Culinary Delights

Cold soba and condiments on a wooden table

Chichibu not only captivates with its natural beauty but also tantalizes the taste buds with its local cuisine. Here are some must-try dishes in the region:

  • Chichibu Soba: Made from buckwheat noodles, Chichibu soba boasts a rich, nutty taste and a satisfyingly chewy texture. It is often served hot in a flavorful broth or cold with a dipping sauce, accompanied by toppings such as green onions, grated daikon radish, and tempura flakes.

  • Sake: Sample a range of sake varieties each reflecting the unique flavors of Chichibu's pristine waters and quality rice.

  • Misaki Manju: Soft, sweet buns filled with red bean paste or other fillings that make for a delightful snack while exploring the town.

  • Miso-Glazed Potatoes: Deep-fried potatoes flavored with a miso-based sauce.

  • Bishamon Kori: A signature shaved ice, topped with syrups crafted from locally sourced ingredients.

Shopping and Crafts in Chichibu

Chichibu Meisen silk samples

As you wander through the streets of Chichibu, you'll encounter a treasure trove of shopping opportunities, inviting visitors to take home a piece of its authentic charm and heritage. Among these treasures, traditional textiles, particularly Chichibu Meisen silk, serve as a symbol of Chichibu's traditional craftmanship. With a history dating back centuries, this opulent silk fabric is renowned for its vivid hues, intricate patterns, and exquisite craftmanship.

Moreover, Bukuo Masamune, a sake brewed locally by hand, and Chichibu whisky, along with an assortment of regional delicacies such as yokan (red bean jelly), also make delightful souvenirs to bring back home.

Day Trips from Chichibu

Autumn foliage in Nagatoro, Saitama, Japan

While Chichibu itself is brimming with charm and attractions, taking a day trip to nearby destinations can add an extra layer of adventure to your trip. Just a short distance from central Chichibu, Kawagoe beckons with its well-preserved Edo-period streets and historical landmarks, Meanwhile, Nagatoro presents an exhilarating option for thrill seekers, offering river rafting adventures along the Arakawa River amidst stunning rock formations. These day trips complement your Chichibu trip, providing a diverse range of cultural, natural, and adventurous encounters that enhance your exploration of Saitama Prefecture and beyond.

Getting to and Around Chichibu

A local train travels on Seibu Chichibu Railway thru the idyllic countryside with fiery autumn trees on the mountainside

Despite its remote and tranquil setting, Chichibu is easily accessible from major cities across Japan. The Seibu Chichibu Line and the Chichibu Railway provide convenient rail connections from Tokyo and neighboring areas. For travelers departing from Tokyo, the most efficient route to Chichibu is via the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station. Alternatively, highway buses departing from major stations like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro provide a direct route to Seibu Chichibu Station.

Many of Chichibu's attractions, particularly those in the city center, are reachable on foot or by bicycle. Alternatively, Chichibu has a network of local buses that serve different parts of the city and nearby attractions. The Chichibu Railway also conveniently connects key sites like Chichibu Shrine, Mitsumine Shrine, and Nagatoro.


Scenic view at Chichibu Jinja Shrine in Saitama Japan

Chichibu's picturesque landscapes, historic shrines, and lively festivals combine to provide a rich and genuine experience of Japan's cultural heritage. Whether you're drawn to the serene beauty of nature away from typical tourist spots or the thrill of uncovering Saitama's lesser-known gems, Chichibu beckons you to delve into its distinctive charm. It's a destination that promises a rewarding adventure for every traveler, making it an essential stop on any itinerary.

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