Chichibu, Saitama prefecture
Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture is an area close to Tokyo where you can enjoy both lush nature and traditional culture. It takes only about 80 minutes by express train from Ikebukuro to get to this place that will certainly make you feel like you are very far from the big city. You can enjoy hiking, visiting quiet shrines, fruit picking, a river cruise, hot springs, and many other activities. Let us introduce some of the best attractions in Chichibu!
Nagatoro is famous for natural rock formations called ‘iwadatami’ literally meaning rock straw mat. The area earned this moniker because if you look at the area from the sky, it looks like many tatami mats are placed along the river. Iwadatami slabs are made of crystalline schist. The row continues about 600 meters long, so you can enjoy walking on the rocks along the beautiful Arakawa River. While the Arakawa River is a headache in Tokyo because of the flooding danger and it is not regarded as a beautiful river there, further upstream it is a beautiful river that many local tourists enjoy during every season.
Some parts of the river are narrow, creating a rapid flow where you can enjoy an exhilarating ride on a wooden boat on the river: this is called a ‘Nagatoro Rhine Cruise’. The name Rhine came from the Rhine River in Europe, and it was named as such because the cruise on this river is very famous among the Japanese, just like the river cruises on the Rhine in Europe enjoy great popularity over there. A ride on this boat means that you will be taken by the rapid flow while watching the beautiful rocks on both sides of the river. If you ride during winter, they don’t enter the rapid flow, but instead, you can get cozy under a ‘kotatsu‘, a traditional heating device that looks like a table with heavy blankets attached and a heating device under it that does a great job of warming up your legs while enjoying the cool breeze on your face. It is a very unique experience.
During the warmer months, you can go white water rafting at the more rough part of the river on an organized tour.
Nagatoro Rhine Cruise Information
Access: 5 minutes walk from Nagatoro Station
Fare: 3 km cruise (20 min): 1,800 yen for adults / 900 yen for elementary students
6 km cruise (40 min) 3,300 yen for adults / 1,600 yen for elementary students
Click here for more information.
Shinto religion is deeply connected with nature, so it is no wonder that you can find some interesting shrines in Chichibu. One of the three important Shinto shrines of the region is in Chichibu, this is the Hodosan Shrine at the foot of the mountain with the same name. The other two shrines are the Chichibu Shrine and Mitsumine Shrine. There is another Hodosan Shrine called Okumiya on top of the Hodosan Mountain. It means that the mountain is regarded as a holy place.
It is said that the shrines were established in the second century when crown prince Yamato Takeru traveled to this area. There was a forest fire raging at that time, and a guardian dog suddenly appeared and extinguished the fire for the prince. As soon as the fire was extinguished, the dog disappeared. Because of this story, Emperor Keiko who was the father of Yamato Takeru, founded the shrine.
For an easy hike, Mt. Hodosan is close to Nagatoro so you can easily visit both places in one day. The height of the mountain is only about 500 meters. You can hike up to the summit without too much stress, but if you want to choose a more comfortable way to the summit, you can also take a ropeway from the bottom.
You can see a great view from the top of the mountain. There are some benches, so you can have a bento lunch while enjoying the view. You can see pretty seasonal flowers on the mountain. There are plum blossoms and wintersweet flowers in winter, azalea in spring, rhododendron in early summer, and winter cherry blossoms and autumn leaves in November.
Hodosan Ropeway Information
Access: 20 minutes walk from Nagatoro Station (free shuttle bus on weekend)
Fare: Round trip: 800 yen for adults / 420 yen for elementary students
One way: 490 yen for adults / 250 yen for elementary students
Hours: 9:40 to 17:20 (until 16:30 in winter season)
Chichibu Night Festival
The Chichibu Night Festival is said to have been held for more than 300 years is held on December 2 and 3 every year. It is also called the Okaiko (sericulture) Festival because the area used to produce silk and sold silk products during the festival. There are 6 beautifully decorated floats that are dragged around the city in the day and night during this festival. In the evening it is extra beautiful because the floats will be lit up with lanterns. If you have a chance to stay until the evening, there is a wonderful fireworks display at the end of both days. The nearest train station to the festival’s location is Seibu Chichibu.
If you happen to visit during the summer you won’t get to see the festival, but there is something else that you should not miss; the wonderful shaved ice shops in the area. On any weekend during the summer, there are often long queues in front of the shops, but it is worth the wait. You can choose your flavor from a wide variety of selections; from the more traditional strawberry or pineapple to the very Japanese flavors green tea, and red bean paste.
There are several great hot spring sites scattered around the Chichibu area. By far the best way of experiencing the relaxing effect of Japanese onsen is to stay at a ryokan with an in-house hot spring, but there are also many hot spring facilities that you can use without staying overnight. A convenient spot for just a short visit is Matsurinoyu which is right next to Seibu Chichibu Station. You can rent a large towel and a face towel for a small charge. They have both inside baths and open-air baths, and there is a space to relax after taking a bath.
Access: It the station building of Seibu Chichibu
Entrance: 990 yen for adults / 610 yen for elementary students
Weekend and high season: 1,100 yen for adults / 730 for elementary students
Hours: 10:00 – 21:00
Fruit Picking Activity
Chichibu has fertile ground, and various types of fruits are grown in the region such as grapes, blueberries, and chestnuts. Many of these fruits like strawberries, apples, and plums are not only sold through the wholesale -> supermarket supply chain but can also be enjoyed by picking them yourself and eating them on the spot. Strawberry picking is especially popular in winter, as you will do the picking in a comfortable, warm greenhouse. Most of the strawberry picking is an all-you-can-eat style, and if you want to bring your harvest home, you will have to pay an extra fee. So the best thing to do is to just go for the all-you-can-eat option, and come hungry to leave happy! I have personally done the strawberry-picking experience one time
Your Japan Tour
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From Ikebukuro Station, take Red Arrow Express of Seibu Line to Seibu Chichibu Station. It takes about 80 minutes. You can change to the local Chichibu Line from there depending on your destination. Nagatoro is the seventh stop from Ohanabatake (same as Seibu Chichibu)
Another way is taking the Tobu Line from Ikebukuro. Change to the Chichibu Line at Yorii Station.