Nature: Mountains. Woods. Temples. Flowers. These words define the beautiful mountainous area west of Saitama prefecture – Chichibu.
Moss Pink Park
Chichibu is easy to get to from the Tokyo area, so recently it was promoted as a good “weekend getaway” for Japanese young professionals. Due to its proximity to the metropolitan area, it is becoming a very popular sightseeing spot during moss phlox (moss pink – “shibazakura”) blossom period (mid April – early May) as many people come here to enjoy the beautiful nature. Hitsujiyama park (literally “mountain of sheep”) is a place where you can see about 400,000 moss phloxes spread out in the area of approximately 17600 square meters.
There are also about 1000 cherry trees that blossom in April here, so springtime is definitely the time to visit this place, especially for those who love flowers. This park is only a 10-minute walk from Seibu-Chichibu station. You will see a small waterfall and a watermill on your way. During high season there are signs that help you locate the park. The entrance fee is 300 yen.
Hiking from Seibu-Chichibu station
If you love outdoor activities, the popular Kotohira hiking trail starts near the entrance to the Hitsujiyama park. It’s a fairly easy trail, so you don’t have to be an expert hiker or really physically fit to walk it. Just walk past the sheep farm and you will see the beginning of the trail’s path. The trail should take about 3 to 4 hours to reach the end, but take care in rainy or gloomy weather, as it makes the narrow trails slippery and the hike a little more challenging.
You will see many temples on your way and even a statue of Buddha, if you’re lucky enough to locate it. Historically this place used to be a popular site for pilgrimage. In fact, there are about 12 hiking trails around this area. The Chichibu area is seen as one of the sacred mountain areas. Out of 100 Sacred cannon temples in Japan, 34 are located in Chichibu. The pilgrimage path from the 1st to the 34th temple is said to be 100 kilometers. There are also several Buddha statues you can find on your way. The final destination of the Kotohira trail is the neighboring local train station, where you can get back to Seibu-Chichibu station from.
Hiking from Ashigakubo
If you want to combine hiking with another outdoorsy activity, you might want to try hiking from the neighboring Ashinogakubo station. Hiking maps are available to pick up at the station. Not very far from the station is Nozon park with a pond, which features 100 meter roller slide with a zip line. The hike up to this park referred to as a “family course”, so even elementary school or older children can have fun sliding and riding on the zip line. On a clear day you can also see a beautiful view of Mt Buko, which at 1336 meter high, is considered one of the 200 famous mountains in Japan. For hiking follow the signposts from Ashigakubo station. The beginning of the trail is on the paved road and after about 20-30 minutes of hiking you will see a signpost pointing into the woods and that’s the beginning of the trail. You will soon see Nozon park and its roller slide. There are toilets and water stations in many places along the trail.
If you want to experience picking fruits, the rough schedule is as follows: Strawberry season is from January to mid-June, plum is from July to early August, grapes from mid-August to mid-October, apples from October to November and Japanese shiitake mushrooms all year round. You can see maps on your way showing which fruit you can find in which farm. The entrance fee varies depending on the fruit and season. For example, for strawberries the “all-you-can-eat” option for 30 minutes varies from 1000 to 1500 yen depending on the month, for elementary school children and older (for the juniors it ranges from 500 to 800 yen). There is another option of only picking strawberries (without eating) and for 1 pack of 300 g it is 500-700 yen. You might want to check the schedule at the tourist information centers in advance.
Anime-lovers might also find something that interests them in Chichibu, as popular “Anohana” (translated to English as “The Flower We Saw that Day”) anime’s movie adaption was set in amongst the nature of Chichibu. Much of the beautiful scenery of this anime actually exists in Chichibu. You can discover many real anime scenes by walking around Chichibu (more detailed information can be found here http://otakumode.com/sp/visit_japan/seichi-junrei/s005). If walking isn’t your thing, bicycles are available to rent at Chichibu Tourist Information center in the Seibu-Chichibu station.
Also Chichibu night festival (Yomatsuri), which is held in early December (2nd and 3rd) is very popular. It is one of the top 3 festivals in Japan which features floats (the other 2 being in Kyoto) and it features a unique 2-hour fireworks display in winter.
Other things to do
Another sightseeing spot would be Chichibu jinja (shrine), which was built more than 2000 years ago. It is very close to Seibu-Chichibu station.
Nakamise – is a small shopping promenade near Seibu-Chichibu station. You can try local soba – buckwheat noodles, which are said to be served with a special secret-recipe sauce, passed down over generations.
Chichibu is also a great place for hot springs. Pilgrims tend to relieve their fatigue in the beautiful onsens dotted about the area. Some of them are open for non-pilgrim visitors as well. If you like kabuki, you might also want to check the Ogano Kabuki schedule to see if you can attend one of the performances.
Arakawa river runs through the city and you can enjoy rafting and boating on it. The Nagatoro area is popular for rafting and boating.
For more information about this area in English you can visit following websites:
- Chichibu Area Tourism website: http://www.chichibu-omotenashi.com/en
- For detailed information about temples – Seibu Railways website: http://www.seibu-group.co.jp/railways/tourist/english/sightseeing/chichibu/
- Stories of Saitama prefecture with quizzes: http://www2.boe.city.shiraoka.lg.jp/mitsuketa/15stories/stories/00.Table%20of%20Contents/Table%20of%20Contents.htm