Chichibu MatsuriArea Guide
Japan is famous for its festivals, with almost every town, city and district holding events for all the community to participate in every year. Chichibu in western Saitama Prefecture is no different, and many festivals take place in the city throughout the year. By far the most famous of these is the Chichibu Yomatsuri. This translates to ‘night festival’, and it is undoubtedly one of Japan’s most well-known festivals. Additionally, along with the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Takayama Matsuri, it is known as one of the three great hikiyama float festivals, where huge floats are paraded down the streets, and so it is an event which draws people from far and wide.
The Chichibu Yomatsuri is held every year on December 2nd and 3rd, with most of the main events taking place on the night of the 3rd. During the afternoon and early evening, six large floats are displayed in their respective home districts and at Chichibu Shrine, before being pulled through the streets towards the city hall from around 7 pm. The floats are decorated with lanterns, ornate carvings, and colorful tapestries, and are accompanied by a background din of flutes, chanting and beating drums.
The climax of the festival is when the six floats are hauled up a steep slope one-by-one to the plaza in front of the city hall, and lined up there as the huge two hour long fireworks display lights up the sky overhead. Even if you can’t get a good spot near the front (it’s recommended to get there very early or even reserve seats in advance), the fireworks are visible from all over the city. It is a rare chance to see fireworks during the winter, as fireworks are usually associated with the summer in Japan.
As well as the float parades and fireworks, there are many food stalls lining the streets selling an assortment of delicious snacks and the local amazake, a sweet rice wine. Most of the festivities wind down by about 10pm, so it’s easy to take in the whole matsuri and still catch a train back to Tokyo.
Kawase matsuri is Chichibu Shrine’s summer festival, and it takes place every year on July 19th and 20th. It is held at Hinomisaki and at some other smaller auxiliary shrines, with floats being paraded through the streets on the evening of the first day. On the second day a 400kg portable wooden shrine is carried in a procession, before a ritual cleansing in the waters of the Arakawa River. Many children join in playing musical instruments, or even by helping to pull the floats along, so the festival has a fun and energetic atmosphere.
Other festivals held in the city include the Chichibu Ondo Dance Festival on August 14th, the Fundama Festival (where boats with paper lanterns attached sail up and down the river) on August 15th, the Bamboo Rocket Festival on the second Sunday in October, and the Gun Festival on the second Saturday and Sunday of December. In this Shinto ritual a sacred horse rushes up stone steps amid a cacophony of gunsmoke and gunshots.
The festivals of Chichibu all take place in and around the center of town and are easily accessed from Chichibu and Seibu Chichibu stations on the Seibu Chichibu Line. There are usually extra trains on December 3rd for the Yomatsuri, and Chichibu can be reached in just 90 minutes by express train from central Tokyo.
Top image: Chichibu Matsuri