Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture can be reached from Tokyo via train in around 2 hours. Not only is it a spot well known for appearing in anime, but it's full of gorgeous places worth checking out in the winter! Here are 5 particular spots that you should make time to visit.
1. Misotsuchi Icicles
This classic and popular winter attraction of Chichibu is the only spot out of Chichibu’s three greatest icicle spectacles where you can view naturally-formed icicles. Early January to mid-February is when water dripping from the rock surfaces freeze due to the cold, forming a magical-looking row of icicles that’s 30m wide and 10m tall. These get lit up with light from mid-January, adding even more magic to the scene. Those with unsteady feet can view these icicles with ease from the wood deck within Wood Roof Oku-Chichibu Auto Camp Ground. To get there, ride a train from Ikebukuro Station for 1 hour and 40 minutes, then take a bus that only comes 5 times a day from Seibu-Chichibu Station.
2. Onouchi Hyakkei Icicles
This is one of Chichibu’s three biggest icicle spectacles, artificially made by attaching a pipe to a stream 500m away. The sight of the 150m long row of 60m tall icicles, visible from a vine bridge, is absolutely stunning. You have only five chances between mid-January and late February to see them illuminated from sunset until 8pm, so don’t miss out on it! Amazake (sweet drink made from fermented rice) is even provided for free to warm up your cold body while you’re viewing this stunning sight. Ride a bus from Seibu-Chichibu Station and walk for 20 minutes to reach this place. If you’re going by car, be careful of the icy roads!
3. Mt. Hodo
This 497m tall mountain is located approximately 20 minutes away from Nagatoro Station on foot. From there, journey up to the peak by taking a cable car for five minutes. From the peak, you can get a sweeping view of the Chichibu Basin. You’ll also be treated to roughly 3,000 robai (Japanese allspice) trees, which have pale yellow flowers that bloom in the freezing winter (late December to late February). Their aroma is so sweet that these flowers are actually called “wintersweet” in English, and looking at them will make you feel as if spring has come sooner, even though you’re on Mt. Hodo in the middle of winter!
4. Nagatoro's Iwadatami
Located along the river just five minutes from Nagatoro Station on foot, this rock formation is the symbol of Nagatoro, and is a national place of scenic beauty and a natural monument of Japan. It has an approximate width of 50m and a length that spans roughly 600m, and is a popular spot that is visited by people from all over the country. On the opposite shore to this natural formation sits a tall cliff called “Chichibu Sekiheki” (Chichibu Red Wall), from which you can enjoy a view that changes with the seasons. A popular activity in Nagatoro is rafting, and it’s especially worth it to try doing so in January and February, which are the only months when they install kotatsu (low blanket-covered table with a heat source underneath) on the boats! You’ll find Iwadatami beautiful when gazing at it from underneath a kotatsu on a boat gliding through the river’s clear waters in the winter.
5. Mitsumine Shrine
This historic spot sitting at an altitude of 1,102m in the midst of nature is one of Chichibu’s three largest shrines and holds immense popularity. It is teeming with spiritual power, with a mystical yet calm air permeating everywhere from its main shrine building, designated as an important cultural property of the prefecture, to the holy tree Shigetada-sugi (Shigetada Cedar), which is over 800 years old. In recent years, tourists have been flocking to this temple to purchase its Shiroi Kimamori (White Spiritual Charm) that’s only sold on the first day of every month. At the moment, only those who stay in Mitsumine Shrine’s Kounkaku on the last day of the month or the first day of the month can purchase this charm, so those looking to make full use of the spiritual aura of Mitsumine Shrine ought to stay there overnight.
If you're sightseeing in Tokyo anyway, take a detour and enjoy Chichibu in the winter as well!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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