Discovering Chichibu, Saitama with LOCALIFE
Hello! I am Sue Ann from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I’m currently travelling in Tokyo with my friend, Resha. We are spending two weeks in LOCALIFE Mizonokuchi and it’s been great so far!
Prior to our arrival, we were invited by Yuta-san to join along a short tour of Chichibu, Saitama alongside several LOCALIFE residents and other invited guests. It was organised by an ex-resident Evan who wanted to introduce the sights of this charming city as well as one of Japan’s largest festival with over 2000 years of history, the annual Chichibu Yomatsuri Night Festival.
Our adventures started with a visit to the Chichibu Shrine 秩父神社, guided by the head priest himself who provided the detailed explanation of various key points to take note of in its design and architecture. This spot is set to shine at night as it is home to the Chichibu Yomatsuri Night Festival!
Besides that, he also shared on the history of this important shrine and proper manners in visiting shrines all across Japan. One of which is to always take the sides of the pathway when entering a shrine through the gate as the middle is reserved for the gods. This was the first time that I’ve been able to learn many interesting facts about a shrine especially being allowed the freedom to ask questions and that made me appreciate its existence so much more.
Sake and Whiskey in Chichibu
Next, we headed to the Chichibu-Nishiki Sake Brewery Museum & Park 酒づくりの森 where we could catch a whiff of the local sake as soon as we stepped in! Many eyes lit up at the familiar scent. Before we could proceed to taste its prize-winning sake, we were guided through the process of sake-making and a tour that summed up Chichibu Nishiki’s over 260 years of history. After which it was time to savour and spend as we took our time to sample to choose our favourites from sake to shochu to liqueur to wine to many more specialty products.
Having quenched our thirst in sake-knowledge, we took a leap into the world of whiskey at the Chichibu Distillery 秩父蒸溜所 located about 20 minutes away on the road. This small distillery is well respected as a powerhouse of whiskey blends, especially known for its world-famous award-winning Ichiro’s Malt. This tour was particularly special as it isn’t usually open to the public and we were so kindly taken to the distillery to have a peek at every step in the process. It was an eye-opening experience! We also had the opportunity to enjoy a tasting session though sadly for some in this group, due to its skyrocketing popularity there was zero stock left for sale.
Staying at a Ryokan
After such a delightful day spent, we checked into Miyamoto no Yu Ryokan 秩父西谷津温泉 宮本の湯 宮本家 for a good long soak in the hot bath followed by a drink of homemade liqueur in its charming bar just before a delicious traditional Japanese kaiseki dinner that left us feeling well contented. Thereafter, it was a restful night as we relaxed in the warm, cozy tatami rooms.
The next day, we headed back to town for the highlight of this trip!
It had been arranged for us to participate in the Chichibu Yomatsuri Night Festival, an exceptional honor that isn’t commonly given to just anyone! In preparation for the main night celebration, gorgeously-decorated festival floats were scheduled to be paraded in town and moved to be placed at the Chichibu Shrine. We were given the task to assist in pulling one of the floats that usually weighs up to 20 tonnes. We got dressed in the appropriate clothes fit for the occasion and jumped right into the festivities. It wasn’t easy but it was really exciting!
The festival floats stop shortly after several meters of movement, which gave us plenty of opportunities to chat with each other as well as locals involved in the festival. The locals were so friendly and tried hard to speak English to some of us who couldn’t communicate in Japanese.
We were told that those ropes from which we pulled are incredibly sacred and could not usually be touched by the public, which is why it was important for those involved in the parade to be extremely careful not to let it fall to the ground. By the time we finally got to the shrine, it was so crowded with visitors coming from all across Japan. The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement and anticipation!
We managed to take a group photograph and later walked around town sampling the festival food stalls until the fireworks started to light up the winter’s night sky in Chichibu. Then, we said our goodbyes and parted ways to return to our homes in Tokyo; some to LOCALIFE Shinjuku and some to LOCALIFE Mizonokuchi.
All in all, it was a remarkable experience made extra memorable by the incredible company made up of different nationalities throughout the journey!
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