If you want something to keep you occupied on a cold winter night, then you should visit the Chichibu Shrine to see a slice of ancient Japanese cultural heritage. Go and visit the Saitama Night festival!
The Saitama prefecture is located just north of Tokyo City, and is a part of the Greater Tokyo Area. Historically, Saitama contains Chichibu Province, one of the 137 provinces that was ruled by Emperor Sujin. Saitama was a rich agricultural region that produced a lot of food for the Kanto region. In this area, daimyo (feudal rulers) ruled during the Edo period. The Chichibu region of Saitama is a mountainous region with a beautiful environment.
The Chichibu Shrine is said to have been established in the tenth year of Emperor Sujin, who reigned from 98 BC to 20 BC, although there is no consensus about which century he lived and reigned in. The shrine was built specifically to enshrine and worship deity Yagokoro-omoikane-no-mikoto. This deity is said to protect wisdom and good counsel. The shrine also contains other deities: Chichibunhiko-no-mikoto, Amenominakanushi-no-kami and Prince Chichibu.
Prince Chichibu was the second son of Emperor Taisho who died in 1953. In the times when Buddhism and Shintoism merged, the Chichibu shrine merged with a neighbouring Buddhist temple, until the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the 1800’s. You can recognise both Buddhist and Shinto elements in the architectural style of the shrine. The pavilion was reconstructed under the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is responsible for the ornate carvings in Nikko. These carvings and architecture give an air of beauty to this shrine.
Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu night festival) is a historical festival of cultural heritage in Japan. With a history of over 2,000 years, it is one of Japan’s three greatest float festivals, rivalled only by the famous Gion Matsuri and Takayama Matsuri. Float festivals involve decorated dashi (floats), which are pulled through the area to the sound of live traditional music.
The Chichibu Yomatsuri is held on the second and third day of December. During this festival kasaboko (pictured above), which look like giant parasols, are also paraded. These are decorated with weapons such as spears and also flowers. The parade is led by the mikoshi, a portable shrine where the kami of the shrine is held. The parade takes place in a real party atmosphere, with stalls selling food lining the road.
The parade starts in the afternoon when the floats are pulled towards city hall to meet at 7 pm. This culminates in a beautiful and lengthy firework display. The floats then also transform into kabuki stages where plays are performed in the evening. The streets do tend to get full of festival goers, so better arrive early. However, if you can’t make it on time, you can witness the display on a big screen near the station.