Ever wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life but find it difficult or troublesome to get to the countryside and get some fresh air or see nature’s sights? If you are in or near Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県), look no further than Chichibu City (秩父市) this winter 2017 for some much-needed respite!
Chichibu is located in the northwestern part of Saitama and is the largest city in the prefecture. Due to it being surrounded by the Okuchichibu Mountains (奥秩父山塊) and located in the middle of the Chichibu Basin, the city is famous for its natural parks and abundance of limestone. During summer, Chichibu is extremely warm, but with a lower humidity compared to other cities within the Kanto region, the nights are more bearable and temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius at night. On the other hand, the harsh winters bring temperatures down to as low as -5 degrees Celsius.
Depending on the season you visit, the city has a variety of attractions and sights to offer. During spring, Hitsujiyama Kouen (羊山公園) i.e. Hitsujiyama Park showcases the beautiful shibazakura (pink moss). A number of famous festivals such as the Ryusei Matsuri (龍勢祭り) in October and the Chichibu Yomatsuri (秩父夜祭) in December, which is registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Asset, are huge crowd-pullers. For those into mountain climbing, there’s Kumotorisan (雲取山), Kobushigatake (甲武信ヶ岳), and Ryokamisan (両神山) which are ranked among the top 100 mountains of Japan. Other than these, there are as many as four dams, onsens, and museums located within the city for a wide variety of experiences and scenery for tourists. Last but not least, the city is also known for being the hometown of a number of celebrities such as actor Fujiwara Tatsuya (藤原竜也), Ninomiya Tomoko (二ノ宮知子) who is the author of popular manga Nodame Cantabile (のだめカンタービレ), rakugo performer Hayashiya Taihei (林家たい平), and comedian Shitara Osamu (設楽統).
Snow rarely falls in the Kanto region as temperatures usually do not fall below freezing point in winter. However, Chichibu’s unique geographical location makes it so cold and snowy especially in the mountainous areas that the city boasts three famous spots to view the tsurara (つらら/氷柱) i.e. icicles which are commonly seen during this season. Besides guided tours to show these beautiful winter landscapes, these locations are also illuminated at night so as to project a different feel from how it looks in the daytime. Of the three famous tsurara spots in Chichibu, Ashigakubo no Tsurara (あしがくぼの氷柱) and Onouchi Hyakkei Tsurara (尾ノ内百景氷柱) are actually man-made i.e. the local residents create the icicles themselves. Although they are both beautiful in their own respect, I would like to recommend visiting Misotsuchi no Tsurara which is an artistic work of nature.
Misotsuchi no Tsurara is located at the foot of Mitsuminesan (三峰山) in the Okuchichibu area (奥秩父) within the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park (秩父玉甲斐国立公園) which is also known for being a power spot of the city due to the presence of the Mitsumine Shrine (三峰神社). While on the way to this shrine, there is a path named Misotsuchi Hiking Course (三十槌ハイキングコース) where you will come across the Mitsotsuchi Bridge that stretches across the Arakawa River (荒川). Along the river just below the Wood Roof Oku-Chichibu Auto Camp Ground (ウッドルーフ奥秩父オートキャンプ場), this is where you will be able to view the Misotsuchi no Tsurara. For those who are arriving by car or bus, the event area is just a short walk away from the camping ground’s car park.
What makes Misotsuchi no Tsurara so special is that the underground water from the mountain along Arakawa River flows downwards from a height of 10 meters to 25 meters which cause the natural formation of the icicles in the freezing winter. As compared to other icicles made manually, the clean and clear water increases the clarity of the icicles which become even more beautiful when reflected on the surface of the Arakawa River below.
For the 2017 edition, you can visit the area from 8 am to 5 pm between 7 January and 19 February, but this may end earlier without prior notice depending on the icicles’ condition. In addition, do take note that the light-up period is only from 14 January to 12 February. The area will be lit up in various colors from 5 pm to 7 pm on weekdays, while this will be extended to 9 pm on weekends and public holidays. In the 2016 edition, the 4 colors chosen were meant to reflect the four seasons in Chichibu i.e. pink to represent the shibazakura at Hitsujiyama Park in spring, green for the greenery at Mitsuminesan in summer, red for the autumn leaves at Nakatsu Keikoku in autumn, and white for Misotsuchi no Tsurara in winter, and they were mixed and matched to form a total of 36 patterns. Although there are no details yet on what the 2017 edition has to offer, you can be sure that it will be as good, if not better than the previous versions.
Other than viewing the tsurara and light show, there are other events held during the winter festival period. For example, on 29 January and 5 February 2017, from 10 am to 3 pm, there is a special event organized by the local tourism association whereby local produce such as amazake (traditional Japanese drink made from fermented rice) will be sold. The event space will be at the camping ground so you can swing by here before heading to see the tsurara.
Although Chichibu does not receive a huge amount of snowfall even in the mountainous areas, it is still relatively dangerous to drive to the event venue especially if you are not used to driving on icy roads during winter. It is highly recommended that you ensure that your tires are the type which can be used for driving under such conditions. Parking at the camping ground is 500 yen for cars and 200 yen for motorcycles.
For those who are traveling by public transport, you can take the Chichibu Main Line and alight at Mitsumineguchi Station (三峰口駅) before switching to the Seibu Kankou Bus (西武観光バス) which goes on the Mitsumineguchi route (三峰口線). At the entrance to get to the tsurara viewing area, there is a donation box which encourages those traveling by public transport or have hiked to the venue to give some money which will be used to maintain the surrounding area.
Despite the fact that it only takes 1 to 2 minutes from the carpark to the viewing area, there is a sharp slope downwards which makes people prone to slipping due to the frozen conditions. As such, if you feel that you can’t handle the walk down from the carpark, you can choose to go to the viewing deck which is within the carpark area and offers a top-down view of the tsurara. Ladies should take note not to wear shoes like high heels as it will be very difficult to walk on the icy road. Temperatures are likely to go below 0 degrees Celsius at night, so please make sure you are properly attired during your visit.
After feasting your eyes on this work of art by nature, why not consider swinging by the nearby Michi no Eki Otaki Onsen (道の駅大滝温泉 – Japanese only) to warm yourself up? Last but not least, end your trip by sampling Chichibu delicacies such as teuchisoba (手打ちそば) i.e. handmade soba or Nakatsu imo (中津いも) i.e. Nakatsu sweet potatoes. Have fun there this winter!
Misotsuchi no Tsurara Website *Japanese only