A Day in Chichibu, Japan: Best Things to Do, Eat, and See

Chichibu is excellent. The city of Chichibu is located in the Saitama prefecture of Japan. It is a self-contained valley and popular native Japanese tourist destination, surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Two months ago, Ryosuke and I had the opportunity to visit this place with such a funny name, mostly to record videos for a project with the #MyJapanStory contest.

However, as I was transferring files over to my new computer, I realized I never did a full write-up on the “musts” of Chichibu, things you should do, foods you should eat, and sights you should see. Here is that write-up (warning: pictures of delicious food).

Top Things to Do in Chichibu

Go to the Rest stop (道の駅) near the station to binge on some delicious food

In general, rest stops in Japan are a great place to go for delicious, affordable, local cuisine. It sounds weird, but bear with me!

Prefectures in Japan all have their own local specialties, along with certain areas or towns. Aomori is famous for anything related to apples (apple pie, apple curry, etc), Gunma is famous for konyaku, Chiba is famous for peanuts, Ibaraki is famous for natto – the list goes on. The hardest part is trying to find a good place to taste the local specialties, since you can often end up out of luck just driving through a town. Rest stops off the highway are a great place to try snacks, souvenirs, and sit-down meals from that area.

Chichibu is famous for a lot of things, I suppose, but the highlights of the rest stop were:

  • Miso Potato
    • Deep fat fried and lightly breaded potatoes, covered in a sweet miso glaze
      Chichibu Japanese food yummie Japan

      Miso Potato

  • Okkirikomi Udon
    • A light broth with udon and roughly cut vegetables – exact ingredients change depending on the season. In November, it was carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and daikon radish.
      Okkikikomi Udon

      Okkikikomi Udon

  • Waraji Katsu
    • A thin pork cutlet marinated ahead of time, then breaded and deep fat fried. Unlike traditional katsu, waraji katsu has an incredibly strong (almost overwhelming) taste from the marinated. The katsu are shaped like “waraji” straw sandals and served over a bowl of rice.
      Waraji Katsu

      Waraji Katsu

Visit any number of the temples in the Chichibu 34 Kannon pilgrimage

The Chichibu 34 Kannon is a sacred pilgrimage of 34 temples that started somewhere in the early 13th century.  It runs a bit over 100km and while researching Chichibu the week before, I (foolishly) thought we could do the pilgrimage by car in one day. No, apparently it takes 2-3 days by car or 6-8 days by foot. Needless to say, the pilgrimage did not happen. Well, at least not all of it. We were able to visit four temples before the sun set.

The majority of the temples are located in urban Chichibu, with a couple scattered out in the mountainside. And unlike the strings of temples I saw in Nikko and Kyoto, the temples in Chichibu are much smaller. They look like any temple you can find out in the countryside, instead of a grand tourist attraction (which I kind of prefer).

They’re also free to enter (which I really like).

While you’re at the temples you should:

  • Cleanse your hands (and spirit) with water (at the chozuya/temizuya) and smoke
    IMG_8924

    • The Chozuya is a Shinto symbolic purification facility found at basically every shrine in Japan (and most non-Shinto establishments such as Buddhist temples). The Chozuya facilities themselves are absolutely gorgeous, decorated artfully with dragons, stones, and fountains. If you do the purfication “wrong” it’s no biggie – most people these days don’t know the exact steps and if you visit on an empty day, there’s no one to witness your accidental mistake. About three years ago, I sat down a local priest and was like “teach me how to do this thing” and he did, leading me to writing this post on how to purify yourself at a temple/shrine chozuya.
  • Collect a stamp for your shuincho book
    Chichibu things to do temple book goshuin shrine

    • Shuincho are one of Japan’s little-know treasures. They are basically cloth-bound books that contain the official seals of various temples and shrines across Japan. Some people treat it as a unique souvenir; others collect them for deep, religious reasons. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I’ve almost filled up my first book now, with stamps from all over Japan: Wakkanai (Hokkaido), Aomori, Akita, Sendai, Saitama, Ibaraki, Chiba, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, etc.
      Each temple or shrine has a designated person to write your stamp, using a calligraphy brush and a chunk of red ink. The first time I saw one being written, it almost made me cry. I think that stamps are a gorgeous form of art.
      Chichibu things to do temple book goshuin shrineI couldn’t believe my luck in Chichibu, because not one but two of the stamp masters let me film them drawing the stamp. That’s never happened before – every other place I’ve been is very strict on the “no photos” policy. But when I asked in Chichibu, two of the four people gave a resounding “Sure! Thanks for asking!”
      Chichibu things to do temple book goshuin shrine
      Of course, my main shuincho book is a generic book I picked up in Sendai two years ago, when I first discovered them. My friend had been collecting them for several years and showed me his book at dinner while we were visiting the city. I was hooked. I picked up my first book the next day, after asking around to several temples to see if any of them sold the books (the sixth place I asked did). My book is a generic book, but you can also buy shuincho books for specific temples. Certain areas of Japan have pilgrimages that integrate a shuincho book. Chichibu’s shuincho book has a 34 pages, for the 34 temples. And on the back of each page, the temple’s “song” is written, so people on the pilgrimage can chant or sing between the temples.

      My new temple stamp book!

      My new temple stamp book, specifically for the Chichibu pilgrimage!

  • Pray at the temple
    • Toss some money in the bin, clap, shake the rope with the bell, etc.
  • Write your wish on an ema
    Chichibu things to do temple shrine japan japanese ema

    • Ema are a Shinto tradition, found in shrines across Japan (that being said, because of the integration of Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan, you can often find them at Buddhist temples in Japan as well). You can buy one of these themed wooden plaques at the shrine, write your wish, and hang it up on the grounds. Some shrines have ema for specific wishes: looking for love, help with your studies, getting pregnant, money problems, etc.
  • Get your fortune told via omikiji
  • Buy a charm for love, wealth, luck, or studies
    • You can buy charms to help with all sorts of things. Most are brightly colored cloth bags that you can affix to purses, wallets, key-chains, and other objects.
  • Take a hike through the surrounding woods
    Chichibu things to do temple shrine japan japanese

    • Because really, nature is gorgeous and ought to be appreciated more.

Stroll through the shopping center near the station

We came by car and only stopped by the shopping street near the station on the way home. I somewhat regret that, because there were several delicious looking restaurants that I would have loved to try (if I wasn’t already so freaking full). Still, we munched on some snacks and browsed through the souvenirs.

My favorites were:

    • Dragon’s beard candy isn’t originally from Japan, but it has become a local specialty in Chichibu. It has a rich, sweet flavor – somewhat similar to cotton candy but more stringy. It melts under moisture (eating it is fun!) and is mostly made up of sugar, with a rich filling of peanuts, coconut, and sesame seeds.
      Chichibu Japanese food yummie Japan
  • Senbei (rice crackers)
    • Senbei, of course, isn’t exclusively a Chichibu treat either. You can find senbei basically anywhere, even gas stations and supermarkets. I like freshly roasted senbei, though, which is exactly what you can find in Chichibu (and to be honest, most “historic districts” in Japan). My favorite senbei flavor is sesame.
      Chichibu Japanese food yummie Japan
  • Nozawana oyaki
    • Oyaki is a recent favorite of mine. It is a form of Japanese dumpling, with a fermented buckwheat dough wrapped around a suffing, then fried on an iron pan. Common stuffing is fruit, red bean paste, and semi-pickled vegetables (which is my favorite – pictures below). The nozawana oyaki is seasoned with soy sauce and salt.
      Chichibu Japanese food yummie Japan

And there you have it! This, in a nutshell, was our trip to Chichibu. I highly recommend it, if just to get off the beaten track. It’s only 83 minutes from Ikebukuro (a station in Tokyo) to Chichibu station, via the express Seibu Ikebukuro line, which makes it close enough to visit for the day but far enough away that it won’t be anywhere as crowded as Nikko and Kawagoe.

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The city doesn’t get nearly the same percentage of foreign tourists as Nikko, Kyoto, and Kawagoe – which meant that a lot of the shopkeepers were friendly, curious, and accommodating. It seemed less like a well-oiled tourist destination (which is the feeling I get often when I go to the “must see” historic spots in guidebooks) and more like a real place with a real, living history.

 

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

16 Comments on A Day in Chichibu, Japan: Best Things to Do, Eat, and See

  1. Michael Tung // 7 March, 2016 at 7:32 am //

    Hey Grace, it’s Michael from the ICU Program! I happened to stumble upon your blog again and I hope you and Ryosuke are doing well!

    Chichibu was actually the first place I came to in Japan and stayed with a host family when I just graduated high school! It’s very cool to see you reviewing Chichibu! Next time you visit, try to go down the Nagatoro rafting trip and go for the Chichibu Night Festival in November!

    Chichibu has gotten a bit more popular due to an anime called, “Ano Hana,” so I’m hoping that and your blog will help boost some tourism there! Wishing you and Ryosuke the best in your endeavors!

  2. Anonymous // 7 January, 2016 at 11:44 pm //

    I am an American living in Chichibu. I like the area and am glad that you did too. You might enjoy my photos of Chichibu and area on my Facebook site.

  3. Thank you for reviewing Chichibu! I haven’t had the opportunity to visit, but I might have to go just for the rest stop foods. I haven’t gotten into the shuincho books, but I would love to get one for Chichibu.

  4. Grace, I thank the fates that I have managed to find your blog. We were in Japan in 2007 and spent about 12 days there in the Kyoto and Tokyo areas. I would give a lot to retire there just so I could spend the rest of my life learning about that fabulous country. But, since that is highly unlikely unless I hit the lottery, I am keeping up with your posts. Thanks again.

  5. Miso potato… yum > <

  6. Your blog and videos have inspired me to get to Japan as soon as I can. Thank you.

  7. I was living in Saitama wanted to go there many times. Everything seems so delicious :)

  8. I saw your video on this town and put it on my list of places I need to go in Japan.

  9. Yeah, good thing I already ate! Those foods look fantastic.

    I’m impressed you learned how to do the purification ritual correctly.

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