Chichibu Night Festival from John Becker

The Chichibu Night Festival is held on the 2nd and 3rd of December annually. On account of the pandemic, the festival was very basic in 2020 and 2021. They only carried out some of the religious parts of the festival. Moreover, in 2021 it was for invited guests only. Also, the fireworks were cancelled, but they did have a very short “surprise” fireworks display to watch from home. There was no official parking, no festival stalls and the floats weren’t drawn. But thankfully the festival went back to normal in 2022 and it will be the full complement again in 2023 too; fireworks and all.

General information about the Chichibu Night festival

Due to several updates to the original post, I am republishing this post on November 26th 2022. However, I initially wrote this post when the Chichibu Night Festival had just been recorded as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The festival, specifically the traditional music and performances of the festival, was one of 32 festivals in Japan that were confirmed and recorded as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in the wee hours of December 1st 2016!

UNESCO Chichibu Night Festival

Japanese people seem to have an magnanimous love of the number three. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the numerous compilations of top threes that are famous within the country. There are the three gardens of Japan, the three views of Japan, the three night views of Japan, the big three festivals, the big three fireworks and so on and so forth. Chichibu Night Festival also makes it on to a top three list or more accurately a “greatest” list. It is one of Japan’s three greatest Hikiyama (pull-float) festivals. Together with Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Takayama Matsuri in Gifu prefecture.

**The above photos, one of which is also used as a featured Image on the preview, are copyright of John Becker. Andrea Miyata also contributed photos to this article, which are shared below. All photos used with the kind permission of the photographers. Thank you very much Andrea and John.**

Festival Floats

Chichibu Night Festival
Kasaboko lit up at night. Photo used with permission and the courtesy of John Becker
Yatai at Chichibu Night Festival from Andrea Miyata
Yatai at Chichibu Night Festival courtesy of Andrea Miyata, used with permission.

The floats of this 300 year old festival are very different to the better known Mikoshi (portable shrine). 「奉奏」are on wheels and are drawn by a rope, by bearers clad in traditional festival clothes.  There are a number of different floats classified as Kasaboko or Yatai, both with beautifully carved ornate roofs. There are two main differences between them.  The first is that the Kasaboko have an appendage on the roof. They remind me of Yorishiro, the white paper decorations you see around trees at shinto shrines. The Yatai does not have this decoration. The second is that the Yatai have room for performers to sit and play music and / or dance, which Kasaboko do hot have. The floats are pulled around the town on both days of the festival:

Typical Schedule of the Chichibu Night Festival

The best thing to do is pick up a program at the train station, tourist office or Chichibu Shrine etc. I have included the link to the official programs for each day below too. Hereafter, the usual schedule;

2nd December

On the 2nd the floats are usually pulled from Chichibu shrine from about 12 noon first to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi at approximately 4 pm. During this time you can watch the floats being turned and danced around the street. The yatai will have live traditional music, moreover you can witness traditional dance. From 10 am to 3 pm you can usually see traditional performances in Chichibu Shrine. From around 4 to 6 pm there is a taiko drums performance. You can also enjoy other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station.

The official brochure for December 2nd 2023.

Fireworks; there is a small fireworks on the 2nd each year (except during the pandemic). In 2023, they will be launched between 7 and 8 pm. But there is an even bigger fireworks display on the 3rd…

3rd December

Generally, on the 3rd the you can see the kasaboko and yatai all around the city from 9 am to midnight. The yatai are pulled with traditional dancers performing in the float, from just before 10 am on the same route as the 2nd: from Chichibu shrine to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi which will be around 1 pm.

Oneri at Chichibu Night Festival from John Bekcer.
Oneri at Chichibu Night Festival courtesy of John Becker, used with permission. ©John Becker

Moreover, Chichibu shrine has music and traditional performances from 10 am to 3 pm. You can also normally see a Yatai Shibai, stage performance, from 11 am to 2 pm in Naka machi near the kaijyou 会場. You can enjoy Oneri (Kabuki Douchuu) a type of acting performance between 2.30 and 3.30 pm moving from around the Chichibu shrine area right down to Yao Department store.  From 10 am to 7 pm there is also live taiko drum and other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station and Chichibu Tetsudo station. They launch about 7000 fireworks on the 3rd from around 7 / 7.30 pm to around 9.30 / 10 pm.

The fireworks are generally are on from 7.30 pm to 10 pm! They are launched from Hitsujiyama Park.

The official brochure for December 3rd 2023.

Information

Event: Chichibu Night Festival 秩父夜祭

Dates: Every year on December 2nd and December 3rd regardless of what days of the week they fall on.

Time: from 10 am to about 8 pm on the 2nd and from 9 am to midnight on the 3rd. The Fireworks are on from 7 to 8 pm on the 2nd and from 7.30 pm to around 10 pm on the 3rd.

Cost: there is no admission fee.

Venue: Chichibu Shrine ~ Chichibu Station area. 1-1 Banbamachi, Chichibu, Saitama 368-0041. View on Google Maps. Please also see the Google MyMap at the bottom of the post, which I marked the key locations on.

Access

From the Chichibu Tourism English webpage, which unfortunately no longer seems to exist. I pulled the car directions from the site in 2016:

BY CAR

  • Use National highway No. 140 from Kanetsu Expressway flower garden I.C.; in Chichibu-shi (from flower garden IC approximately 35km)
  • Use National highway No. 299 from Kanetsu Expressway Kawagoe I.C. or Tsurugashima I.C.; in Chichibu-shi
  • From Kawagoe, Iruma at National highway No. 299 via Shomaru tunnel in Chichibu-shi (from Hanno approximately 40km)
  • From Yamanashi side via National highway No. 140 wild goose slope tunnel in Chichibu-shi

BY TRAIN

SL Paleo Express with Chichibu Night Festival motif from Andrea Miyata, used with permission
SL Paleo Express with Chichibu Night Festival motif courtesy of Andrea Miyata, used with permission. ©Andrea Miyata

To make your visit to Chichibu even more special, you can take a Steam Locomotive from Kumagaya. The SL Paleo is the closest running Steam Locomotive to Tokyo. It usually only runs on the weekends at this time of year, and will stop shortly after the festival until winter is over. But they run the route especially for the Chichibu Night Festival. However, there is only one train up and one train down. And if you are going on a daytrip, the return train is too early to enjoy the afternoon and evening festivities.  You can take the train up in the morning and enjoy the views and the comfort of this popular and much loved steam locomotive.

Regular trains are usually very scarce in the evening in Chichibu, but each train line puts on extra trains for this special occasion. Usually the last train leaves around 10.20 pm. Please do check for up-to-date information on train times. Chichibu Railway official English website. Seibu Railway official English website.

Official event page.

20161201 . R221126. Updated annually and republished every couple of years. Last republish November 19th 2023.

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