Chichibu Shrine with a history of more than 2,000 years plays host to the Chichibu Yomatsuri every year on December 2nd and 3rd. Located in Chichibu City in the western part of Saitama Prefecture, close to Tokyo the enchanting night festival has a 300-year history and is considered one of Japan’s three greatest float festivals along with the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and the Takayama Festival in Gifu.
The Chichibu Yomatsuri features ornately decorated festival floats, mikoshi portable shrines, a chance to see rare winter fireworks and amazing Japanese festival food. The highlight of the festival is the elaborately decorated festival floats which weigh between 10-20 tonnes each, and feature lanterns, tapestries and gilded wood carvings. The gorgeous floats are pulled through the streets of Chichibu accompanied by traditional Japanese taiko drum and flute music.
The other main attraction of the festival is the impressive fireworks display, which lasts close to two and a half hours. It is a rare opportunity to enjoy this popular summer tradition in Japan during winter. You can also enjoy all the various yatai food stalls selling Japanese festival food such as yakisoba and okonomiyaki. I recommend trying the hot amazake (sweet rice wine) to warm up on the cold December night.
The main day of the festival is December 3, where from the afternoon and early evening, the festival floats are displayed at their respective neighbourhoods and at Chichibu Shrine. At the peak of the festival in the evening, the floats are pulled up a steep slope to the ecstatic chants of ‘Ho-ryai! Ho-ryai!’ towards the city hall.
This is the most challenging and dangerous part of the festival with the massive floats a constant danger to the eager participants. The climax of the festival takes place on the plaza in front of the city hall where all the floats are lined up one after another, followed by the fireworks display.
Location: Chichibu Shrine, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
When: December 2-3
Time: Main Day (December 3) 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fireworks (December 3) 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm
The Chichibu Yomatsuri is about 90 minutes away from Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. From Ueno Station in Tokyo take a local JR train to Kumagaya and transfer to the Chichibu Railways for Chichibu.