All Eyes On The Chichibu Night Festival - What Makes It So Special?

Welcome to the Chichibu Night Festival!

Image courtesy of Chichibu Travel Department

Please note that the Chichibu Night Festival in 2020 may be canceled or postponed to effects of the COVID-19 outbreaks.

The Chichibu Night Festival (Chichibu Yomatsuri) is celebrated every year in the city of Chichibu in Saitama prefecture, as it is an annual festival held by Chichibu Shrine. This festival has taken place for an impressive 300 years, for which it earned itself a place on both UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list and Japan’s List of Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties.

What makes it especially fascinating is the hikimawashi (*1) of its festival floats (dashi in Japanese *2), decorated with numerous paper lanterns. The interesting style of pulling the floats sets it apart from other festivals, and makes it a proud member of The Great Three Float-Pulling Festivals in Japan, together with the Gion Festival in Kyoto and the Takayama Festival in Gifu Prefecture.

The two platforms used during the Chichibu Night Festival are the so-called yatai (a portable shrine) and kasaboko (umbrella and halberd combined on a platform). There are four yatai platforms and two kasaboko platforms making their appearance and livening up the festival, with similar but sturdy structures that can hold up to ten people on them. Some of them even weigh more than twenty tons!

One can say that the captivating look of the yatai and kasaboko, combined with the dynamic way the people move the floats around, is one of the great pleasures this festival can give you.
*1 Hikimawashi: pushing and pulling of the dashi while moving through the city.
*2 Dashi: Big vehicles or platforms used during Japanese festivals, usually pulled around by men. Their name varies depending on the region – hikiyama, yatai, danjiri.

The Schedule of the Chichibu Night Festival

Image courtesy of Chichibu Travel Department

Please note that the Chichibu Night Festival in 2020 may be canceled or postponed to effects of the COVID-19 outbreaks. The festival normally occurs annually between December 1 and December 6.

You can visit this festival every year in December, from the 1st until the 6th of the month, so check out the schedule of the festival in 2017 down below. Also, don’t miss out on the pinnacle of the event on the 3rd of December, when the Grand Festival is held.

Held: from the 1st until the 6th of December annually

December the 2nd: The Yoimiya Festival, held on the Festival Eve. There will be floats pulled and pushed around from the very morning, but don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the colorful fireworks lighting up the night sky.

December the 3rd: the Taisai (the Grand Festival), or the Festival’s zenith. Of course, you can see the floats pulled from the morning. But that is not all – this distinguishing event starts at 18:00, when people visiting the festival form a line called goshinko, and head out for a slightly long walk of one kilometer from Chichibu Shrine to a place called Otabijo. The main members of the line are men wearing costumes from the Heian Period! Following the people come the platforms, all six of them, heading for Otabijo. Everyone, including the floats, should arrive at Otabijo around 22:00.

How to Find Chichibu Yomatsuri’s Venue from the Station

Image courtesy of Chichibu Travel Department

The venue of the Chichibu Night Festival, with the dashi being pulled and pushed around, is in the vicinity of Chichibu Shrine. But even if you are not familiar with the place, there is no need to panic – if you want to get to Chichibu Shrine from Tokyo, first head for Ikebukuro Station, then for Chichibu Station on the Seibu Chichibu Railway Line.

Two lines can get you to Ikebukuro Station from Tokyo Station – Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Yamanote Line. It shouldn’t take up more than 17 or 24 minutes respectively, and the fare is 200 yen.

In order to get to your final destination of Seibu Chichibu Station, you should change trains upon arrival at Ikebukuro Station. Take the Seibu line Seibu Limited Express Chichibu train bound for Seibu Chichibu and get off at the last stop, Seibu Chichibu Station. Your ride should last for about an hour and twenty minutes, and cost 1480 yen. When you arrive at your last stop, Seibu Chichibu Station, head for Chichibu Shrine for a pleasant fifteen-minute walk.

Chichibu Shrine
Address: Saitama, Chichibu, Banbacho 1-3
Website: (Japanese)

Girimawashi and Yatai-hikiodori: Main Attractions of the Chichibu Yomatsuri

Image courtesy of Chichibu Travel Department

What you absolutely shouldn’t miss when it comes to the Chichibu Night Festival – Chichibu Yomatsuri, is the reversed pulling, or girimawashi, of the yatai and kasaboko platforms. The spectacular reversed pulling is performed in accordance with the rhythmical drumming of the kodaiko – small Japanese taiko drums, a superb grand finale of the event with the gigantic yatai and kasaboko platforms being rotated and tilted around.
Image courtesy of Chichibu Travel Department

But make sure to give your full attention to the flamboyant yatai-hikiodori, the dance and the music show performed on top of the yatai platforms. Dancers in lavish clothes demonstrate their magical performances to the tunes of the shamisen (*3), creating a lively vibrant atmosphere even among the spectators. And the great part is that you can feel this zesty mood at various locations – the dance is displayed in front of the shrine gates and on numerous important corners of the city.

*3 Shamisen: a Japanese stringed instrument with three strings and cat’s or dog’s skin covering the instrument’s sound box.

Lastly, before you visit this magnificent festival, you should bear in mind that the average temperature of the Chichibu area in December is about 3.8 degrees Celsius, with the temperature dropping even more at night. So don’t forget to wear a comfy sweater and warm coat, and have gloves and a scarf to make you cozy and warm for the most enjoyable December festival you can experience.

** All the information in this article is based on date from the official website, and is current as of May 2017. Please note that the information may be subject to change.