As the winter approaches, you will see a drop in festivals held throughout Japan in comparison to the spring and summer periods. Hence, people travelling to Japan during the winter who hope to witness some local festivals should search in advance so that you will not miss the few festivals held.blueskyfantasie/Flickr
One of the earliest festivals held to welcome the winter is Chichibu Yomatsuri, the Chichibu Night Festival. This two-day festival at Chichibu Shrine is held in Chichibu, Saitama, a 90-minute journey from Tokyo.
Regarded as one of the top three festivals featuring floats, Chichibu Yomatsuri takes place on the 2nd and 3rd of December. The other two revered float festivals are Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Takayama Matsuri held in Takayama.
With a history of more than 300 years, Chichibu Yomatsuri is a colorful celebration displaying ethnic art and dance performances as well as the procession of six grand floats which represent the town’s six guardian deities known as the “Kami”.
The six floats stand at about 10 meters tall, and each weigh between 10 to 20 tons. The floats are decorated with lanterns, artificial flowers, and gilded wood carvings. Among the six floats, two of them are known as “kasaboko” and the others are known as yatai floats.
The most exciting scene of the festival unfolds on the evening of the 3rd when kasaboko and yatai floats, weighing 10-20 tons each and lit up with countless lanterns, climb up a steep slope with a mikoshi (a portable shrine). The spectators’ excitement reaches its peak at the powerful sound of the drums and flutes, and the unique festival shouts of ‘Ho-ryai! Ho-ryai!’www.jnto.go.jp
The festival’s other attraction is its fireworks display, which lasts almost two and a half hours and gives you the rare opportunity to enjoy Japanese fireworks during winter. Additionally, the streets are lined with stands selling festival foods and amazake (sweet rice wine) to combat the cold December night.www.japan-guide.com
On the first day of the festival, an event known as Yoiyama will take place in the city.blueskyfantasie/Flickr
A tip for those who wish to see this wonderful festival – make your accommodation reservation in advance. As a little town, Chichibu has very limited hotels available. For those who failed to secure a room, you could consider taking the last train back to Tokyo, which departs at about 10 PM.
Chichibu is a mountainous area in the western part of Saitama Prefecture. The clear upper reaches of the Arakawa, one of the large rivers pouring into Tokyo Bay, run through the valleys and mountains of the Chichibu area, with the 2,500-meter (8,202 feet) Okuchichibu mountains covered with dense coniferous forests. Chichibu gets very hot in summer and very cold in winter, as is typical in inland areas. The area has a religious atmosphere, having 33 sacred places that are dedicated to Kannon, a Buddhist deity known as the Goddess of Mercy.web-japan.org
Chichibu Shrine, where the Chichibu Yomatsuri is held has more than 2,00 years of history. It is located at a valley where it is regarded as the gateway to the Chichibu’s mountains.