Written by Ramona (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Chichibu - Learn About Temples And Shrines On A Day Trip From Tokyo
Chichibu, just ninety minutes northwest of Tokyo, boasts famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It is also home to Chichibu Shrine where the impressive Chichibu Night Festival is held annually. This itinerary is ideal for travelers who are interested in Japanese spirituality.
Chichibu - Find Amazing Temples and Shrines Northwest of Tokyo
Chichibu, located in Saitama, just about ninety minutes northwest of Tokyo by train, is a city with remarkable Japanese heritage sites and beautiful nature.
Visitors flock to Chichibu during the Shibazakura (Moss Pink) Festival (mid-April - early May) or the more than 350-year-old Chichibu Yomatsuri (Night Festival) in December. In addition, Chichibu's excellent sake breweries and wineries attract many visitors throughout the year.
The historical Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage Circuit, which consists of 34 temples located in Chichibu and the surrounding mountains in a circular pilgrimage, is another cultural element the city is famous for. In the past, pilgrims would visit all the temples in order offering their prayers to Kannon, the Bodhisattva of infinite compassion, one of Japan's most beloved deities. The pilgrimage tradition is alive in Chichibu and visitors can experience it first-hand at the local temples, many of which are important heritage sites.
To make sure you have a proper introduction to Japanese spirituality on-site, we suggest going on a guided tour. Ashley Yoshida, a guide recommended by the Chichibu Pilgrimage Association, offers tours to major temples on the Kannon Pilgrimage route.
The itinerary introduced below is ideal for travelers who wish to learn about Buddhism and Shinto beliefs as Chichibu has both impressive temples and ancient shrines. Ashley joined us during the temple visits and gave us precious insights that turned this Chichibu day trip into a truly enlightening experience.
8:30 - 9:52 -- Traveling from Tokyo to Chichibu
The fastest way to travel to Chichibu by train from Tokyo is by taking the Chichibu Limited Express on the Seibu Line from Ikebukuro Station. Depart at 8:30 and you will reach Seibu Chichibu Station at 9:52. A one-way ride is 1,500 yen.
10:00 - 10:30 -- Rent a Bicycle at Seibu Chichibu Station
Some of the most beautiful temples on the Kannon Pilgrimage route are somewhat remote. While it's not impossible to walk there, we suggest saving time and energy by renting a bicycle.
Rental bicycles are available at the Chichibu Tourist Information Center located to the right as you exit Seibu Chichibu Station. During this itinerary, we'll be crossing over Hitsujiyama, a small mountain in the city, so we suggest renting an electric-assisted bicycle for half a day (1,000 yen).
10:30 - 11:15 -- Traveling to Kinshoji Temple
First on our itinerary is Kinshoji, or Temple No. 4 on the Chichibu Kannon Pilgrimage route. If you have a guide, you have nothing to worry about, but if you go on your own, we suggest typing "Chichibu Kinshoji" into your map application and consulting it regularly to make sure you're going the right way.
11:15 - 12:15 -- Kinshoji Temple, Home to "Mary Kannon"
Kinshoji, one of the largest temples on the Chichibu Kannon Pilgrimage, is also the most popular. It is famous for the more than 1,300 Buddhist statues found on its grounds, and its unusual "Mary Kannon".
The Niomon Gate at the entrance (main photo) is impressive, with a fierce Nio Guardian on each side. These heavenly warriors are to keep out bad spirits and superstitious would-be robbers.
As you pass through the gate, you'll see thousands of stickers on the beams. Ashley explained to us that these stickers bear the names of pilgrims who have visited Kinshoji and wanted to leave proof of having been there. These “osamefuda” stickers peaked in popularity in the eighties, but are now discouraged as they damage the wood and are considered unsightly to some.
The main hall of the temple stands in tranquility, surrounded by greenery and Buddhist statues. Every detail of the structure is fascinating, from the hidden images illustrating legends and stories related to the temple to the brightly colored sculptures decorating the lower side of the roof.
Right in front of the main hall, you'll see a statue of Kannon depicted as a child-rearing mother. This type of Kannon statue is quite rare. According to one belief, such statues were also worshipped by Christians in hiding during the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) when Christian faith was banned in Japan. This is why this type of statue is also known as "Mary Kannon."
Take your time to walk the temple grounds and marvel at the hundreds of Buddhist statues lining the path. Most of them were created around the beginning of the 18th century.
You'll notice that many of the statues don't have their heads. According to one story, the relatives of men and boys who were sent to fight in World War II broke off the heads and gave them to their loved ones, in the hope that they would come back safely and return the heads.
We were able to learn this story and many others related to Kinshoji and Chichibu's temples thanks to our guide, Ashley. Her knowledge of Chichibu's history and culture is impressive! Moreover, she shares these stories depending on the interests of the traveler. We warmly recommend getting in touch with Ashley when visiting Chichibu.
12:15 - 13:00 -- Enjoy Lunch on Temple Grounds
There is a small noodle shop on the grounds of Kinshoji run by a local woman. You can enjoy here a simple lunch of soba noodles or udon noodles for 600 yen.
The owner and her customers are accustomed to pilgrims and travelers and they'll be happy to welcome you at their table.
13:00 - 13:30 -- Traveling to Jorinji Temple
The next temple we suggest visiting is Jorinji, Temple No. 17 on the Kannon Pilgrimage route. It is located near the center of the city.
On the way, you'll pass by several other smaller temples. You might even notice small architectural details hinting at Chichibu being a pilgrimage site.
13:30 - 14:00 -- Jorinji Temple and its Famous Bell
Jorinji is located in a quiet residential area. It enshrines a precious statue of the Eleven-Faced Kannon created at the end of the 16th century.
The temple bell of Jorinji, decorated with one hundred faces of Kannon Bodhisatva, was designated a Tangible Cultural Asset of Saitama Prefecture.
Visitors can try their hand at ringing the bell. Its sound, reverberating in the surroundings, is deep and awe-inspiring.
14:00 - 14:30 -- Return the Bicycle
If you rented your bike for half a day, this is the best time to head back and return it to the Tourist Information Center. The next destinations can be easily reached by foot from the station.
15:00 - 15:50 -- Coffee Break at Taizando Cafe
Before heading to the shrine, how about taking a break at cozy local cafe? Taizando is located on Banbamachi, the central shopping street of Chichibu, about fifteen minutes on foot from Seibu Chichibu Station.
The building of Taizando is a renovated Japanese house. The interior is elegant, with a quiet atmosphere as the owner wishes to have the customers relax in this space. (*Children aged under 7 cannot enter this facility.)
At Taizando, they use carefully selected organic coffee beans obtained through fair trade. They offer original blend coffee beans for sale, too, and will happily grind it for the customers.
If you order the coffee and cake set, you'll be able to choose from several types of sweet treats. Their most popular dessert is Nougat Glacée (600 yen), but they also offer cakes made with chocolate, green tea or seasonal ingredients. These desserts are refined and flavorful without being too sweet - the perfect treat before some more exploring in Chichibu.
16:00 - 17:00 -- Visiting the Impressive Chichibu Shrine
Chichibu Shrine is the oldest Shinto structure in the Chichibu region, located in the center of the city. It is best known for being the starting point of the Chichibu Yomatsuri (Night Festival) held annually in early December. During the celebration, gorgeous dashi floats are being pulled along the streets of the city to the sound of music.
The main building of Chichibu Shrine was reconstructed from the end of the 16th into the 17th century. It is decorated with beautiful carvings of dragons, birds, monkeys, and fantastical creatures. It's well worth taking the time to look at every detail of the structure at leisure.
In the Shinto belief, nature itself is worshipped as the dwelling of kami deities. On shrine grounds, you won't find statues as at Buddhist temples. Instead, you'll spot trees and a small pond marked as sacred sites with shimenawa rope and shide paper streamers used in Shinto rituals.
17:00 - 18:00 -- A Walk along Banbamachi
On your way to Seibu Chichibu Station you'll walk along Banbamachi Shotengai, a street lined with shops and dining places. It's the ideal place to stop and look for souvenirs. Local confectionery and sake make great gifts from Chichibu.
At the end of the day, you can return to Ikebukuro by the Chichibu Limited Express, which departs every hour from Seibu Chichibu Station. Otherwise, you could stay overnight and continue your explorations of the area the next day.
Accommodation in Chichibu
Comfort Stay Miyabi is a hotel located close to Seibu Chichibu Station. The rooms are reasonably priced (around 10,000 - 12,000 yen/night) and offer excellent views of the city.
If you prefer an Airbnb option or a guesthouse, we suggest Chichibu Kamenoko Hostel. This facility can accommodate up to eight persons. (The fee is around 8,000 yen/night).
Visitors who would like to enjoy Chichibu's hot springs and luxurious Japanese hospitality should consider staying at Wadoh, a ryokan located about 6 km away from Seibu Chichibu Station. (Room fees start at around 20,000 yen/night.)
We hope you enjoy your explorations of Chichibu! It's a great place to discover deep Japanese spirituality and meditate about religion and culture surrounded by beautiful nature.
To find other great places to visit in Chichibu, please check this website: http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/chokotabi-saitama/eng/
Seibu Ikebukuro Station → Seibu Chichibu Station → Kinshoji Temple → Jorinji Temple → Taizando Cafe → Chichibu Shrine → Banbamachi → Seibu Chichibu Station → Seibu Ikebukuro Station
Transportation: 3,000 yen (round trip) + 1,000 yen (rental bicycle)
Lunch, coffee time: about 2,000 yen
The writer visited these facilities on October 3, 2019.
Supported by Saitama Prefecture