I took this trip on April 19, early enough in the spring and a great time to catch the early boom of flowers.
Chichibu is a very easy trip from Ikebukuro – only an hour and a half and ¥1,400 (including express charge) on the very spacious Redarrow express. I love these special express trains – so comfortable and with toilets and reserved seating.
It is a beautiful ride through the countryside and you realize that it gets rural very quickly just 30 minutes outside of the city.
The key destination this time of the year is Hitsujiyama Park (羊山公園) where the area is prepared for the large flower bloom – 芝桜の丘 or “hill of pink moss”. OK, this is done specifically as a tourist attraction, but it is reason enough to make it your destination as there are a lot of other things to see as well.
The size of the park was quite impressive. I went on a weekday to avoid the crowds that would descend on Golden Week just the following week, overall the timing was perfect even though just a bit early for the full bloom. Given that so much of the draw to Chichibu tourism is based on this park, I can imagine that the crowds would become unbearable during the peak.
As with any of these events, there is never a shortage of food stalls.
From Chichibu, we took a local train up to Nagatoro to see the river. While it was nice, I was not that overly impressed. Japan has some beautiful rivers, but the only highlight here seemed to be the accessibility for tourists. The river attraction includes some boat rides.
A famous local dish is buta misodon (pork marinated in miso). This place was just down the road from Nagatoro station. It was really good with thick pieces of pork with just the right fattiness.
I normally don’t make it a point to visit shrines, but the Hodosan Shrine was very impressive. One of the most pristine and quiet places I have ever been.
Just down the road from the shrine was a cute pottery and cake shop. The cups and plates where all made there. The double-layer cheesecake was amazing.
What’s amazing in Japan is that you still see old-school agriculture. This flower field was a real farm and not a tourist spot. You can see on the left that it is totally manual and you don’t see a lot of equipment.
I went back to Chichibu city and went exploring around the old streets. There is still some well-preserved architecture. This is a schoolhouse.
I was most struck with this corner building – Koike Tobacco shop. I did some research on it and found that it is designated as one of 14 historical buildings in Chichibu. It is no longer in operation. I wonder what they have in store for the future with this gorgeous building.
After all that, it was time to go back to Tokyo. Chichibu is a great day trip. It really feels like you have escaped the city, and the train is very affordable and comfortable.