Within a mere 90 minutes of Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, it is surprising that photographers' and hikers' paradise Chichibu isn't discovered by more tourists yet. The rural town of Chichibu is located on a plateau surrounded by mountains and the train ride quickly gets very interesting once you have left the urban jungle that is Tokyo. Chichibu used to be well known and rich because of the silk production but never really recovered from the crash in raw silk prices during the early Meiji period which led to the Chichibu rebellion. The surrounding mountains and the resulting isolation has resulted in the preservation of lots of traditional customs. Chichibu is best known for its important 34 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage and its many festivals. The town itself feels like it is still stuck in the Showa period with loads of tiny shops and restaurants with the large Chichibu Shrine in its centre. The bubble that turned so many of the large Japanese cities into a wasteland of tall buildings and glass never arrived and I, for one, am very grateful for that.
After having visited several times Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Sendai, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc., etc., and after having popped in and out of the hot baths of the many well known onsen towns; I thought I never would encounter the Japan of my imagination. I gave up looking and suddenly I discovered it in Chichibu. I had expected to find it in Akita, Hokkaido, or somewhere remote, but certainly not within the distance of a day trip from Tokyo.
I did walk the Chichibu 34 Temple pilgrimage over four days and I would certainly recommend the pilgrimage even though it does take several days to complete. The temples, especially the temples a little outside the town itself, are rich is atmosphere and idyllic and entering the temple complex of many of the temples felt like entering a sanctum.
I combined my visit to Chichibu with an awesome temple stay at Taiyoji Temple.
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