The Chichibu Night Festival (秩父夜祭, Chichibu Yomatsuri) is the festival of Chichibu Shrine in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, just 90 minutes from central Tokyo. It is held every year on December 2nd and 3rd, with the main action taking place on the 3rd.
The Chichibu Night Festival is considered one of Japan's top three festivals to feature floats, the others being Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Takayama Matsuri. Its floats are ornately decorated with lanterns, tapestries and gilded wood carvings and are accompanied by drum and flute music.
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.
The main events of the Chichibu Festival take place on December 3. In the afternoon and early evening, the six floats are displayed in their respective neighborhoods and at Chichibu Shrine, before they are being pulled through the streets of Chichibu towards the city hall from around 19:00.
The climax takes place on the plaza in front of the city hall, when one float after the other is pulled up the slope onto the plaza and they all line up. From 19:30 to 22:00 a long, spread out fireworks display is held, which can be seen from many places around town. The main action of the festival ends around 22:00, allowing it festival goers to catch the last trains back into Tokyo. The town of Chichibu itself has only limited accommodation options.
Due to the festival's popularity, it gets very crowded, especially along the parade route and around the plaza in front of the city hall. For good views of the action on the plaza, you will need to get there very early to secure a spot, reserve seats in advance or content yourself with viewing it on the big screen in front of Seibu Chichibu Station.
By Seibu Railways
Direct "Red Arrow" limited express trains require about 90 minutes to get from Tokyo's Ikebukuro Station to Seibu Chichibu Station. Seat reservations are mandatory. The one way fare is 1480 yen. Alternatively, the journey can also be done by express trains in about 100 minutes and for 780 yen. Seat reservations are not possible. One transfer of trains is required at Hanno Station along the way.
By JR and Chichibu Railways
Take a local JR train or shinkansen to Kumagaya (30 minute, around 3000 yen by shinkansen or 60 minutes, 1140 yen by local train from Tokyo's Ueno Station) and transfer to the Chichibu Railways for Chichibu (70 minutes, 860 yen). The JR section of the journey is covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR Tokyo Wide Pass, but the Chichibu Railways section is not.