A few weeks ago, my good friend Mina told me about the Yomatsuri in Chichibu that takes place every year on December 3rd. This festival happens to be one of Japan's three greatest hikiyama (float) festivals along with the famous Gion matsuri in Kyoto and the Takayama matsuri in Gifu. Mina told me her good friends happen to live in Chichibu so we would have a place to stay...and this year December 3rd fell on a Saturday so it was literally a perfect chance to attend. YOU BET I JUMPED ON THAT OPPORTUNITY!
I taught my KIRA class Saturday afternoon then quickly jumped on a train to Ikebukuro. From Ikebukuro there is an express train called the Red Arrow that takes you to Chichibu station in an hour and a half.
We took the express train at around 4pm so the sunset view outside the window was magic. When we arrived at the station, Mina's friend Haruka and her mom Shizue met us to show us around! They were immediately so friendly and welcoming!
Straight from the station we walked over to save our spots for the firework show and then had an hour to kill to walk around and check out the street food. Also, it was COLD. So everyone was squeezing by each other in their puffy jackets.
The main attraction happens at around 6:30pm when 7 or 8 GIANT 10-20 TON floats (portable shrines) are rolled down the street as men dance and stand on top of them chanting and holding lanterns. It is quite a sight to see...but more on that in PART II of this post
So apparently this festival originated in order to celebrate two gods coming together. Japanese history has many of these stories that are reminiscent to ancient Greek mythology. It was interesting to hear the history, how the main god in Chichibu had two wives. One wife he could only see once a year, on December 3rd, so the men of the city carry the shrines down the street to meet each other. The main first wife's shrine happens to be half way along the path so when they approach her area, the loud booming Taiko drums have a tradition of becoming silent, as to not draw attention to the meeting. And this story and festival has been going on for over 300 years!
Chichibu is a small country town with a population of around 60,000....but this year for the matsuri, since it was on a weekend, over 300,000 people packed the streets!
INOSHISHI...say it with me folks...I-NO-SHI-SHI... aka wild boar! It is famous at this one shop in town where they just so happened to have a dead boar hanging from the roof as they sell the boars meat right in front. Does not make me want to purchase anything lol.
This man was making tiny pancake puffs..they were bomb!
Okonomiyaki nommzzzzzz! How beautiful right?
straight streetfood artwork right here!
The firework previews started showing up lighting the sky and warning everyone to get ready for the main show.
This was apparently the best spot to watch the parade and fireworks!
Ok funny story...I bought a stick of this bread...toasted with sweet sauce all over it (yummm) but two seconds after I took a photo of it I dropped the entire stick on the ground and the people near me were like "awwww so sad" lol. What's funnier is I went back to ask the lady for a new stick (IT WAS ONLY $2) and she said NO! HAHAHA. Man, chichibu people are not to be messed with. I felt like I was back in the states for a second (unfriendly customer service)...since Japanese people are more than likely to give you what you dropped, and then some.
Oh and how cool are these waffles on sticks!
BEST FOOD TO EAT WHILE WATCHING FIREWORKS : KARAAGE (FRIEND CHICKEN) and MAYO!!! yummmmm.
We had the perfect spot in an old parking lot to watch the fireworks! *perks of going with a local* And let me tell you, they go ALL OUT for the show. 5 small town compete with individual shows and judges choose a winner that gets 10,000 or something. Then they do color themed shows...this year there was a green show, blue, red, and gold! I was blown away. Also, my feet were frozen the entire time haha.
The show finished around 10pm (yes, 2.5 hours of fireworks) and the we walked back to Haruka's house to warm up and take a break.
On the way back we saw the results of the firework competition posted in front of the shrine.
The cutest chocolate bananas I have ever seen. That sign says "premium" ha!
Our last stop before heading home to warm up was this 200 year old sake shop. They were selling warm sake that we all tried (sooo strong) which is a classic Japanese drink in winter. Harukas house is 2 minutes from the main shrine so we walked home in no time and were able to warm up because at 10:30pm our night was just getting started!! haha...seriously...stay tuned...