Chichibu: Fields of flowers, rivers and prehistoric bones
Shibazakura is a hill near Hitsujiyama Park in the west Saitama area in the city of Chichibu. I was truly stunned with how they have carefully and artistically designed each moss phlox plants in a manner which is very pleasant to your eyes when it’s in full bloom. Different colors of pink, lavender, white, and violet amazes you upon seeing it.
This wide-open park in Chichibu has been frequently visited by moss phlox enthusiasts both local and foreign tourists within the Kanto region and surrounding areas. Upon entering the area, we were stunned with how the flowers were lined up to form specific patterns. Most of the flowers within the field are in their fullest bloom and some were just about to do so. The pack of overcrowded people filled the air with too much enthusiasm and loads of “hai, chiizu,” sound.
As folks, both old and young, strut their walk in the fields, countless words of “sugoi” can be heard. Also, there are several people to tag their dogs with them. Dogs even acted as models as people take picture with their pose where the pink colored moss phlox field is in the background. This year, I was not able to see the food stalls who sell grilled shitake mushrooms and saury, beer and chilled cucumbers.
Almost all people used the nearby vacant fields as picnic grounds and had their noon and afternoon naps after munching their brought lunch packs over some cans of beer. Kids run around while several photography enthusiasts like me, took countless pictures of the flowers and fields in all angles. Comfort rooms are provided within the area but it takes several minutes of walk to reach the portable toilets on top of the hill.
Souvenir shops are concentrated within one area just next to the park where loads of Chichibu products are sold. Next to it is a pen which houses around a dozen of sheep peacefully devouring dried grass in the area. Sakura season is over and the reign of the moss phlox flowers is at its peak.
Getting there is a tiresome two-hour ride via the Chichibu Tetsudou Line from Hanyu City in Saitama. From Hanyu City, Chichibu Railways offer a discounted special ticket of 1,400 yen per day which includes unlimited rides in all stations until Mitsumineguchi. Rates differ if you come from Gyoda, Kumagaya or Yorii Stations. Shibazakura can be also accessed using the Seibu-Chichibu Line from Ikebukuro and get off at Ohanabatake, which is the last station. From Ohanatabatake, a short 15-20 minute trek up to the Shibazakura hill awaits visitors. A meager amount of 300 yen is needed to get in the premises of the park.
Arakawa River in Nagatoro
While we were on our way to Chichibu, we saw this very scenic river with several small boats cruising along. By then, we decided to go to this famous river in Kami-Nagatoro. After getting off, it took us around 5 minutes to reach the riverbanks. Countless people enjoy the spring-warm water in the riverside. Moreover, there were several curious people who also got off at Kami-Nagatoro and tried immersing their feet in the waters of this gushing river.
From the base of the river, the railroad bridge can be seen. While taking random pictures, the famous black SL steam-engine locomotive of the Chichibu Railways passed by and we were lucky to have taken a picture of it. Steam-engine trains in Japan are slowly making a comeback to boost local tourism especially in deep provinces. After which, numerous boats with two men manually ferrying it cruised our area. Near the bank are three men were practicing they kayaking skills against the rapid gush of streaming water among the rocks of the river. Apparently, this river is not only famous for white-water rafting and boat cruise but also for kayak and canoe enthusiasts.
Museum of Natural History
Just a few meters from the riverbanks of Arakawa River is a somewhat secretly-hidden museum. The Saitama Prefectural Museum of Natural History is a small museum dedicated about the ancient history of Saitama Prefecture. We were amazed to see that fossils of ancient sea creature which resembled like a dinosaur, humongous shark and mammoth elephant named Akebono elephant, were actually excavated within the vicinity of Saitama.
Furthermore, the museum houses real-life preserved models of different kinds of species found in the region such as monkeys, different kinds of bird species, other mammals like deer, fox and many others. The museum also has an exhibit of the different insects and reptiles. The numerous collection of different metamorphic rocks and Earth minerals can also be found in the shelves of the museum. Oh, and I honestly never heard most of the composite rocks on display. Entrance fee is at 200 yen and the museum closes at 4:30 p.m.