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Japan Hour

Road Trip On Chichibu Railway - Part 2

Rock formations called Iwadatami, an eatery that serves Chichibu's famous miso potato and Waraji rice bowl, and a hot spring complex which also sells speciality products are highlighted this week.

We continue our two-day journey of enquiry and discovery on the Chichibu Railway in northern Saitama Prefecture. On the second day, the bus ride to the starting point of the Nagatoro river cruise takes 10 minutes. During the cruise, we come across the Chichibu Railroad Arakawa Bridge, where steam locomotives and freight trains can sometimes be seen. We also pass by a turtle-shaped rock called Kamenokoiwa and the Iwadatami rocks, a designated national natural monument which is one of the most scenic spots in Nagatoro. On the other side of the river is a 100-metre-high cliff called Chichibu Sekiheki, which offers a magnificent view of the valley. 

We then go to Nagatoro Station, the last stop of the first day, and catch the 10.50am train. We get off at Chichibu Station and a local suggests we visit Chichibu Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in the Kanto region. It has “blank” fortune slips known as Mizumikuji, where the letters would only appear when the paper is soaked in water. They then disappear once the paper dries. 

After going to the shrine and “reading” our fortune, we ask another resident for recommendations. She is on her way to a buckwheat noodle shop called Sobadokoro Omura and we decide to accompany her. Opened in 1897, it is known for serving Chichibu’s specialities such as miso potato and Waraji rice bowl with chilled noodles. For the former, potatoes are steamed and deep fried, after which sweet miso sauce is poured on them. The miso potato is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. As for the Waraji rice bowl, it has large pieces of Japanese pork cutlets dipped in a secret sauce made with their homemade noodle soup and then placed over rice. 

We travel on the 1pm train to the neighbouring Ohanabatake Station. Mount Buko can be seen from here and we find out that the 1,304-metre-tall mountain was originally 1,336 metres high. It shrunk because of large-scale limestone quarrying carried out from the Meiji era to the Showa era. A local we meet mentions Matsuri no Yu, a hot spring complex in front of Seibu Chichibu Station which has open-air baths with breathtaking views of Mount Buko, as well as bedrock baths. The place also sells various types of souvenirs and speciality products of Chichibu, such as sweets made with a Japanese whisky called Ichiro's Malt. 

We go to Matsuri no Yu and sample the famous Ichiro's Malt. It is made with the pure water of Chichibu and received the highest award at a whisky fair in England. Chichibu also has its own cream puffs made with maple syrup-flavoured custard. After trying the cream puffs, we catch the 2pm train to Urayamaguchi Station. We walk along a mountain path to the Hashidate Limestone Cave, recommended to us earlier in the day. The only limestone cave for sightseeing in Saitama Prefecture is located in Sekiryuzan Hashidatedo, one of the 34 sacred sites scattered throughout the Chichibu region. Hashidate Limestone Cave is a vertical cave, which is rare in Japan. It is approximately 140m long and the ceiling is quite low. The cave also has stalagmites, which look like melted rocks. 

We finally advance to Mitsumineguchi, the final stop of our trip, at 3.15pm. The train arrives at the terminal after 15 minutes. A resident recommends we check out the Geo Gravity Park, which offers various adventure activities such as bungee jumping, ziplining and a canyon walk across a suspension bridge with a harness. The 70-metre-high Shirakawa Bridge goes over the upper streams of the Arakawa River and boasts a spectacular panoramic view of the Chichibu Mountains and the valley.  


Tips:

1)    Iwadatami is one of the most famous scenic spots in Nagatoro
2)    Waraji rice bowl and miso potato are among Chichibu’s specialities 
 

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