The Chichibu Yomatsuri (Night Festival) is held on December 2 and 3 to honor and express gratitude to the deities that are enshrined in Chichibu-jinja Shrine.
According to legend, Myoken (considered a female deity) and the male dragon deity of Mt. Buko are in love, but the dragon deity is officially married to the spirit of Suwa-jinja Shrine. Each year on December 3, Myoken travels from the sacred grove to Suwa-jinja Shrine to beg for a single night with her lover. By tradition, when the float from Motomachi passes it along the parade route, the musicians quiet their instruments and the onlookers whisper so as not to disturb the negotiations. If all goes well, Myoken and the deity of Mt. Buko meet at Kamenoko Rock, a statue of a turtle enshrined in Chichibu Park near Chichibu City Hall.
Chichibu-jinja Shrine is one of Japan’s oldest shrines, and it celebrated its 2100th year in 2014. The shrine is known for its lovely gongen-zukuri architecture, the striking wood carvings of its eaves, and for its central role in the Chichibu Yomatsuri (Night Festival). Visiting the shrine is said to grant a number of blessings, including academic success, familial safety, and prosperity for one’s descendants.
The current shrine building was constructed on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), a powerful warlord who united Japan under a single government. In 1956, it was designated a national Tangible Cultural Property.
The eaves on each of the shrine building’s four sides bear impressive wood carvings. These were supposedly carved by the legendary artist Hidari Jingoro (fl. 1624–1644), a virtuoso who is also credited with the famous “Sleeping Cat” (nemurineko) carving at Tshogu Shrine.
The second floor of the Chichibu Matsuri (Festival) Hall, located near Chichibu-jinja Shrine, contains a variety of exhibits detailing the history of the Chichibu Yomatsuri, as well as many of Chichibu’s other unique festivals and cultural events. The first floor contains replicas of the yatai and kasaboko floats, as well as a small theater where visitors can watch a short film introducing each of Chichibu’s main annual events. The display has a projection mapping system and powerful audio setup that bring the replicas and exhibition space to life, recreating the atmosphere of the Chichibu Yomatsuri right inside the building. The Chichibu Matsuri Hall is open until 5:00 p.m, and closed every 4th and 5th Tuesday except for national holidays.