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Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan

Fires of Mordor

“Nature” may not be a word generally associated with Tokyo, but the Kanto Plain on which the city sits abounds with forests, rivers, and mountains. In many cases, though, you may only find one or two out of the three available in any one location, so if you’re looking for all of them in the same place you have to look a little harder.

But not that hard. Chichibu, a region in far west Saitama Prefecture that borders Yamanashi, Gunma, and Nagano Prefectures, has them in abundance along with some great cultural attractions. Accessible by car or by 1 ½ hour train ride from Ikebukuro Station, the area is located with a national park and is coursed through by the Arakawa River (which feeds Tokyo Bay), offering excellent opportunities for white-water rafting and fly fishing. There are some great temples to visit, such as Chichibu Shrine, and many of them are connected to hiking trails that meander through the heavily wooded mountains and enjoy gorgeous scenic vistas. December is a good time to visit, as the city of Chichibu celebrates its annual Night Festival on the 3rd, as is the period between July 19 and 20, when Chichibu Shrine holds the Summer Festival, and participants carry a mikoshi (portable shrine) down to the river for a ritual washing.