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IIST e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (11) Nature on Tokyo’s Doorstep A Place for Open and Equal Discussion Using the Chichibu Region [Date of Issue: 31/May/2018 No.0279-1078]

Date of Issue: 31/May/2018

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (11)
Nature on Tokyo’s Doorstep
A Place for Open and Equal Discussion Using the Chichibu Region

Masayuki Inoue
COO, Chichibu Area Tourism Organization
(Chichibu Omotenashi Tourism Organization)


Lying a mere two hours by train from the centre of Tokyo, the Chichibu area of Saitama Prefecture not only boasts the beauty of a traditional Japanese rural landscape and wild mountain-ringed nature, but is also renowned for its rich and varied historical and cultural heritage, making it a fabulous tourist destination. However, it took a long process of trial and error to bring local government and industry together to take a collaborative approach to developing the region’s tourism.


The Chichibu region in Saitama Prefecture comprises Chichibu City and the towns of Yokoze, Minano, Nagatoro and Ogano, and lies around 80 kilometers from the centre of Tokyo, making it an easy two-hour journey by car or train. Belying that proximity, Chichibu is rich in the beauty of a traditional Japanese rural landscape and wild mountain-ringed nature, and is also renowned for its rich and varied historical and cultural heritage. For tourists looking for nature on Tokyo’s doorstep, it is the perfect destination.

Moss Pink Hill in Hitsujiyama Park to the east of Chichibu City looks out over forest to offer a panoramic view of the city. Moss pink flowers there from mid-April to early May, with more than 400,000 plants featuring nine varieties of moss pink, including pink, white, and purple types, creating a spectacular color show over a large swathe of hillside. Visitors can walk the paths that thread their way through a virtual carpet of moss pink. Towering at the back of the photo is the symbol of Chichibu, Mt. Buko. According to legend, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto was so moved by the imposing mountain scenery that he took off his armor and presented it to the mountain.

Moss Pink Hill in Hitsujiyama Park to the east of Chichibu City looks out over forest to offer a panoramic view of the city. Moss pink flowers there from mid-April to early May, with more than 400,000 plants featuring nine varieties of moss pink, including pink, white, and purple types, creating a spectacular color show over a large swathe of hillside. Visitors can walk the paths that thread their way through a virtual carpet of moss pink. Towering at the back of the photo is the symbol of Chichibu, Mt. Buko. According to legend, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto was so moved by the imposing mountain scenery that he took off his armor and presented it to the mountain.

The illusion of “one Chichibu”

Blessed with such rich tourist resources and residents living in relatively close proximity, from a tourism perspective Chichibu has always been seen as one place, but in fact, while local residents agree on the general good, they have not tended to see eye to eye on the details and collaboration has not really evolved.

More recently, however, Chichibu’s one city and four towns have taken advantage of a national system to launch efforts in various areas of administrative function with the ultimate goal of achieving a stable local population. One key initiative is tourism collaboration, with the Chichibu Omotenashi Tourism Organization (COTO) established as the core organization.

“No need for a tourism initiative in Chichibu”

COTO comprises a secretariat made up of staff dispatched from Chichibu’s one city and four towns. It is designed to serve as a tourism platform for the region as a whole, creating new projects not previously attempted in Chichibu, such as sending out information via social media, selling community-based tourist packages through the Internet, operating a wide-ranging bicycle rental system, integrating and fostering guiding associations, and attracting graduate trips by offering countryside experiences featuring homestays with local families.

However, there has traditionally been limited local consciousness in relation to the inbound tourism which is a key COTO mission (as exemplified by the statement that “there is no need for an inbound tourism initiative in Chichibu” made by a local accommodation operator at a public debate held among the relevant parties for the purpose of launching considerations on this area), and with no real idea where to start, little progress has been made over the years.

Ritual cleansing at the Chichibu Kawase Festival marks the start of summer. Held every July at Chichibu Shrine (the shrine for the local deity), it was an occasion for worshippers to pray to ward off evil in the summer months, when epidemics tended to occur. Descended from Kyoto’s Gion Festival, the Kawase festival apparently traces back to the mid-17th century. At the climax of the two-day event, young people shouting out the traditional cry of “wasshoi” carry a 400 kilogram portable wooden shrine into the clear waters of Arakawa River for cleansing.

Ritual cleansing at the Chichibu Kawase Festival marks the start of summer. Held every July at Chichibu Shrine (the shrine for the local deity), it was an occasion for worshippers to pray to ward off evil in the summer months, when epidemics tended to occur. Descended from Kyoto’s Gion Festival, the Kawase festival apparently traces back to the mid-17th century. At the climax of the two-day event, young people shouting out the traditional cry of “wasshoi” carry a 400 kilogram portable wooden shrine into the clear waters of Arakawa River for cleansing.

Changing local perceptions and new issues

Despite this slow start, thanks to the expansion in foreign visitor numbers brought about by government policy and efforts by the Seibu Railway Company, Saitama Prefecture and other players to attract foreign tourists to the Chichibu area, the number of foreign tourists in Chichibu’s major tourist facilities is gradually becoming marked. And, as a result of this, signs are emerging of a gradual change in local perceptions, beginning with accommodation and store operators, who pressed for the installation of the free wi-fi services demanded by foreign tourists.

Along with the installation of that free wi-fi, foreign-language pamphlets were also designed, but they remained within the parameters of the initiatives of local governments around the country and failed to showcase the originality of the Chichibu area. Meanwhile, disparate views coming in from local tourism-related parties and businesses simply raised a host of new questions about the right direction for Chichibu’s tourism efforts.

Space for open and robust discussion leads to a breakthrough

To cut through these issues, we worked with the Seibu Railway Company and Saitama Prefecture to organize the Inbound Policy Core Conference, with COTO serving as the secretariat, as a space for considering inbound policy.

The key feature of the Core Conference is that government officials, operators and other tourism-related parties can come together to engage in open discussion on inbound policy for the Chichibu area, breaking down the usual walls between government and private sector, for example. This has provided access for all participants to knowledge and information from different industries, etc., opening the way for policy output. As a result, the Core Conference has achieved an unprecedented level of productivity, with not only participants recognizing its value, but other areas and collections of best practices now also highlighting it as a great example of work in this area.

Boatmen use long poles to steer traditional Japanese boats down the limpid waters of the Nagatoro River as it snakes through the Nagatoro Gorge formed by the Chichi Mountain Range. Enjoy the different pleasures of the four seasons by boat—the bright greens of spring and summer, the dazzling spectacle of autumn leaves in fall, and the tranquil passage of the river in winter (from special kotatsu boats equipped with quilt-topped tables with heating rings underneath). After you disembark, travel to the summit of Mt. Hodo, considered to be one of Nagatoro’s eight best sights, and gaze out over the Chichi Mountain Range and the Nagatoro township.

Boatmen use long poles to steer traditional Japanese boats down the limpid waters of the Nagatoro River as it snakes through the Nagatoro Gorge formed by the Chichi Mountain Range. Enjoy the different pleasures of the four seasons by boat—the bright greens of spring and summer, the dazzling spectacle of autumn leaves in fall, and the tranquil passage of the river in winter (from special kotatsu boats equipped with quilt-topped tables with heating rings underneath). After you disembark, travel to the summit of Mt. Hodo, considered to be one of Nagatoro’s eight best sights, and gaze out over the Chichi Mountain Range and the Nagatoro township.

Linking Core Conference consensus to policy

At first, I had fairly low expectations of the Core Conference being able to achieve its goals. I really thought it would be like other such conferences and basically just rubber-stamp plans designed by the secretariat. However, by ignoring precedent and the way that other regions have done things, and also by excluding experts and consultants, what emerged was in fact a flexible mechanism in which anyone was free to participate.

The result was a high rate of participation among young inbound tourism operators, and particularly women, giving each participant a real voice and opening up lively discussion on the latest developments in the inbound tourism business from the perspective of both local government and local operators. From this, the Core Conference succeeded in identifying Taiwan, France, America and Thailand as target countries and produced a Chichibu area inbound tourism plan that reflects the consensus view of participants.

The Core Conference has since continued to serve as a space for reviewing the tourism plan, holding regular study meetings, and engaging in group work, as well as for operators to put forward suggestions for inbound initiatives. Presentations on these suggestions are made in front of all the participants and screened by key local representatives, with COTO inbound tourism initiatives also pursued primarily through the Conference.

Chichibu’s “sea of clouds” in early morning. The Chichibu area is the closest place to Tokyo to go to see this atmospheric phenomenon. At dawn, the clouds float above the city and the industrial area in the Chichibu Basin, with city lights gleaming like jewels through the fog to create a truly ethereal sight.

Chichibu’s “sea of clouds” in early morning. The Chichibu area is the closest place to Tokyo to go to see this atmospheric phenomenon. At dawn, the clouds float above the city and the industrial area in the Chichibu Basin, with city lights gleaming like jewels through the fog to create a truly ethereal sight.

Case 1: Epicurean Paradise Chichibu

One specific example of a project launched based on a business suggestion is Epicurean Paradise Chichibu, entailing setting up a site on the COTO platform to introduce approved Chichibu restaurants and bars in multiple languages.

This is the first time that Chichibu’s restaurants and bars will be featured as a tourism resource, and reflects the perspective of businesses participating in the Core Conference, who believe that the many amazing ingredients produced in the area and the many restaurants and bars making delicious food based on those ingredients could be a real catalyst for inbound tourism. Spurred by the proposal to look again at the area, I was reminded how few chain restaurants we have compared to other regions, and how many unique little eating and drinking places run by owner-operators we are blessed with.

We are continuing to work to enhance site content, the by-product of which has been the network we have developed with local restaurants and bars, which has in turn spurred new initiatives based on Epicurean Paradise Chichibu, such as collaborative food events. We plan to continue encouraging local businesses to present proposals from which Chichibu can develop unique tourism initiatives.

The Chichibu Night Festival has been held every December 2-3 for more than 300 years. The principal festival at the Chichibu Shrine, it is also one of the top three float festivals in Japan, the others being the Kyoto Gion Festival and the Hida Takayama Festival. As a traditional silk fabric-producing area, the festival was apparently once an important event that marked the end of looking after the silkworms and working in the fields for the year. The climax comes on the evening of December 3, when six brightly-lit floats each weighing 20 tons are pulled along by ropes, with many hands hauling the floats up a steep slope to bring the festivities and the excitement of the crowd to their peak.

The Chichibu Night Festival has been held every December 2-3 for more than 300 years. The principal festival at the Chichibu Shrine, it is also one of the top three float festivals in Japan, the others being the Kyoto Gion Festival and the Hida Takayama Festival. As a traditional silk fabric-producing area, the festival was apparently once an important event that marked the end of looking after the silkworms and working in the fields for the year. The climax comes on the evening of December 3, when six brightly-lit floats each weighing 20 tons are pulled along by ropes, with many hands hauling the floats up a steep slope to bring the festivities and the excitement of the crowd to their peak.

Case 2: Attracting Taiwanese graduate trips

Another Core Conference initiative is the proposal that Saitama Prefecture set up a concierge and use COTO’s program for attracting graduate trips by offering homestay experiences.

According to Saitama Prefecture, homestays are an essential element in attracting graduate trips, and the prefecture said that if we could set these up, it would handle all the other PR aspects. It proved to be much more of a struggle than I had imagined to convince local families who had previously only hosted Japanese students to take in foreign students, but all of us at the secretariat worked together to visit individual households repeatedly to explain the plan, and our efforts finally bore fruit, with 10 Taiwanese schools participating in homestays in 2017 and that figure continuing to grow every year.

The Onouchi Icicles can be found in Onouchi Gorge, which flows from Mt. Ryokami (ranked among the top 100 mountains of Japan). In winter, manmade icicles up to 150 meters wide and 60 meters high can be seen there, with the nearby suspension bridge offering particularly spectacular views. The light show run throughout the season and occasionally at other times creates an otherworldly atmosphere.

The Onouchi Icicles can be found in Onouchi Gorge, which flows from Mt. Ryokami (ranked among the top 100 mountains of Japan). In winter, manmade icicles up to 150 meters wide and 60 meters high can be seen there, with the nearby suspension bridge offering particularly spectacular views. The light show run throughout the season and occasionally at other times creates an otherworldly atmosphere.

COTO’s mission in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics

Another important COTO role is therefore to build a framework for cooperation among the various local players. These efforts have much in common with the government’s drive to develop a Japanese version of Destination Management/Marketing Organizations (DMOs), and COTO is actually registered as a legal DMO.

As a DMO, we will need to bolster our marketing efforts, launching initiatives to boost the number of overnight visitors, visitor satisfaction, repeat visit rates, and the visitor spend, all of which are essential KPIs. In particular, looking to the Tokyo Olympics and beyond, we need to take our efforts to the next level and become real tourism frontrunners. This will means making close note of government policy and the social situation while involving even more local residents and other parties in developing unique local initiatives through the Core Conference, continuing to take on new challenges.


About the Author
Masayuki Inoue
Secretary-General and COO, Chichibu Area Tourism Organization
(Chichibu Omotenashi Tourism Organization)

Masayuki Inoue Secretary-General and COO, Chichibu Area Tourism Organization (Chichibu Omotenashi Tourism Organization)
Joined the Chichibu City Ward Office in April 1991. Assigned to the Tourism Division in 1996, where he was involved for many years in tourism administration, including construction and operation of Michi no Eki facilities and secondment to the Chichibu Tourism Association. He was then put in charge of tourism collaboration among the city and four towns of the Chichibu area, and in 2012 took on the establishment and operation of the Chichibu Omotenashi Tourism Organization (COTO) as a voluntary body. In 2014, COTO became a corporation, to which he was seconded as Secretary-General.

Profile of Chichibu Region
The Chichibu region lies in the northwest of Saitama Prefecture and has a population of almost 70,000. The Chichibu Basin is located in the middle of the region, surrounded by mountains and hills of various heights. Because of these harsh natural conditions, travel in and out of the region has traditionally only been possible via mountain passes, which is thought to be the reason that such diverse and traditional local cultures have evolved. Some 80 percent of the region is forested, and it was once known for cement, Chichibu-Meisen (a traditional silk fabric produced in Chichibu), and wood. In addition to the source of the Arakawa River, Chichibu is blessed with fabulous scenery such as in the Nagatoro area, and, lying so close to Tokyo, it now attracts many tourists.

Related Websites
About Chichibu (COTO website)(English)

Overview of Chichibu (Saitama Prefecture website)(Japanese)

Chichibu-Meisen Museum(English)


(For the Japanese version of this article)


| Latest Articles | Category: Region & Industry |
Back number Search (FY2011- IIST e-Magazine):| Category Search | Keyword Search | |
Back number Search (FY2001-FY2010 IIST WORLD FORUM Mail Magazine): | Keyword Search | Timeline-Search |