Saturday, May 04, 2013

Chichibu - April 2013

Valley of the Yokoze River, Yokoze Township, Saitama Prefecture.

Sakura performer, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shiba zakura, Hitsujiyama Park, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shishi dancer, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shishi dancers, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Mt. Bukko, Yokoze Township, Saitama Prefecture

After the discovery of nylon doomed the silk industry, Chichibu's core industry became cement production. Materials companies blasted Bukko, the limestone massif overlooking the city, to powder (one resident said one of her earliest memories was traveling to another town and finding out that not everyone had white roofs). The resulting product was shipped off to armor the coastlines and line the rivers (and play a role in better-considered construction as well, of course).

The blasting has ceased, leaving behind a peculiar half-mountain as Chichibu's scenic backdrop.

Chichibu is trying to reinvent itself as a center for tourism: a role for which it is eminently qualified. The city faces limits, unfortunately, in its poor transportation links. There is no major no airport and no nearby Shinkansen line. The valleys leading into the city from the south are only wide enough to accommodate two lane roads, and access from the north takes a lengthy looping route via Yorii -- a sleepy burg whose own fortunes are set to skyrocket when the new super-efficient Honda assembly plant opens.

The already poor transportation situation could become dire if the Seibu Group wins permission to close down rail service on the Seibu Chichibu Line. Seibu managers seem to have wanted for some time to unload the Chichibu line as well as four other minor lines. They have cleverly used a bid for board seats by U.S. based Cerberus Capital as an opportunity to make public their desire to dump their least profitable rail operations. (Link)

To be fair, Seibu has tried to promote travel along the Seibu Chichibu line, publishing, for example, a library of trail maps for hikers. Two of the trails, the one up to Kanhatsushumiharashidai and the one from Ne no Gongen to Takedera (Hachioji) are classic beginner-level day trips.

All photos: MTC


Chris ( said...

Yokoze is my wife's town. A beautiful area (so long as one turns a blind eye to the cement works & the desecration of Mt Buko). The forest road up to Maruyama is my running track whenever I go back there.

FWIW, local rumour has it that the president of Seibu met with Chichibu's mayor & promised that the line would not be shut down. But then we all know how much that's worth. As someone who has used the line for the best part of 2 decades now, it staggers me to think how isolated Chichibu would become if it ceased to exist.

Martin J Frid said...

I live in Hanno so this was big news here too. But I have not heard anyone mention that it is Seibu Group (or Seibu Holdings) that want to close down the line to Chichibu. Where did you get that from?

Apparently, the US minority owner (Cerberus) also wanted to close down Seibu Lions, the popular baseball team... So, if this was a "clever" plot by Seibu, why did they vote no to the Cerberus proposal? Sorry, MTC, but I think you got this one wrong.

MTC said...

Chris -

There are always tradeoffs. We cannot guess how much of the population would have stayed or what would have happened to the buildings in Chichibu's core had Bukko not been there for the taking. Cement production kept the city and its festivals going.

As far as I can tell Chichibu is on its third life, adapting itself, as it has twice before, to demands from outside.

MTC said...

Mr. Frid -

I hope that I am wrong. However, Cerberus has vigorously denied having asked for a shutdown of the five lines. Walking the story backward, one has to believe Cerberus is telling the truth. The capital management partnership is trying to secure board seats. Demanding that local rail arteries be shut down would be an intensely stupid way of guaranteeing that partnership would not achieve its goal.

Shannon said...

Would you mind posting the names (ideally in Japanese) of the hiking guides you referenced?

Trying to increase my cache of beginner hikes in order to entice my wife out of doors.

MTC said...

Shannon -

The maps Seibu Railways has produced for the Chichibu Line are not compiles as a guide. The railway has them in brochures available on the shelves outside the gate areas or inside the gatekeeper's booths at Seibu stations, most prominently at the Ikebukuro terminus.

A map of the Kanhatshumiharashidai (関八州見晴台) hike can be found in 駅から山あるき 関東版, published by Toppan for JTB, available in most sizable bookstores.

An English-language description and a black&white line map of the Ne no Gongen (根の権現) to Takedera (竹寺) hike can be found in Gary D'A. Walters' Day Walks Near Tokyo, published by Kodansha.

All of the above sources have their hits and their misses. The Izugatake hike, which is in 駅から山あるき 関東版 and in one of the Seibu Railway brochures, would end a marriage. The nicest thing I ever heard anyone say about it was, "It this it? Is this the end? Are we finished now?"