Tokyo definitely deserves its reputation as a dense, urban metropolis. Get outside the city center, though, and there’s a pretty quick transition to suburbs, and not far beyond that you can find some truly beautiful scenery.
For example, take the train about an hour and a half north from downtown, and you can be in Saitama Prefecture’s Chichibu, a region of mountains, forests, and lakes that’s a popular get-back-to-nature day trip destination for Tokyoites. People come to see the cherry blossoms in spring, the fireflies in summer, and the foliage in the fall. And in the winter Chichibu has…icicles?
▼ 氷柱 = tsurara = icicles
Located near Ashigakubo Station on the Seibu Chichibu Line, the Ashigakubo Icicles are an annual attraction between early January and mid-February. The icicles are actually a man-made art display, created by pumping water from the nearby stream into the cold alpine air.
We weren’t sure how much to expect from the concept of man-made icicles, but we decided to brave the elements and see them for ourselves. From Ashigakubo Station it’s about a ten-minute walk to the icicle area, and once we got there…
…we immediately felt dumb for having doubted how awesome the place is.
The word “icicle” might have you imagining some small cones of ice hanging from the corner of a roof or branch of a tree, but Ashigakubo’s are a landscape unto themselves, like a forest made out of ice. The venue is some 200 meters long and has an elevation change of roughly 30 meters, and the sense of scale gives everything an even more ethereal atmosphere.
During the week, the icicle zone is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but on weekends there’s also nighttime admission, when the crystalline sparkling of the frozen formations are especially captivating.
▼ Not that they look at all bad in the daylight, though.
Obviously, this is a great place for photography fans to snap some very memorable pictures, and if you’re also a rail fan and time the shutter just right, you can get a shot of the trains on the nearby tracks as they run past the icicles.
This year’s icicle display will be going on until February 23, with daytime admission between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and night admission between 5 and 8 p.m. in January and 6 and 8 p.m. in February. Tickets are 400 yen during the day and an extra 100 yen at night, with night admission requiring advance reservations for entry prior to 7 p.m. Daytime tickets also come with a free cup of locally grown tea or non-alcoholic amazake (while supplies last) to keep you warm as you gaze at the ice, and there’s also a michi no eki "road station” souvenir shop/restaurant with food and drinks nearby.
So yes, we owe Ashigakubo a big apology for underestimating their icicles, and now we’ve got good reasons to visit Chichibu in each and every season.
Related: Ashigakubo Icicle official website
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