Icicles of wonder

The Misotsuchi Icicles in Saitama prefecture

Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama
To get an idea how huge these are, check out the size of the people next to the river!

This secret Japanese pleasure isn’t a famous tourist destination—it’s really more of a pit stop along the way to Suwa City or the Werewolf Shrine—but it’s so spectacular in an ur-illuminations kind of way, I just have to show it to you. There’s a long history of rural folks making something visit-worthy from nothing, and naturally, someone in Saitama noticed that people were pulling off the road to gawk at these frozen springs cascading down a cliff. Before long, they also realized the impressive stairsteps of icicles would be even more arresting lit up at night.

Driving along the Arakawa River, most people zip right past the little snack hut by the side of the side of the road, but if you’re with someone who’s in the know, you stop and get out, then look down to admire the wall of impressive icicles on the far cliffside

Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama
There’s a nice pathway leading down to the riverside, and the scene is even more beautiful up close

But as pretty as the icicles are, that’s not the best part. The best part is waiting until dark, when they turn into this.

Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama lit up at night
Spotlights alternate between natural white and this gorgeous ice-blue
Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama lit up at night
And the biggest ice cave is kitted out with kaleidoscopic color-changing lighting, like this
Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama lit up at night
Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama lit up at night
Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama lit up at night

Of course, while you wait for it to get dark, it would be a mistake not to park yourself by a window in the cafe and enjoy a basket of their roasted potatoes with miso butter or one of the other hearty dinner specialties made with local Saitama mushrooms and miso, that adds to the only-in-Japan ambience.

The light-up happens every year from mid-January to mid-February (depending on when it gets cold enough to keep the icicles frozen and at their best). It costs a modest ¥200 per person to see this amazing sight up close and personal from the river bank, plus a parking fee of ¥500 per car to use the parking lot. You can check the current dates on the Misotsuchi Icicles website.

Here’s where the Misotsuchi icicles are:

Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama map

And here’s a closer look at the roads and area:

Misotsuchi icicles in Chichibu Saitama map
As you can see, the turnoff to the Mitsumine Shrine (also known as the Werewolf Shrine) is just a short drive away from the icicle spot

Here’s how to get to the Misotsuchi icicles from Tokyo:

The Seibu Kanko bus that goes between Seibu-Chichibu Station to Mitsumine-Jinja and stops at the icicle spot on the way doesn’t run very often in the winter and not always after dark. I’m sorry to say, this is one of those sights it’s pretty hard to see without a car.

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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