17/05/2021

Gunma: The Perfect Land for Adventure

Surrounded by land, bordered by mountains, and centred in the island of Honshu lies Gunma. Hot springs, snow sports, local delicacies, nature spots, whatever it is you’re looking for, Gunma is sure to have it for you. So what are you waiting for? All aboard!


Table of Contents

  1. History and Geography
  2. Experiencing Gunma at its Best!
  3. Hot Springs and more Fun!
  4. Must-try dishes!
  5. Summary

History and Geography

Gunma Prefecture is located in the middle of the archipelago that is Japan. It is known for its beautiful natural landscapes of mountain ranges, marshes, lakes, and streams. Surrounded by lush forests, bubbling streams and clean clear air it entices visitors into exploring the great outdoors!

But of course Gunma has a lot more to offer. Enriched with history and culture, it offers diverse local artifacts and merchandise like textiles, woodwork, silk, etc. all of which make for excellent souvenirs . As home to Japan’s traditional Daruma doll, here in Gunma you’ll have the chance to visit workshops and make your own Daruma doll or even a sosaku kokeshi doll.

 Apart from these, Gunma is also well-known for its hot springs and skiing.

Experiencing Gunma at its Best!

Learning about a place’s culture and history is one of the greatest enjoyments that accompanies travelling. Gunma is the perfect travel spot that adds culture to adventure.

Ikaho

Since many years ago, the onsen (hot spring) town of Ikaho (伊香保) has been a popular spot for rest and relaxation. The town’s symbol is its stone steps with over 400 years of history, now with a whopping number of 365 steps. Along the steps are a variety of shops offering souvenirs, food, hotels, and entertainment.

Tired after climbing the endless steps? Don’t worry, at the top of the steps is a relaxing hot footbath. You can also look for your zodiac sign printed on the ground. These represent the 12 individual landlords of their respective onsen resorts more than 200 years ago.

And finally, don’t miss the engravings of Japanese author and poet, Yosano Akiko on the steps.

※ Shibukawa Ikaho Onsen Tourism Association, "Ikaho Stone Steps"

Sakurayama Park

One of the best cherry blossom (sakura) spots in Japan, Sakurayama Park (桜山公園) is home to over 7,000 rare Fuyuzakura cherry blossoms that flourish twice a year in winter and spring, and about 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees that bloom in spring.

The park consists of  three main areas. The first area is a traditional Japanese garden. The combination of a massive but tranquil pond constructed from 1,500 tons Sanbaseki (三波石: A type of stone unique to Gunma Prefecture. It carries a beautiful bluish white hue to it and therefore usually used to beautify landscapes.) and a backdrop of Mount Mikabo (御荷鉾山) makes for a picturesque view. This is especially so in autumn when the leaves take on a vibrant hue of red and yellow. Located at the entrance to the cherry blossom spot, the garden is the symbol of Sakurayama Park.

The second area is a model garden for visitors who desire to experience Japanese tea ceremony, a tradition steeped in history. Permission in advance is required to use the room, so please contact beforehand.

The third and last area is for holding events like the Sakurayama Festival which is celebrated every first of December.

※ Gunma Prefectural Government, "Sakurayama Park"
※ Fujioka City, "Inside Sakurayama Park"

Gunma Museum of Natural History

A 15 minute drive from Joshu-Tomioka Station (上州富岡駅) is the Gunma Museum of Natural History which opened its doors in 1996. The museum’s main theme is “Life Science”. It has various exhibitions pertaining to the topic including Earth’s formation, real dinosaur fossils, environment and nature of Gunma prefecture, history of Darwin, and more.

Entrance Cost: 510 yen (Adults)

Opening Hours: 9:30 to 17:00 (Last entry 16:30)

Gunma Museum of Natural History

Haruna Shrine

Located on the slopes of one of the famous Three Mountains of Jomo, Mount Haruna, is Haruna Shrine (榛名神社). Surrounded by the rocky surface of Mount Haruna, the green of moss and forest leaves, and the occasional chilly mist intertwined with cool mountain air, Haruna Shrine gives off a mystical almost mysterious vibe. Built more than 1,000 years ago, the shrine gives blessings for family safety, prosperity, good harvest, and protection from danger. 

Haruna Jinja

Hot Springs and more Fun!

Now that we’re done with Gunma’s  culture and history, let’s explore some leisure activities that the prefecture has to offer!

Kusatsu Onsen

The hot water fields known as Yubatake (湯畑) is the symbol of the town of Kusatsu (草津), which is known for its Kusatsu Onsen. Located right in the center of Kusatsu town, the hotspring sources its water from Yubatake. The high acidity and 55°C temperature water containing various minerals is said to heal illnesses and is also good for the skin. Around the hotspring and yubatake are various shops, restaurants, public onsens, and ryokan. Visitors can also watch Yumomi (湯もみ), a traditional way to cool down Kusatsu’s water, which is performed daily in Netsunoyu (熱乃湯) right beside the yubatake. 

※ Japan National Tourism Organization, "Kusatsu Onsen"

Mount Tanigawa 

Mount Tanigawa (谷川岳) is a rocky mountain that runs through the prefectures of Gunma and Niigata. Aside from its notable hiking paths and fame as a skiing destination during winter, the Tanigawa Onsen also offers a surreal experience. Part of a Ryokan (japanese inn)’s facility, it is the nearest hot spring to Mount Tanigawa. The source of water has not changed since the Edo Period, retaining the purity and cleanliness from the past.

※ Gunma Prefectural Government, "Mt. Tanigawa"
※ Ryokan Tanigawa, "About Ryokan Tanigawa"

Minakami Kogen Ski Resort

Located at Fujiwara, Gunma, the Minakami Kogen Ski Resort (水上高原スキーリゾート) is open from December to April. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, this is the place to go. The ski resort offers all kinds of winter activities including  snowmobiling, snow rafting, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, Ski Böcker - if it has snow in it, it’s there!

They also have snowcat tours that bring you to the top of the mountain!  

Even during the other seasons of spring, summer, and autumn (April to November), there is plenty to do in Minakami Kogen Resort. There’s river rafting (best in Spring!), canyoning, hydrospeeding, lake canoeing, bungee-jumping, ziplining, paragliding, and treetop trekking. So what are you waiting for?! Check it out now~!

TIP

For beginner skiers and family with children, Minakami Kogen Ski Resort is the best place to visit. With gentle easy to ski slopes, snow areas for children, ski lessons, and various non-skiing activities, you can have a worry-free learning experience or just enjoy frolicking in the snow with your kids.

Minakami Kogen Ski ResortMinakami Kogen Hotel 200

Prince Snow Resort: Manza Onsen

Spanning between Manza Onsen (万座温泉) and the top of Mount Manza, skiing meets onsen in Prince Snow Resort. Located 1,800 meters above sea level, Manza Onsen has one of the most sulphuric waters in Japan. Its water is sourced from Mount Shirane (白根山) and very acidic, it is said that soaking in these waters will improve your general health and blood circulation. Prince Hotel’s onsen allows visitors a brilliant unimpeded view of the mountains. Aside from its gender separated baths, it has a mixed gender bath which is uncommon in modern day Japan.  

When it comes to skiing, the ski resort boasts having the best powder snow in the Northern Alps of Japan. It certainly looks that way on their promotional Youtube video available on their official website. Prince Hotel’s excellence in providing the best in ski tourism has been reflected in its winning the World Ski Awards three years in a row!

※ Prince Hotels, Inc., "Mt.Naeba / Naeba Niigata"

Must-try dishes!

With all this excitement and adventuring, it’s time to fill up our rumbling tummies! Here are some of Gunma’s must try dishes!

Mizusawa Udon

This simple dish of noodles and cold dipping broth has a 400 years history in Japan and is considered 1 out of Japan’s best 3 types of udon. Mizusawa udon’s unique characteristics as opposed to its other udon brethren are its chewy thickness and smooth texture. You can find Mizusawa Udon in udon shops located around Mizusawa Kannon Temple (水澤観音) which is reachable by bus from Ikaho Onsen, mentioned above. Slurp on some of these tasty noodles, and if you fancy, visit the temple to pray for good luck. 

Konnyaku

A calorie-free agar-like almost tasteless food, konnyaku (こんにゃく) is made from konjac. Its bland taste makes it an excellent absorber of rich flavours and adds a nice firm bite to soups. It is also made into shirataki (noodles) which goes well in sukiyaki or even ramen. Gunma is the Land of Konnyaku, producing more than 90% of konnyaku in Japan!

To learn more about konnyaku, visit Gunma’s Konnyaku Park where you can watch how konnyaku is made, make your own konnyaku, and partake in a Konnyaku buffet!

Yaki-Manju and Manju

Manju (まんじゅう) is a popular confection throughout Japan that holds a special place so much so that a Yaki-Manju Festival is held in Isesaki Shrine (伊勢崎神社) every 11th of January. You can also roast one for yourself during the event! To try Yaki-Manju (manju topped with sweet miso and grilled), visit Harashimaya (原嶋屋総本家) said to be the creator of Yaki-Manju.

Other than Yaki-Manju, there is also onsen manju which is packed with sweet red bean paste that is said to originate in Ikaho Onsen. Make sure to try some when visiting the hotspring.

Although a standard Yaki-Manju is made without fillings, some manju shops in Gunma have red bean paste filled Yaki-Manju which is a huge controversy to Gunma residents. Compare both and pick a side!

Okkirikomi

Okkirikomi is a nabe-like dish with large fat pieces of udon noodles and local seasonal vegetables boiled in a soy sauce-based soup. The history of this dish dates back to the 12th century  We recommend Hayami (はや味) to try this hot dish, the restaurant is located next to UNESCO World Heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill. You can also visit the silk mill after you have a warm hearty meal!

Joshu Sukiyaki

Joshu Sukiyaki (上州すき焼き) is a hotpot dish consisting of Joshu beef, vegetables, tofu, konnyaku, shirataki, mushrooms and more boiled in a sweet sauce combination of mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Made entirely of locally sourced ingredients, this dish truly embodies Gunma. Try Joshu Sukiyaki at Tokiwa-So (ときわ荘).

Summary

If you desire a break from work, whether it is a long relaxing soak in a hot spring, or the fun and excitement of skiing with the wind blowing through your hair, the prefecture of Gunma has a lot in store for you. Start your vacation now and explore your heart's desire!

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