A Long Weekend in Gunma: Sample Itinerary
Gunma is one of the most accessible prefectures to Tokyo, yet it is often overlooked in favour of Nagano, Yamanashi or Shizuoka. Travellers should consider spending some time in Gunma as it has hiking, skiing, hot springs, water activities and more on offer. Here is a sample three day, two night holiday in Gunma.
Head to Canyons, Japan's most popular English speaking canyoning adventure company. Get there by taking the Joetsu shinkansen for 65 minutes to Jomokogen station. The Canyons team will arrange a free shuttle bus from there (you need to arrange this in advance). They serve mouth-watering hamburgers there for lunch which will save you having to travel elsewhere to eat. After that, adventure awaits!
Canyons Minakami offers both canyoning and rafting experiences. For rafting, the river is at its best from May to June, when it flows with grade 4 fast flowing white water. In Summer the river drops to a grade 2 which is more suitable for beginners. Summertime adventure seekers should opt for canyoning, which offers thrills in both Spring and Summer seasons.
If you check the Canyons website, you will find many options for an activity + accommodation in their lodge + BBQ dinner available. Eating the BBQ with the sounds of the river in the background is not to be missed. There is an onsen hotel nearby which you can walk to if you feel like trying a hot spring.
Head to Minakami Station and take the local train to Doai Station. Doai is the deepest in-use train station in Japan - 486 stairs down. The platform at Doai is dark, lit only by a few neon lights. It has an incredibly eerie atmosphere and you are likely to be the only people there. After you brave the stairs, you will exit into what is hopefully a sparkling sunny day. Walk up the hill for about 10 minutes until you reach the Tanigawadake Ropeway Station.
Take the ropeway up to the top of Mount Tanigawa. From there you will have a dazzling view of the surrounding mountains. This is best in Autumn due to the myriad of colourful foliage you can see, but it still worth doing in Summer when you can enjoy panoramic views of wild alpine flowers dotting the landscape. If you get hungry you can have lunch with a view at the Tenjindaira Ski Resort. The food is just your typical fare - ramen, curry and so on.
After lunch, take a bus for 20 minutes to Minakami Station and take the train to Takasaki Station. There is an old steam locomotive train with tulips planted around it outside the station which are in bloom in April. You can take a short walk to see the Takasaki City Hall Observation Deck which is the highest building in the city. There you can see a nice view over the city, as well as borrow a free rental bike through their "takachari" system if you desire.
If you have time, you could head slightly out of the city to the Byakue Dai-kannon which provides stunning views in the golden light hour of the early evening. There you can see the giant kannon statue along with a shrine. Until 5pm you can go inside the statue. If you walk further past the suspension bridge there is a hiking trail which leads to some caves which can be explored, but the sign to them is only in Japanese. To get to the Kannon, take Kannonyama 13 bus line (bound for Nodai Niko) from Takasaki Station West Exit no.8 bus stop for about 24 minutes.
After breakfast, take the bus for 20 minutes from Takasaki Station to the Shorinzan Daruma-ji Temple. This temple dates back to 1697 and is said to be the origin of the Japanese "daruma" doll. These dolls are good luck charms - you make a wish and fill in one eye, and if your wish comes true then you fill in the other eye. At the end of that year, you should bring the doll back to the shrine to burn it (if possible). Around the grounds of this temple sit hundreds of daruma in various sizes and colours, each representing something different. Red is for general good luck and is the most popular. There is a museum next to the temple housing rare kinds of daruma. Do you around to the back of the temple also as there are some pretty gardens there. This is a photogenic spot worth seeing if you happen to be in Takasaki. It is free and only a short bus ride away.
If you're looking for a lunch spot, our team went to "Beauty and Health Zen Cafe" next to Gunma-Yawata Station. They grow vegetables and herbs behind the cafe and use them as ingredients in their dishes.
After lunch you can head back to Takasaki Station and take the Joshin Railway for 35 minutes to Tomioka Silk Mill (Joshu-Tomioka Station). The Tomioka Silk Mill was the first modern silk factory in Japan, established in 1872. It was built with the advisory of French specialists with the aim to improve the quality of Japanese silkby using modern machinery. Since 2014 it has held World Heritage status as it played such an important role is modernising Japan during the Meiji Period and turned Japan into a major silk producer on an international scale. These days you can tour around many preserved buildings such as the silk reeling mill where the cocoons were reeled into silk reels, along with warehouses used to store the silkworms. For 200 yen you can rent an audio guide in English. This silk mill provides a fascinating look at the beginnings of the great Japanese industrial age and is good for history and textile lovers alike.