Did you know of a hidden gem in the region of Kanto? Located in the northwestern part of the region and right above Saitama Prefecture is a place little known by tourists – Gunma Prefecture 群馬県.
What could one expect from this prefecture? Well, places that are off-the-beaten path are usually filled with unknown surprises, which you will discover as you spend some time to travel and explore. Are you ready for some adventure? Now, let’s find out what are the hidden gems here!
1. Shorinzan Darumaji Temple
As much as this a temple, the main attraction here would be the Daruma dolls. Did you know that this is where the Daruma dolls originated? During the Daruma Fair each year (6 and 7 January), people will flock here to buy a Daruma doll as it is said to be a good luck charm.
Daruma dolls are so famous that it is one of the well-known good luck charms in Japan. Some even say that it culturally symbolises the Japanese culture. One fun fact about this doll is that it is designed in a way that when it is kicked or toppled over, it could easily be placed back into its standing position. This serves as a motivational factor for us – if we face difficulties or hardships, we could get back up again.
Do take note that new Daruma dolls are meant to have no eyes because it is meant to be painted by the owner of the doll. The left eye is painted when you make a wish, and the right eye is painted when the wish is granted.
Opening Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM
Entry Fee: Free
2. Tomioka Silk Mill
In 1872, the Japanese government built this factory to modernise raw silk production. Today, this factory is no longer operating but has become a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the building, machines used to produce silk are on display, and you could also join a guided tour to get a better understanding of the building and its history.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
As the building was built during the Meiji era, the unique architecture of the building is something to be observed. Some of the activities that you could participate here are the demonstration of reeling the silk machines, available on weekdays and weekends.
Address: 1-1 Tomioka, Tomioka-Shi, Gunma
Tel. no.: +81-274-64-0005（Tomioka Silk Mill Administration Office）
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Last Entrance: 4:30 PM)
Entry Fee: 1,000 yen
Guided Tour Fee: 200 yen
Entry Fee to visit West Cocoon Warehouse Conservation Viewing Deck: 200 yen
Audioguide Rental Service for Guided Tour: Available (200 yen)
3. Kusatsu Onsen
Gunma Prefecture is geographically mountainous and blessed with natural hot springs. The well-known Kusatsu Onsen here is one of the three major onsens in Japan – with high volumes of hot spring water. The water here is one of the most acidic in Japan, so it could kill bacterias and microorganisms. This water flows to all the onsen resorts in the town, but most of the water flows to Yubatake, a well-known onsen resort.
There are two unique ways of taking bath here in Kusatsu which is Jikanyu (timed-bathing) and Yumomi (water beating) – bathing methods passed down since the Edo period. Both of these methods needed manpower and large wooden paddles to cool down the temperature of onsen before one could dip into the water.
Address: Kusatsu, Kusatsu-machi, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma
Tel. no.: +81-279-88-0800 （Kusatsu Onsen Tourism Association）
Spring Quality: Acid spring, sulfur spring
If you are looking for local food to try in Gunma, why not have a yakimanju? Soft buns are first put onto a stick, then coated with sweet and salty miso, and finally put on a grilling rack to be grilled. This is a traditional delicacy of Gunma, and not difficult to find especially at onsen areas. Just have a stroll around, and you’re sure to come across food stalls selling this delicacy!
5. Gunma Safari Park
When you’ve tried onsen, visited the temple and places of attraction and don’t know what to do, you can go to the safari park to look at animals! There are about 100 animals roaming the park, and you can view them up close as they will approach you. You would have to rent a car or a safari bus to go around the park. For cars, you could self-drive around the park at your own pace.
Image: Courtesy of Tomioka City
Image: Courtesy of Tomioka City
You could buy some food to feed the animals and without the fence between you and the animal, it will be quite an experience to look at animals from your vehicle window. There are a few options for you to go around the park, namely safari bus, ranger tour, and driving your own car.
Address: 1 Okamoto, Tomioka-shi, Gunma
Tel. no.: +81-274-64-2111
Opening Hours: 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM (Mar. to Oct.), 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM (Nov. to Feb.)
Last Entrance: 1 hour before closing time
English Audio Guide: Available
Entry Fee: 2,700 yen (adult), 1,400 yen (children aged 3 – 15 years old)
Car Entry (per unit): 300 yen
Safari bus (per person): 500 yen
Ranger Tour (per person): 1,300 yen
Guide radio (compulsory for each vehicle): Car 500 yen, Bus 1,300 yen
Feeding Experience Bus (per person): 1,300 yen
With all these attractions, now you know how what you can do in Gunma Prefecture! If you are visiting nearby areas like Saitama, Tochigi, Nagano, Yamanashi and Niigata, do consider to drop by Gunma for some exploration. Just remember, be ready for unknown adventures!