Today, we are going to discover Gunma prefecture, a place that is still too little known despite the treasures found there. On the program of this trip: Paradise onsen, magnificent cherry blossoms and of beautiful landscapes mountain on the roads of Mount Akagi.
Located just 2 hours from Tokyo, the prefecture of Gunma is still relatively unknown to travelers. The attractions are not however what is lacking since it is in this region that the Kusatsu Onsen, my favorite spa village in Japan.
Gunma Prefecture is also known for its Daruma, Buddhist figurines whose pupils are drawn in order to motivate oneself to achieve one’s wishes. We therefore find in the city of Takasaki the temple Shorinzan Darumaji which is dedicated to the Daruma.
Gunma is also a place known to lovers ofInitial D, a cult manga about car racing in the Japanese mountains. We thus find Mount Akagi and Mount Haruna in the work.
The prefecture of Gunma therefore has many attractions on paper and today we are going to discover the area in more depth by omitting Kusatsu and Takasaki (I have already presented these 2 places in video) and by focusing around Mount Akagi .
MAEBASHI, CAPITAL OF GUNMA PREFECTURE
Head first to the city of Maebashi, capital of Gunma prefecture and accessible only 2 hours from Tokyo (by train or car). We find there Rinkokaku, an old house dating from over 150 years ago that once housed important people who came to the area.
Today you can visit this imposing building and its very pretty garden which are accessible free of charge. A very nice visit to do with small temporary exhibitions such as the dolls of the Hina Matsuri, the festival of young girls which takes place every year on March 3.
Right next to Rinkokaku is the park Maebashi Koen which is a very popular place during the Sakura period. Gunma being north of Tokyo, the cherry blossoms take place slightly later (about 1 week later). So it’s a great plan to extend the pleasure of the Sakura once it ends in Tokyo!
To feast in Maebashi, I recommend the Seiyoutei Ichi restaurant, run by a passionate mother who serves the city’s great specialty: Katsu sauce, breaded pork soaked in sauce. Special mention also for its curry!
Overlooking and watching over the town of Maebashi, the Mount Akagi is a legendary place. It is said that his name (Akagiyama literally means the red mountain) comes from a fight that once opposed the deities of 2 mountains who vied for the possession of a lake. The one who was defeated returned to her mountain to heal her wounds by diving into an Onsen, which spilled her blood and stained the mountain red …
Mount Akagi is known for its ice fishing Wakasagi Tsuri that we can practice from january to march but also for its natural landscapes with its autumn colors, its fireflies to observe in summer or its azaleas in spring.
I just went to take advantage ofAkagi Nanmen Senbonzakura, thousands of cherry blossoms over several kilometers which are among the most beautiful places in Japan to admire the Sakura.
In addition to this flagship place, I also loved the temple Kongoji covered with cherry blossoms with also small nocturnal illuminations to enjoy it once again after dark.
ON THE ROADS OF MOUNT AKAGI… INITIAL WAY D!
While it is of course possible to get to Mount Akagi by train and bus, I can only recommend car rental in order to fully enjoy the surroundings. Especially since the roads of Mount Akagi are particularly pretty and pleasant to take!
No wonder when you know that Mount Akagi is one of the races that can be found in the manga Initial D. There is even a starting point indicating the start of the race so that we can take exactly the same route… but obviously not at the same speed! haha
Do not hesitate to take the opportunity to make a crochet Akagi-jinja shrine which has a beautiful mystical atmosphere, surrounded by a large forest of gigantic trees.
If the origin of the name of Mount Akagi comes (according to legend) from a deity who bathes in an Onsen, you will understand, that means that there are Onsen !
Direction therefore Akagi Onsen Hatago Chujikan, an old house from the Edo period (1603-1868) transformed into an inn with a superb Onsen by the fire.
You can feel the experience there is here and it is a real pleasure to splash around in such an Onsen lost in the mountains.
Prices are widely accessible since they start to 12,000 yen (100 €) per person at night with dinner and breakfast.
Being accompanied by Shinobu, a Japanese passionate about Kimono, we took the opportunity to go to his Sensei : Oikawa Sensei, a tailor-tailor specializing in Kimono for 35 years. His job is to create Kimono for professionals as well as to dress for television or important events for example.
But, in addition to that, it also offers the general public Kimono rental at really low prices: 3,500 yen (28 €) rental for a whole day. Above all, it was really very interesting to exchange with her because the Kimono is a complex art that we know very little about.
Do not hesitate to follow Oikawa Sensei’s Instagram account to find out more about the art of the Kimono!
KIRYU AND ITS SUPERB COFFEES
So dressed in Kimono that I went to discover the city of Kiryu, right next to Mount Akagi too. It is a place known for its silk production for more than 1000 years. We can do several fun experiences around silk at Kazahana, a workshop created to preserve and transmit the traditional techniques of silk culture. For 3,500 yen (28 €), we can for example create a small silk lamp.
In Kiryu, you can taste a specialty that I really enjoyed at the restaurant Fujiya Honten: Himokawa UdonWide, thin Udon noodles that look a bit like lasagna. A real treat !
There are also several cafes with a legendary atmosphere in the city: Basho, an 86-year-old café that plunges us straight into a Ghibli movie, run by an adorable granny. In another style, Yotsuji No Saika offers an exceptional traditional setting with Matcha and Wagashi at a very low price.
TAKARAGAWA ONSEN, A PARADISIALLY MIXED ONSEN
For this second night of the trip, head to an incredible place lost in the mountains: Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku, a Ryokan that offers Onsen among the best in Japan.
4 large outdoor mixed baths waiting for you ! A kind of cotton loincloth is provided so no worries about nudity! And tattoos are allowed, the establishment welcoming foreigners with instructions in English.
Count 15,000 yen (120 €) per person at night with dinner and breakfast or simply 2000 yen (15 €) if you just want to spend the day enjoying the Onsen without spending the night there.
IKAHO ONSEN, THE THERMAL VILLAGE WITH 365 STEPS
Last stage of the trip: Ikaho Onsen, one of the most famous onsen villages in Japan. It is famous for its 365 steps on which extend shops and restaurants with a sanctuary at the top.
We also find Ikaho Onsen in Initial D.
I recommend in particular Sarousen, a cafe that offers Daruma Purin, a vanilla and milk cream that is incredible …
Also in Ikaho, there is also the pretty temple Mizusawa-dera and his street Udon street which features many Udon noodle restaurants.
This is where this wonderful trip to Gunma ended, Onsen paradise just 2 hours from Tokyo. A region still too little known but which is really worth a detour. Mount Akagi is adorned with different colors every season so it offers beautiful things at any time of the year!
To find out more about the region, do not hesitate to consult the website of the Mont Akagi tourist office.