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Gunma Travel Guide Accessible Hot Spring Retreat

Another side of Japan awaits you in Gunma Prefecture. Beautiful lakes, peaceful valleys, and natural hot springs make Gunma perfect for a relaxing golf getaway. You may have trouble fitting everything in, though, as this prefecture is home to over 80 courses. Luckily, Gunma is easily accessible. Just a quick one-hour train ride from Tokyo, you’ll be able to fit in a golf weekend even when you’re on a busy work trip to the capital. Here is what you need to know about your newest go-to golfing location.

Photo: Hot spring at Kusatsu by Aiko Konishi

Things to Do

With a variety of natural attractions, Gunma offers plenty of outdoor activities to check out in between holes.

Undoubtedly, Gunma’s biggest draw are its hot springs, or onsen. Frequented year-round, these thermal waters are important in Japanese history and culture. For an accurate representation of Japanese bathing culture, visit Kusatsu Onsen. Famous as one of Japan’s three main onsen, Kusatsu is also ranked number one hot spring among travel pros. Also, the unique bathing methods found at this hot spring have been passed down since the Edo Period.  

Likewise, try Shima Onsen for that sleepy town ambiance. Located along the crystal clear Shima River, the thermal waters here are said to cure 40,000 illnesses. The ryokan, or traditional inns, are highly-recognized and were inspiration for the feature-length animated film Spirited Away. 

In addition to onsens, the region is home to beautiful flora and fauna. Visit Lake Nozoriko to see over 300 species by its shores. Try Kazawa Yunomaru Plateau for views of Japanese azaleas in every direction. Or, hike around Mount Kusatsu-Shirane and the neighboring emerald-green Yugama lake beside it.

Photo: Sakura and Moss Pink by Tanka Juuyoh

Flavors of Gunma

Sweet, savory, and everything in between—Gunma has food to satiate any craving, but some of the region’s best specialties combine both.  

Order okkirikomi for something a bit sweet, a bit salty, and completely homey. This dish features hand-cut noodles, which vary in size, and seasonal vegetables. Cooked in a hot pot, the broth is typically mirin and shoyu-based, however, miso-based is also common. This dish is a staple in the winter months.

If you’re looking for a sweet and savory snack, try the yaki-manjuu. This traditional food is made with wheat flour that’s been fermented in sake. The flour is then rolled into balls and coated with a sweet-savory miso sauce before being grilled. Eaten fresh off the grill, the manju is hot, the texture is fluffy, and the flavor is incredibly concentrated.

On the other hand, konnyaku is a great option if you’re very health-conscious. With nearly no calories, this food is made from the devil’s tongue plant and has a jelly-like consistency. Most people eat konnyaku with various toppings.

Photo: 焼きまんじゅう Pink by Dai Wat

Events and Seasonal Happenings

Gunma has events and celebrations throughout the year that pay homage to the area’s culture and nature. At the beginning of the year, you can attend one of many Daruma-ichi in the region. The Shorinzan Nanakusa Taisai Daruma Ichi in Hanadaka-machi is the country’s largest, with over 200,000 attendees. Here you find lucky charms, including daruma dolls, for things such as business success, good health, and academic achievement. In spring you can watch locals of Oigami Onsen carry around a portable shrine shaped like a serpent at the Daija Festival, or participate in the Samurai Marathon and run the ancient Edo highway of Kyu-Nakasendo.

Every other year, in early October, the whole town of Nakanojo turns into an art museum in the Nakanojo Biennale. Later, visit Minow to watch a traditional wedding ceremony, the Minowa no Sato no Kitsune no Yomeiri. Known as the Fox’s Wedding, people made up as foxes participate in the ancient tradition.

Photo: Nakanojo Biennale

What to Bring Back

Gunma produces a variety of quality items that make for wonderful souvenirs. Buy a Takasaki daruma doll for a piece of the culture and some added luck. This prefecture is the leading producer of these little charms, and the Takasaki ones have symbols of luck and longevity. Silk items are another fantastic alternative. This region is famous for its silk, cultivating the textile for hundreds of years. Kiryuu Fabrics has produced quality textiles for over 1000 years.

 Photo: Dharma / DARUMA / 達磨(だるま) by Tanaka Juuyoh

Where to Stay

A stay in Gunma wouldn’t be complete without enjoying traditional Japanese hospitality at one of the many ryokan.

Enjoy the affects of different thermal sources at Kusatsu Onsen Boun. The inn has both Western and traditional Japanese style rooms, as well as rooms with an en-suite private onsen.

Another great option is Sekizenkan Kashotei Sanso in the Shima Onsen area. Set along the river, each room has unobstructed views of the surrounding nature.

Photo: Sekizenkan Kashotei Sanso

Wrap Up

Gunma is the ideal location to relax and enjoy golf and nature. Whether it’s snow covered trees from an onsen in winter or fields of flowers in summer, you’ll have gorgeous views all year long. You can also enjoy one of the many festivals and try some of the local delicacies. The only thing that’ll keep you from exploring everything the region has to offer is the amount of golf courses. Luckily, Gunma is only a short ride away.

Getting There

From Tokyo, take the JR Joetsu/Nagano Shinkansen Line to Takasaki Station. The ride takes about 50 minutes. From Takasaki Station, transfer to the JR Ryomo Line to Maebashi Station. This leg takes approximately 15 minutes. Conversely, some areas, like Shima Onsen, can be reached by highway bus (reservations required). 

From Osaka, take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line from Shin-Osaka Station to Tokyo Station. The train ride takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. From Tokyo Station, follow the above directions.


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