Gunma Prefecture is very famous for hot springs. It takes one hour by Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo, so it is convenient for a one-day or one-night trip. I visited Gunma for climbing, skiing, camping, barbecue and water activities. There are good size and distance mountains for beginners and lakes and rivers for family. My friends often ask me what they could do besides enjoying hot springs in Gunma. So, I’d like to introduce 5 of my favorite places to visit.
1. Shima Lake Kayaking
In Gunma, water activities are popular due to its beautiful lakes and rivers for kayaking, rafting, SUP (Standing Up Paddle) and swimming. One of my favorite water sports is kayaking at Shima Lake. I visited several lakes in Gunma and some of them had a bad smell due to household wastewater flowing into the lake. However, Shima Lake has very clear and deep blue water. When we did kayaking at Shima Lake, we saw some fish through the clear water. Green trees and blue sky were reflected on the surface of the water and we could refresh and relax while kayaking.
Early summer is the best season to see Shima Lake’s blue water, but Autumn season should be enjoyable too. The nearest stations are Nakanojo Station of JR Agatsuma Line or Jomo Kogen Station of JR Shinkansen Line. Rental car is needed to visit Shima Lake from the stations. We rented a car at JR Takasaki Station to visit the Shima Lake area.
When I visited Gunma for outdoor sports, I had to search for an indoor place to spend time with my kids due to rain. I found Takumino-sato to get out of the rain. Takumino-sato is an experience-based facility. We did Konjak cooking, made Soba (Japanese noodles) and picked apples wearing raincoats. You can rent a bicycle to enjoy the surrounding scenery at Takumio-sato, if the weather permits.
Konjak is a jelly-like food made from Konjak potato. It’s popular for dieters due to its zero calories. Cooking konjak is the same as playing with plasticine like kids do. After kneading Konjak dough, we created various shapes of Konjak. I didn’t expect much from this facility, because it seemed very artificial to promote the local activities. However, it was really fun to spend several hours participating in interesting inside activities. We created our original candles, too. It was helpful for us to spend our time there during a very rainy day.
3. Yokokawa station
If you have train mania, Usui Toge Train Museum, next to Yokokawa Station, is a must-visit place. Over 30 railway vehicles are exhibited and we played on train simulators. I’m not a train maniac, but I could not stop watching N gauge, a train reduced model, which was running in the diorama.
Access is very easy from Tokyo to Usui Toge train museum. It takes about 40 mins by JR Joetsu Honsen Line from Takasaki Station of JR Shinkansen Line. It costs 500 yen per person and open hours are from 9:00 to 16:30.
Near Yokokawa Station, there is Oginoya Kamameshi Shop we always visit and eat Kamameshi, a rice, meat and vegetable dish served in a small pot. I always have Kamameshi when visiting Gunma or Nagano Prefecture for skiing or hiking. It’s a nostalgic lunch box for me. The main store of Oginoya has served Kamameshi since 1958 for tourists. You can have Japanese noodles at the main store, too.
4. Yanba Dam
Over the years, I have visited the Yanba Dam area more than ten times with my family. It was a little bit sad to discover that the beautiful nature had been destroyed but it was good to see that new buildings and houses had been constructed. I saw many tourists were coming to see the under construction Yanba Dam.
My favorite soba place is Soba Dokoro Yanba which is serving fried mushrooms and Japanese noodles. They have moved from their original site to a much higher place with views of Yanba Dam. The original place was going to be under the water when the dam was completed.
Kawarayu Onsen Station of JR Agatsuma Line Keikoku is the nearest station. It takes 1 hour and 15 mins from Takasaki Station. We usually walk through Agatsuma Valley near Kawarayu Onsen Station and have Soba noodle at Soba Dokoro Yanba for lunch.
5. Ueno Village
I was looking for a camping site for beginners in Gunma and found Ueno Village where you can excavate a fossil dinosaur and swim in the Kanna River. We had to drive the mountain road from Takasaki Station with steep curves, but we enjoyed trout fishing and relaxing time near the riverside on the way to Ueno Village.
We stayed in Mahoba Forest for camping. Next to Mahoba Forest, there is Fujido limestone cave which is 2.2 km in length. It took about 40 mins to go through the interior. We were so excited with the adventurous walking in the cave. Mahoba Forest Camping site and Fujido limestone cave area are connected by Ueno Sky Bridge which is 225 meters long and 90 meters high. The bridge is famous for providing a dreamlike landscape with blowing bubbles from the edge of the bridge every 30 mins, but my kids and I could only walk straight and couldn’t see the view with bubbling bubbles. That day was very windy and the 90 meters height made me very scared. After walking on the bridge several times during my stay, we became accustomed to it and could enjoy the view from the bridge.
It takes 2 hours from Takasaki Station by car. A one-night stay is needed to visit Ueno Village from Tokyo, but it is worth visiting to enjoy early spring greens or Autumn leaves.