In 2020, Japan Wonder Travel was given a project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to promote 14 selected prefectures that have been affected by typhoons. They offered 20 internationals living in Japan, the opportunity to travel to several destinations and share their experiences while travelling and also after.
Swann – Gunma prefecture
I was one of these participants, selected for the prefecture of Gunma! I’m Swann, a French amateur photographer passionate about Japan and all that this beautiful country has to offer. After 6 months of intensive traveling in Japan, I decided to live in Tokyo to create tailor-made trips for French-speaking travelers. I take this opportunity of living in this magnificent archipelago to photograph as much as possible what I can see: from matsuri to sumptuous landscapes in the mountains, nothing escapes me! It was natural that I volunteered to go to Gunma prefecture to show as many people as possible how many places this prefecture has to offer as a ‘must-see’. Follow me during my two days there, and I hope it will create a little spark of envy in your heart.
First day: Discovery of the village and Yumomi
The day of departure has finally arrived, just the time to grab some donuts and a coffee, and here I am in the Akagi express train (pretty classy, beware I have a great love for Japanese trains). The atmosphere is festive, many couples and groups of friends seem to be going to the same place as I am, I feel like I am on vacation in the middle of a weekend! At the window, the city gives place to the long mountains on each side of the train, I see Mount Haruna which attracts me a lot, and I look with envy on the tracks of the Shinkansen that we are following. After only 2 hours, we find plenty of buses ready to take me to my destination: Kusatsu-onsen!
Akagi express train
Ueno station -> Naganohara-kusatsuguchi (2h15 // 5.370 ¥)
JR bus Kanto website
Naganohara-kusatsuguchi -> Kusatsu onsen (~ 30 min // 710 ¥)
I finally arrived at Kusatsu onsen, despite the small amount of snow in the streets, the center of the village is still superb!
The main attraction, “Yubatake” is very impressive and marks the mind at the first sight: we have to turn around it several times to fully enjoy it, impressed by what we see. The streets are crowded, the place is very lively and it makes the visit even more pleasant, people are happy to be here and me too!
After a very good meal made from udon, and a small dessert with the famous onsen manju, I decided to wait for the first performance of Yumomi (the traditional way to cool down hot spring water) by visiting the Kosenji temple at the top of the steps. A very quiet place where the calm cohabits with the sound of the bell.
Around 3:30 p.m., I am currently waiting to see my activity of the day, and there are a lot of people! The Yumomi consists of a traditional dance accompanied by singing and the goal is to cool down the water that comes out too hot from the ground by stirring it with long wooden boards. The performance lasts about 20 minutes, during this time we can see a savant mix of dances and songs, all performed in a beautiful wooden building. After, everyone had the chance to try it on their own by going to the center (something that amuses young and old people), the dancers returned and the lights were shut down…. And after the end of the show, I cannot tell you what happened but screams of surprise were heard from the whole audience!
An activity not to be missed under any circumstance if you come to Kosatsu onsen, the waiting time is much shorter than it seems to be, so please try it.
Yumomi dance // In front of Yubatake
6 per day -> 9:30-10:00-10:30 a.m // 3:30-4:00-4:30 p.m
Duration approx. 30 min.
End of the first day: River, onsen and meal with a very nice surprise.
Before the sun went down, I decided to go to the open-air onsen “Sainokawara”, and many beautiful things slowed me down during my walk, starting with the “onsen tamago”, cooked in hot water. During my climb, a river including a multitude of improvised Ashiyu (Onsen for feet, in the street) helped me to take very beautiful photos thanks to its steaming streams. Finally, I rested in the very beautiful bath of Sainokawara, which I recommend at all in all seasons!
During my descent, night had already started to fall and revealed the set of lights to me which were put in place by Kusatsu to make the place even prettier than it was! So do not hesitate to come in the evening, the place is accessible and bright.
not mixed // naked onsen
7am – 8pm, April – November
9am – 8pm, December – March
After that, I took possession of my room not far from Yubatake, the staff were lovely and the place really clean and pleasant, but I barely had the time to rest, my stomach was rumbling. It’s time to go to eat!
For this time, I decided to taste the very famous Kusatsu onsen tempura, especially those with mushrooms (maitake).
When I went outside, a nice surprise caught all of us: a firework!! With a few couples, we found a good spot in a parking lot facing the light flares. I just had the time to take out my tripod to take hundreds of photos while enjoying this unique atmosphere. Unexpected but pleasant.
To end this day perfectly, I went to the onsen to relax, they were all very beautiful, made out a lot of wood, often relatively small but so nice. Attention, the water is very often extremely hot there!! I was trapped by the boiling pools where only a few elderly men went into the water without screaming for help like me.
End of the day, slipped into my futon and my eyelids finally closed…
Different onsen in the area:
- Shirahata Onsen (the best one for me)
Second day: Origins of Daruma
After having my breakfast, I decided to go to Kosatsu’s best onsen: Otakinoyu . I was the first guest on that day, it was sunny, the air was soft, everything seemed to be ready to let me have the best time during my stay.
How can I tell you that this place immediately became my favourite onsen of all Japan… The outdoor bath with its waterfall was ideal spot to close my eyes to meditate, but I was completely convinced when I went down to the baths below. A large room made entirely out of wood with small personal bath gave a unique aspect to the place. It is impossible for me to describe the place to you with all the words I know, there is only one possibility for you to understand the beauty of this onsen: to go there!
not mixed // naked onsen
9am – 9pm
Last farewell to this superb onsen village which is now one of my favourite places not far from Tokyo to take a bit of rest, I am finally taking the route to go to the city of Takasaki which is the most crowded in the prefecture. My meal consists of Takasaki’s specialty: spaghetti! Do not miss the Shango style spaghetti which is the pride of the city, surprising but appetizing.
I now take the train to Gunma-yawata station 10 minutes from the center of Takasaki, to go to the “Daimonya” craft workshop which creates the most beautiful Daruma in the country! Here is one of the greatest craftsmen of Japan located, Jun-ichi Nakata, president of the place who will amaze you with his giant Daruma!
For my part, I was warmly welcomed by a craftswoman who was as kind as she was skilled. The activity consisted in painting your own Daruma. After choosing your color, you can also learn all the details concerning a daruma: all of its elements have a meaning and you can learn it. After ten minutes of warming up, I painted the two parts of my Daruma. The words of my host have reassured me about the success of my doll, the most important thing is the conviction that you put in your brush strokes, not the result!
After that, I was able to exceptionally take great photos at this unique place, I thank her so much again for allowing me to take such beautiful photos. The store is very surprising and there is no shortage of gift ideas to offer! The detour was really worth it for this activity in Gunma only, I invite you to discover it for yourself.
Daruma painting workshop
9am – 5pm
¥ 800 (including your daruma and exercise)
Before leaving for Tokyo, I did not want to miss the place of creation of Daruma, a major icon of Japan. The weather was perfect on that day so I went to the Shōrinzan Daruma-ji Temple, an ascent with many steps that make perfect sense when arrived at the top. Facing a panorama over the whole valley. There is a multitude of Daruma put on the temple which look at you silently, the last calm moment before returning to Tokyo for me. Before running to catch my Shinkansen that will take me to the biggest city of the world, I decided to take some time to enjoy the temple a little longer.
Silent, fast and comfortable, through the windows of the Shinkansen, I sadly watch the mountains disappear. Gunma, it was a great pleasure to know you, your countryside has brought me many beautiful photos and good times, be sure, I will come back even more motivated!
Conclusion: Two days in Gunma prefecture
Gunma has a lot of nice surprises and is much more accessible than people think. Kusatsu onsen is a good example therefore, in 3 hours from Tokyo, you will find yourself in one of the three most important thermal stations of Japan, in the one with the highest flow of natural hot water! The scenery is awesome, whether in winter with its snow, in spring with its flowers, summer and its greenery landscapes and autumn and its red dyes. A must see for any onsen lover!
If you are going to Nagano or Niigata, stop at the hot springs of Gunma like Takaragawa, Shima, Minakami, Ikaho and of course Kusatsu, there is no shortage of destinations. Fans of nature will find their happiness in many places to go, for my part, Mount Haruna and Onioshidashi Park are on my next destinations.
Hotel she stayed during her trip
We were very excited to work with Swann-san, and all the other guests for this project, and will continue to do our best to promote the less known destinations as much as we can. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram to find another project with us.
And of course, if you need any help to find hidden gems in Japan, Japan Wonder Travel will happily help you out.