Car VS Trains In Gunma Prefecture – Part 1


The hunt for the “next best tourist spot” is on! We visit Minakami town in Gunma Prefecture and check out locations recommended by the locals in a survey of 100 Minakami citizens about great food, fantastic scenery and hidden gems. Minakami is located in the northernmost part of Gunma. The picturesque townscape is surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes and has been chosen as a UNESCO Eco Park, a place where nature and human society co-exist. 

Hot springs are Minakami town’s biggest charm, with 18 hot spring locations. Many are straight from the source and surrounded by nature. So the first place we go to is Yubara Hot Spring Park, a charming hot spring town in Minakami with a Showa-era atmosphere. There is a free 24-hour foot bath at the public square here where the locals hang out. The water which comes directly from the source is believed to be good for people with rheumatism, neuralgia and skin diseases. 

We learn from the locals at the foot bath that a speciality of the town is raw dorayaki. We then go to a long-established confectionery shop called Fueki near the station. Its regular dorayaki is good too, boasting several varieties. We purchase some raw dorayaki and enjoy it while sitting on a bench near the shop.

Among the list of recommended places on the survey is a meat shop called Ikufudo, which offers the finest-quality Minakami gourmet dishes. We check it out and find out the restaurant is run by a butcher shop that has been in business for 50 years. Its popular items include aged cured ham called Jamon Minakami and Tanigawa’s Yuki Salami.  The cured ham was once chosen to be part of JAL’s first-class in-flight meals. Tanigawa’s Yuki Salami, meanwhile, has been nominated as the “Ultimate Gift” by the Japan Tourism Agency and has a one-year waiting list. We try the restaurant’s steak using Gunma Prefecture’s beef, featuring the phantom A5 rank Japanese Black. We also order the area’s famous Joshu beef sirloin and katsudon made with Gunma’s Sangen pork, a favourite among Ikufudo’s regular customers.  

We want to have dessert after our meal so head to another recommended spot, Otoro Gyunyu. It sells sweets with a unique texture. They are made with milk and the final product is a combination of ice cream and pudding. The toppings change according to the season and we choose Shine Muscat, honey nut and crispy apple. The ingredients and methods used to create its unique texture are a secret. After this, we drop by Kami Gohan, a shop next door which is run by Otoro Gyunyu’s owner. It serves warm corn soup and egg-over-rice made with rice harvested in Minakami. 

Minakami is also known for its various outdoor activities such as canyoning – sliding down a waterfall – rafting, bungee jumping and canoeing. We decide to try canyoning, led by a well-known guide Glassy, who moved here from Australia and pioneered and spread this sport nationwide. The main attraction here is a huge waterfall, but we attempt the beginner’s stage, sliding down a waterfall which is 4m high.  

According to the locals, Minakami town is also popular among railway fans. A famous train station here is Doai, dubbed as the “entrance to the labyrinth”. This station’s main building is above ground, but the tracks were built inside the mountains, so there is a 70-metre difference in altitude between the station and tracks. That distance is connected by 462 steps. Furthermore, Minakami also has an SL train passing by from Takasaki. 

The next place we head to is Mount Tanigawa. All Minakami residents speak very highly of this world-class scenic spot. We are told we should look for a popular mountain guide called Mr Nakajima. So we first ride the cable car for 10 minutes before arriving at Tenjindaira Station halfway up the mountain at an altitude of 1,319m. We arrive at the summit in less than 10 minutes and go to the observation deck, where we are wowed by the once-in-a-lifetime scenic view from the top of the mountain. The deck overlooks all of Mount Tanigawa, a symbol of Minakami which is one of the 100 famous Japanese mountains. The summit is divided into two peaks named Tomano Mimi and Okino Mimi. There are many climbing courses and approximately 40,000 climbers visit this place every year. We are lucky enough to find Mr Nakajima, who was born and raised in Minakami. He is famous not only as a tour guide but also for his entertaining jokes and witty demeanour.  

After this, we decide to make our way to our inn for the night. We choose to stay at Matsunoi, voted as one of the “100 hotels and inns chosen by professionals”. Our room is a suite with a bedroom and a tatami room. From the window, we can see Matsunoi’s pride and joy, a 33,000 sqm garden called Kashouen. At night, the garden lights up to create a tranquil atmosphere. The scenery changes with each season and during the summer, there are fireworks displays in the garden every day for about two weeks. Guests can also reserve a private open-air bath called Kantela no Yu. Matsunoi’s speciality is the free-flowing hot spring that features four springheads. There are 10 hot springs within the hotel but among them, the most beautiful one is the hot spring that overlooks the Japanese garden called the Firefly Light Bath. 

Dinner is a luxurious buffet spread featuring various cuisines such as French and Chinese food, boasting 80 different types of dishes. They include sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, grilled Japanese brand beef, grilled chicken, roast beef, sirloin, mini pork buns, mini peach buns, emerald dumplings and shrimp dumplings. There is also a live cooking show corner which is very popular. 


1)    Adventure enthusiasts should visit Minakami with its various outdoor activities
2)    Do look for joke-loving mountain guide Mr Nakajima when visiting Mount Tanigawa

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