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Discover Gunma, one hour from Tokyo by bullet train

A curated trip featuring some of Gunma’s best for hot springs, outdoor activities and sightseeing

Just one hour north of Tokyo by bullet train is Gunma Prefecture, the northwesternmost prefecture in Japan's National Capital Region - a megalopolis consisting of Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Yamanashi, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma. Surrounded by mountains on almost all sides bar the southeast, Gunma Prefecture is a natural playground for those who enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Additionally, the onsen or hot springs in Gunma are well known within Japan, and the prefecture has over 450 onsen sources and almost 100 onsen areas, where visitors can enjoy the healing hot waters.

Multiple train lines, some with direct connections to Tokyo, connect the various city centers within the prefecture. Furthermore, there are three bullet train stations in Gunma: Takasaki, Annaka-Haruna and Jomo-Kogen stations, which allow for quick and convenient access from central Tokyo. For this article, I went on an overnight trip to the north of Gunma Prefecture to indulge myself in outdoor activities and hot springs, as well as visited the prefectural capital city of Maebashi.

Keep reading this article if you want to know where to go and what to do in Gunma Prefecture, beyond Tokyo and the typical sightseeing route.

Day 1: Outdoor activities and hot springs in Minakami

Minakami is the northernmost town in Gunma Prefecture and has a predominantly mountainous terrain, which include famous mountains like Mount Tanigawa, Mount Hotaka and Mount Mikuni. The Tone River, one of the longest rivers in Japan, begins at Mount Ominakami. Surrounded by mountains and having a major river, Minakami is deservedly known as the adventure capital of Gunma and offers outdoor activities like mountain climbing and hiking, camping, white water rafting, canyoning, and skiing in the winter months. The town also boasts 18 hot spring areas, where visitors can enjoy the hot waters on a day trip or stay overnight for a full experience.

Minakami Town can be accessed by either bullet train directly from Tokyo or by local train, which requires a transfer at Takasaki Station. More detailed transport information can be found in the access section below.

Among the cities in the National Capital Region, Minakami gets one of the highest amounts of snow during winter. The snow in Minakami is typically light and fluffy powder snow, creating perfect conditions for skiing and snowboarding comparable to other popular powder snow regions in Japan. My trip started at Hodaigi Ski Resort, one of eight ski resorts in Minakami, about 30 minutes from the town center.

The spacious Hodaigi Ski Resort is located along the slopes that extend from Mount Hotaka, a 2158 meter tall mountain, and offers 16 runs with difficulty levels ranging from beginners to advanced. There is lots of space for everyone on the mountain, including a bunny slope for kids that has a small snow escalator. In addition, Hodaigi Ski Resort offers powder zones and tree skiing areas, which powder hounds would no doubt find exciting.

Useful facilities at Hodaigi Ski Resort include restaurants, which can be found at the top, middle and bottom of the resort near the ski lifts, excellent rental service, which includes ski and snowboarding equipment as well as jackets and pants, ski and snowboarding lessons, as well as a day-nursery for those with small children. Everything is available at the ski resort, and English rental menus and ski lessons are also at one's disposal, so travelers need not worry about anything at Hodaigi. You just have to turn up ready to have a good time!

No visit to Minakami would be complete without visiting its town center, and that was my next destination after Hodaigi Ski Resort. The town center - also known as Minakami Onsen, one of the 18 hot spring areas within the town boundaries - is in the vicinity of Minakami Station. From the station, visitors can stroll along the Tone River, the pride and joy of Minakami, to get to the main street, where several shops, cafes and hot spring lodgings are located.

My destination in Minakami Onsen was the coffee shop Drip and Drops Coffee Minakami or DDC Minakami as the locals call it. Opened in 2020, DDC Minakami quickly became one of the stalwarts in the town center. The homey and cozy coffee shop offers a nice selection of drinks, including alcoholic beverages, and made-to-order hot foods and dessert.

One of the things which intrigued me about the coffee at DDC Minakami was that the raw beans are roasted at the local temple, which probably means that the coffee comes blessed :P As I hung out at the coffee shop, I realized that the major thing that made Minakami unique was its dedication to all things local. There are no huge chain retail businesses or fast food restaurants in the town - save for the three convenience stores in the town - which made me appreciate the hard work and efforts of the local businesses.

When it comes to accommodation, there are 18 hot spring areas with overnight stay plans to suit most budgets, and in addition to those, there are also camping and glamping alternatives for those who want a different experience, especially in the warmer months. I visited two different types of lodgings in Minakami: a glamping cottage and a hot spring accommodation.

Fruits Garden Glamping Villa Harasawa is a glamping site containing two cottages, which opened in 2022, located within an apple orchard. The warm and friendly Harasawa family, who own the apple orchard, also manage the lodgings. Inside the newly-built lodgings are pellet wood stoves, beds, bed linen and towels, fully furnished kitchens and laundry amenities.

The spacious cottages are perfect for families, groups and even those traveling with dogs - one of the cottages is a dog-friendly accommodation. The best time to stay at Fruits Garden Glamping Villa Harasawa is during the apple picking season, which is typically from early September to early December, when guests can also enjoy apple picking during their stay.

Approximately 30 cultivars of apples are grown at the orchard, which ripen at different times through autumn. During the apple picking season, non-staying guests can also look forward to the activity, and apples are sold at their on-site shop. I have already made plans to go back in autumn this year to buy apples when they are in season.

Nukumori no Yado Tatsumikan is a hot spring lodging offering healing hot spring baths, Finnish saunas and traditional Japanese cuisine. The lodging takes pride in offering warmth to its guests through three aspects: warmth of the staff, warmth of the baths and saunas, and warmth of the charcoal grill dinner. I had the opportunity to experience all three during my stay at Tatsumikan in the depths of winter, and was kept warm and toasty all through my stay.

A worthwhile treat not to be missed at Tatsumikan are the two newly refurbished rooms that contain private Finnish saunas and hot spring baths, truly a luxurious combination. Alternatively, there is also a Finnish sauna and bath room that can be booked for up to 90 minutes of private use, a noteworthy option for those staying in the regular rooms, but want to enjoy private sauna time. Newly renovated is the spacious universal design room, which allows wheelchair users or those with mobility issues to navigate their room with ease. There is even an attached private hot spring bath allowing for maximum comfort without having to leave the room.

Day 2: Hot spring town and Maebashi, the capital of Gunma

From Minakami, I made my way south to Ikaho Onsen. The hot springs of Ikaho are said to have sprung up before the 7th century, and written records of Ikaho were found in Japanese poems from the 8th century. However, Ikaho's hot springs only gained popularity from the 16th century. Regardless, Ikaho Onsen has been around for centuries, and today, in addition to its healing hot waters, it is known for its 365 stone steps, which lead to a shrine at the top. Souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants flank the flights of steps and make for entertaining distractions as one makes their way up the town.

Ikaho Onsen can be visited as a day trip on the way to Kusatsu Onsen, another beloved hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture, and some of the hot spring lodgings in the town offer their baths to day trippers for a fee. However, staying overnight is a good way to fully experience a hot spring town, and Oyado Tamaki, a hot spring lodging which overlooks the bottom section of the steps, is a popular and convenient option.

Rooms at Oyado Tamaki range from standard tatami rooms to the more luxurious rooms with beds and attached hot spring baths. Some of the rooms on the higher floors also contain terraces with views of the surrounding mountains when the weather is clear. A detail not to be missed at Oyado Tamaki is seeing the flower decorations, which are grown by the family who runs the lodging and add a personal touch to the fairly large accommodation.

After checking out Ikaho Onsen, I moved on to Maebashi, the capital city of Gunma Prefecture. During the 19th century, Gunma Prefecture was one of the top producers and innovators in the silk industry, and Maebashi, thanks to its location along the Tone River - the same one which starts in Minakami - played an important role in producing and transporting quality raw silk to the port of Yokohama, from where Maebashi silk was exported to the world.

Central Maebashi is approximately 15 minutes on foot from the JR Maebashi Station, and the Chuo Dori shopping arcade, also known as Rose Avenue, is the most central shopping street. On first sight, Rose Avenue may look closed, but it is where 100-year-old businesses and young start-ups can be found.

Visitors to Rose Avenue can find a branch of the famous Tsujihan seafood bowl restaurant, local cafes with hygge atmospheres and local Japanese dessert shops that have made it big in Tokyo. Located on a street adjacent to Rose Avenue is the Shiroiya Hotel, a highly-regarded hotel that boasts interior designs by noted architects and a Finnish sauna. Additionally numerous art galleries like the Maebashi Galleria and Arts Maebashi can also be found around the Chuo Dori shopping arcade. It is places like these that make Maebashi feel like an under-the-tourist-radar Tokyo neighborhood sans the crowds.

While there are numerous restaurants in the area, those who want to enjoy traditional Japanese food with local ingredients, should consider dining at Gyuya Kiyoshi, a popular and affordable restaurant specializing in sukiyaki and shabu shabu dishes with local Joshu wagyu beef. Reservations are advisable, especially for dinner, as the place often gets booked out.

Sukiyaki is a dish in which thinly sliced meat and vegetables are simmered in a pot with a soy sauce mixture, and the meat and vegetables are dipped into a raw egg before eating. Shabu shabu, on the other hand, is a dish in which thinly sliced raw meat is briefly swished in a pot of boiling broth containing vegetables. The cooked meat and vegetables can be dipped into sauces before eating.

I chose sukiyaki for dinner, and was presented with a gorgeous platter of thinly sliced beef and a platter of local Gunma vegetables. At Gyuya Kiyoshi, a server will prepare the sukiyaki dinner at the table, so there is no need to cook anything. My sukiyaki dinner was prepared in no time under the expert hands of my server, and she also introduced where the vegetables were from while cooking. Listening to my server extol the quality of the ingredients could only do so much, and the best way to understand was by eating them, and thus my education was completed after I took my first few bites. I could experience firsthand the flavors and textures that were hard to describe in words - in short, sublime.

That was my overnight trip exploring and experiencing some of the best hot springs, activities and attractions in northern and central Gunma. I had a truly lovely time exploring this vast prefecture only an hour from central Tokyo, and that's not too far at all!

How to get to and around Gunma


Jomo-Kogen Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen is the main bullet train station to access the Minakami region. The one way trip from Tokyo takes about 70 minutes and costs approximately 5500 yen. From Jomo-Kogen Station, 1-2 buses per hour connect to Minakami Station on the JR Joetsu Line (about 25 minutes, 720 yen one way). The spots in Minakami visited in this article make use of Jomo-Kogen and Minakami stations, and the bus line connecting the two stations.

Hodaigi Ski Resort

Parking is available at Hodaigi Ski Resort, but perhaps, the most convenient way for most travelers to access the ski resort is by taking the free shuttle bus - available on weekends and national holidays - from either Jomo-Kogen or Minakami stations. Alternatively, a free pick-up service can be arranged for those staying overnight at one of the nearby lodgings or from Takaragawa Iriguchi bus stop (advance reservation required).

Drip and Drops Coffee (DDC) Minakami

Drip and Drops Coffee Minakami is approximately 20 minutes on foot from Minakami Station, and the walking route goes through the main street of Minakami Onsen town. For bus access from Minakami Station, take a bus bound for Jomo-Kogen Station and get off at Shogakko shita (about five minutes, 290 yen one way). For bus access from Jomo-Kogen Station, take a bus bound for Tanigawa Ropeway and get off at Shogakko shita (about 10 minutes, 720 yen one way). DDC Minakami is a three minute walk from the Shogakko shita bus stop.

Harasawa Ringo-en

A free pick-up/drop-off service from Jomo-Kogen Station is available for staying guests at Apple Orchard Glamping Villa Harasawa. It is recommended to indicate if a pick-up service is required when making your reservation. Free parking is available on-site for those arriving by car.


Kamimoku Station on the JR Joetsu Line is five minutes on foot from Tatsumikan, and a free shuttle service, which requires advance notice, is available between the station and the lodging. From Jomo-Kogen Station, Tatsumikan can be reached in a ten minute taxi ride (about 2700 yen one way) or a 10 minute bus ride (take the bus bound for Tanigawa Ropeway and get off at Dogi; 470 yen one way).

Ikaho Onsen

Take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Takasaki Station, which takes about 50 minutes. From Takasaki Station, transfer to the JR Joetsu Line and get off at Shibukawa Station. Local buses bound for Ikaho Onsen depart from Shibukawa Station, and the one way bus trip to either Ikaho Bus Terminal or Ishidangai-guchi takes about 20 minutes and costs 670 yen. Alternatively, take a direct highway bus bound for Kusatsu Onsen from Shinjuku Bus Terminal and get off at Ikaho Ishidangai (about 2.5 hours, 3000 yen one way).

The hot spring town can be easily explored on foot.


Take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Takasaki Station, transfer the JR Ryomo Line and get off at Maebashi Station (about 80 minutes, 4500 yen one way). The Rose Avenue (Maebashi Chuo) shopping arcade is a 15 minute walk from Maebashi Station.

Take a taxi to get to Gyuya Kiyoshi from central Maebashi. The one way taxi ride takes about 10-15 minutes and costs 1000-1500 yen.

Useful links