Gunma is a landlocked prefecture in the north of the Kanto region.
Gunma is the prefecture for those ever-famous Japanese onsen (hot springs). The onsen here are top quality and a must-visit for the area.
Gunma’s scenery is breathtaking too, with mountains being the main landscape feature. Its mountains and waterways are perfect for outdoor activities, such as skiing during the winter months to rafting and canyoning during the warmer months.
The prefectural capital is Maebashi, located at the base of Mt. Akagi.
What to see and do in Gunma
Kusatsu Onsen is one the most famous hot spring resorts in the whole of Japan. With all this popularity comes crowds of people during the holiday periods, so plan accordingly. The area boasts large volumes of hot spring water that is of exceptional quality and is said to cure all sorts of ailments—apart from lovesickness unfortunately (which is ironic as Kusatsu is located along Japan’s ‘Romantic Road’).
Kusatsu is located at an altitude of 1,200 m above sea level in the prefecture, making it an excellent destination for skiing and hiking too.
One onsen we recommend is Sainokawara Rotenburo (521-2 Ōaza Kusatsu, 7 am–8 pm from April to November, 9 am–8pm from December to March, admission is ¥600/adult). Here you will find a tranquil 500-square-meter rotenburo (outdoor bath); a bamboo wall divides the men’s and women’s baths. You can access it by using the Kusatsu Round Bus or it’s a 15-minute walk west from Yubatake spring.
Manza Onsen is also a must-see for the area. It’s an onsen resort town located 1,800 meters above sea level, high on the slopes of Mt. Shirane. The water here is highly acidic and sulfuric, known to provide various health benefits including improving blood circulation and increasing metabolism.
Nisshinkan (368 Kusatsu, Agatsuma District, onsen admission ¥800/person) is a favorite bath area. The indoor and outdoor bath areas are located in separate buildings, with the indoor facilitates having a classic wooden interior to it. You can also stay overnight.
Gunma isn’t just superb for onsen though, there is a lot more to the area. For something a bit different, Oze National Park (northeastern Gunma) is your ticket. This is a place is a top-shelf hiking destination in the mountains. Its key features are Ozegahara Marshland and the Ozenuma Pond. Interestingly, the park is popular during the blooming of skunk cabbages during the late spring and early summer.
Trails here are well maintained—perfect for any hiker or those adventurous lot wishing to explore this side of traveling around Japan. A hike from the Hatomachitoge trailhead past the marshland and pond to the Oshimizu trailhead can be completed in around 6 to 8 hours depending on your experience of hiking. There are no massively troublesome inclines during the hike, so beginners don’t need to worry. Just keep walking and enjoy the incredible landscape of Gunma. You won’t be disappointed.
Another great spot for the outdoorsy type is the town of Minakami. It boasts mountains, ski fields, hot springs and part of the Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park.
Gunma’s Ota City offers excellent cycling trails, views, and foodie spots. And you can take advantage of the free bike rentals at the station. Read our guide: Cycling Day Trip in Gunma Prefecture for Less Than 5,000 Yen.
Getting around Gunma
Gunma Prefecture is well connected to many railway lines. Japan Rail Pass holders can easily get around using the following lines: Takasaki, Joetsu, Ryomo, Agatsuma, Shinetsu, and Hachiko.
Gunma is also connected to other railways such as the Tobu services on the Isesaki, Kiryu, Sano and Nikko lines.
Private railways are also connected, such as the Jomo and Joshin Electric railways and the Watarase Keikoku railway.
How to get to Gunma
There are a number of JR buses that can be used to access Kusatsu Onsen—the prefecture’s main highlight. Take the bus from Gunma’s Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station (¥710, free for JR Pass holders, 25 minutes).
If you don’t have a JR Pass, the easiest and cheapest way from Tokyo to Kusatsu onsen is by highway bus. Tickets start at around ¥3,100 for a one-way trip.