Many people already know about Takasaki due to its moniker as the Daruma capital of Japan. Although a title of respect, the small, unassuming town of Takasaki is a great destination in its own right, boasting a bustling food culture and impressive traditional landmarks, Takasaki has something for everyone.
How to get there
If you’re coming in from Tokyo, there are some very convenient routes that are both affordable and stress-free. Gunma is north of Tokyo through Saitama with several transport lines offering direct routes to the region. Here are just some of the options available.
You can get a bus to Takasaki from the Yaesu gate at Tokyo station at 11:20 or 19:50 (Bus no. 0104 & 0114) every day, check the second chart on this website for more details. Given how long it takes, however, you might want to bring a book or something to do for your journey. Although it would be the most affordable mode of transport, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are staying for only one day.
Departure: Tokyo station
Duration: 3 hours plus station to station.
If you own a car or are looking to rent one, you can get there in about an hour and a half on the Kanetsu expressway. Tolls can be expensive depending on where you are coming from but it definitely saves on taxis and buses when you get there.
The Shinkansen solution
The Joetsu Shinkansen and Hokuriku Shinkansen are possibly the fastest and most convenient trains into Takasaki for those who are staying in east Tokyo with easy access to Ueno. If you arrive from Narita airport via the Keisei Skyliner, this is the station you will arrive at when entering Tokyo. Shinkansen tickets to Takasaki can be purchased easily from the station from ticket machines or at the green helpdesk near the ticket gate.
Departure: Ueno station
Duration: 50 minutes station to station.
or free with aJR pass on a tourist visa.
The Takasaki line follows on from the Shonan Shinjuku track when it gets into JR Shinjuku station. This is a recommended route into Takasaki city. At almost half the cost of the Shinkansen, you can get the train and still pay for lunch at the end of your journey.
If you decide you want a bit of luxury on your way there, you can purchase a green-car ticket directly from the platform that allows you to climb into an upmarket, spacious, business class-esque seat for an additional ¥800. Due to the relative infrequency, only departing once an hour on the 50th minute, it’s rather hard to spot on Google Maps recommendations in English. However, it’s well worth pursuing this journey due to its cost-saving charms and reasonable sub-two-hour duration.
Departure: Shinjuku station
Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes station to station.
Price: ￥1990 + ¥800 for the green car.
What to see in Takasaki
About 10 km northwest of the city center, stands the great Takasaki Byakue Daikannon statue atop the wooded hill of Kannonyama. Built in 1936, this huge statue of the Kannon, measuring approximately 42 m in height, is a landmark of the city and can be seen from anywhere in the area.
Its white robe is said to represent a pure heart in search of enlightenment. One of twenty of its kind, the Byakue Daikannon is popular amongst women and couples believing it bestows them with a happy marriage, fertility, and safe birth.
You can also climb to the height of the shoulders and get some great shots of the woods and city. The stairs to the top are populated with Buddhist deity statues and displays to keep you entertained as you ascend the steps inside the great statue.
Opening hours Nov-Feb 9:00–16:30; Mar-Oct 9.00–17.00
Admission High school students and above: 300 yen
Junior high school students and below: 100 yen
Tokumei-en and Dokutsu Kannon
Built over 100 years ago, Dokutsu Kannon is an easy 15 minutes walk through a wooded trail leading off from the Byakue Daikannon. Inside you will find over 30 unique deity statues lit up with atmospheric Japanese lanterns.
Around the side of the cave is the small museum and Japanese garden Tokumei-en. Filled with beautiful foliage, trees and statues, this is a great spot to come to during the first blooms of Spring or during Fall to get the most out of your photographs.
Opening hours: 9:00–17:00
Admissions fee: ¥800
Shorinzan Darumaji Temple
The temple is a 20-minute bus ride from JR Takasaki Station or from Gunma Hachiman Station on the Shinetsu Line, it is a 5-minute taxi ride (roughly ¥800).
Shorinzan Darumaji offers many gift stores, omamori stores, impressive displays of daruma and even the chance to take a daruma-doll painting class which doubles as a presentation about the meaning and history of the daruma doll- ¥800 for a small and ¥1,600 for a large. It’s a worthwhile experience to discover what is special about the Takasaki area.
Opening times The gate never closes, so you can visit at any time.
In the summer and spring, going up to Lake Haruna on the Takasaki Lake Haruna line Bus from Takasaki station at ￥1,480 one way is an excellent way to take in the natural beauty of Gunma. The area is famous for mountain hikes and swan boats- a great day out for an adventurous couple or group.
Opening times The gate never closes, so you can visit at any time.
On January 1st and 2nd, the city of Takasaki runs a public event called the Daruma-ichi market. During this festival, alongside many new year celebrations going on in the area, you can expect to enjoy many spectacular shows and rituals in which the monks burn the Daruma dolls from the previous year.
This is by far the busiest time of year due to the festival’s popularity, but if you want to come for the town’s famous festival, you can’t go wrong with this one!
Opening hours: 10:00–16:00
Admissions fee: free (Jan 1. And 2. ONLY)
What to eat in Takasaki
BataChiki Selection, Aidan McFarlane
(or Butter Chicken) is a Japanese-Bangladeshi restaurant exclusive to the Gunma and Saitama areas. Nestled in the OPA station building of Takasaki Station, this affordable south Asian eatery offers a pretty generous all-you-can-eat menu at a price you won’t believe if you are used to Tokyo pricing.
Seekers of the spicier things in life will appreciate the BALInese Cafe, serving generous portions of Southeast Asian food day and night in an authentic and fun environment. Kitted out with great deserts, flowery cocktails, and an aquarium, this is an ideal spot for a date, as well!
NOOR’s kebab cafe is a family-run restaurant 5 minutes from Takasaki Station. NOOR’s offers a range of international alcoholic and soft drinks, shisha, and a range of authentic Iranian food alongside the kebabs.
Where to stay
Hotel Coco Grand Takasaki is a hotel brimming with creature comforts, luxury buffets, jacuzzis, spas, and high-class service. If you have the bandwidth and the time, this would definitely be a luxury choice.
Hotel Grand View
For aspiring (and professional) photographers with a bit of cash in hand,) the Hotel Grand View in Takasaki might be right for you. It boasts one of the best views of the city and a great scenic photo-op of the great Byakue Dai-Kannon statue itself.
A great meat and potatoes kind of spot right next to Takasaki Station, Hotel Washington Takasaki offers everything you need from as low as ¥6,900 a night. Look out for good deals on the usual spots like Booking.com, Agoda.com, or Hotels.com as these websites often do some pretty dramatic discounts when booking closer to the date.
By Aidan McFarlane.