November 22, 2010 | Gunma Life | No Comments
For many of us ALTs in Japan, deciding what to do and where to go during the Christmas holidays can be quite the struggle. There is usually a split in numbers between those who are going back home, and the others who go off exploring. As foreigners we are often amused by Japan’s interpretations of Western holidays like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, the perfect examples of such are elaborately displayed at Tokyo Disneyland!
In Japan, the days leading up to Christmas have a lot to do with lights, decorations, food, family, and friends, and Gunma is the perfect place to make the most of the festive season.
Every year from mid December until Christmas there is a fantastic Christmas light display around the lake on Mount Haruna. If you do not quite feel in the holiday spirit, even despite the digitally processed Christmas tunes playing at your local shopping center, then gather a car-pool of friends and take the drive along the ‘melody road’ to the lake in the heart of Gunma’s famous mountain.
Dozens of illuminations are set up along the water’s edge, and some decorations are even displayed from on the water. Glittering trees make a small forest, intermingled with deer, sleds, and plenty of places to take token Christmas photos! Watch out for the giant lit-up daruma; those squat little red, white, and black dolls which originate here in Gunma.
To beat the chill (and it does get cold up there!) a food area is available serving anything from corn dogs to yaki-manju (sweetbread with miso seasoning toasted on sticks), soup, hot chocolate, and hot sake. Sometimes there is live music or bingo games, but my personal favorite has to be the illuminated go-karts! There is just something so wonderful about a beat-up go-kart pushed to its limits atop a glittering mountain while freezing your fingers off amongst the company of good friends!
Getting to Mount Haruna this winter is best done by car, and is a fairly easy and scenic drive. As a local to the area, my advice is to avoid the direct rout from Shibukawa to Haruna, as most other viewers will be taking this road. A much less busy route is the longer way through Nakanojo on Route 353. Follow the signs to Haruna and right up to the top! From there, follow the crowds and traffic to the parking areas.
The illumination display will run through the holiday season from Dec. 10th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm. To avoid a long walk from your car to the lights, try to enjoy the display during the week as the masses of people will be at a minimum. (The whole trip up and down the mountain may take around 2-3 hours, depending on your cold tolerance and number of fellow tourists). There is a small parking fee, but with a car full, it is nothing to whine about.
Once the snow starts to fall be sure to put those snow tires on your car. Chains may not be necessary, but the curves are sharp, and there can be ice on the road.
GAJET is planning an organized trip to Mount Haruna on December 10th from 7:30pm. For more information or to join the group event, visit the event facebook page.
Photos courtesy of Helen Auer.