During university I spent a year studying abroad in Japan’s historic theme park, Kyoto. Everywhere you looked there were famous sightseeing spots and chances to experience things uniquely Japanese. This became my norm, and my generalized view of what all of Japan must be like.
When I arrived in Gunma, I was eager to sample all the unique places, foods, and festivals that Gunma had to offer. I started my research by asking co-workers what things were famous, and what places they recommended for sightseeing. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to give me the same depressing answer. “Gunma is so boring. There is nothing famous. Only cabbage.” As fantastic as Tsumagoi’s cabbage is, I was extremely disappointed. While wallowing in a pit of despair at having been sent to such an uneventful place, fate intervened—at one of my elementary schools I was introduced to Jomo Karuta.
Jomo Karuta is Gunma’s very own version of the popular card game, Karuta. It was created in 1947 by Gunma’s Culture Association for the purpose of fostering pride in Gunma and strengthening people’s love of their hometowns, and got its name from Gunma’s historic title, Jomo.
Jomo Karuta includes people, places, and things which are historically significant to and uniquely Gunma. With 44 cards in the modern version, there are ideas for every season and interest. For example, winter cherry blossoms in Fujioka, skiing in Minakami, azaleas in Tatebayashi, and for those of us who enjoy culinary adventures, konyaku and leeks in Shimonita.
Many of my schools used the English version as a warm up activity. As I played it with my students, I repeatedly found myself thinking, “That place sounds pretty cool. Maybe I should add it to my list of places I want to visit.” The list kept growing, and after talking with a fellow ALT, we formed a plan. To visit all the places in Jomo Karuta, and experience for ourselves all that Gunma had to offer.
It took a few months, but after finishing our tour of Gunma I felt extremely blessed to have been placed here. I also gained confidence in my ability to navigate Japanese roads and transit, and ask for information and assistance in Japanese.
Whether you are looking to travel all over Gunma, or just get to know your county better, Jomo Karuta is a great resource for discovering the wealth of possibilities hidden here.
Jomo Karuta can be purchased at most bookstores in Gunma. Below is a list of each card.
- Gunma Prefecture, shaped like a crane in flight.
- Reminiscent of the old Nakasendo road, the cedars lining the avenue in Annaka.
- Fukiwari Falls, a wonder of the Katashina Valley.
- The hot springs of Shima cleanse the body and soul.
- Takasaki City, bridge between the Kanto and Shin-etsu regions.
- Feat of engineering, the looping tunnel of Shimizu.
- The Tone, the largest river in the Kanto Region.
- Hanayama Park in Tatebayashi, just the spot for azaleas.
- The hot springs of Ikaho, among the best in Japan.
- Oze’s enchanted wetlands, fields upon fields of flowers.
- Blessing us from her hill, Kannon, white-garbed Goddess of Mercy.
- Twin burial mounds, testimonies to the ancient kingdom of Kenokuni.
- Attracting skiers and climbers, Minakami and Mt. Tanigawa.
- Isesaki City, home of beautiful Meisen silk.
- Kiryu City, home of silk-weaving in Japan.
- Winter cherry blossoms rival in beauty the Samba-stone, in Onishi Town.
- Mt. Asama’s vast lava beds, creation of a mischievous demon.
- The good luck of Daruma dolls at Shorinzan.
- The raccoon dog in Morinji Temple can change into a teakettle.
- Maebashi, the capitol of Gunma, the city of raw silk.
- The hot springs of Kusatsu, curative for your ills.
- Fantastic Agatsuma Canyon, without a rival in Japan.
- Kanayama in Ota, home of Donryu the patron saint of children.
- Mt. Haruna, a good place to hike and camp.
- The ruins of an ancient checkpoint, at Usui Pass.
- The old monument of Tago, telling us of ancient times.
- The silk mill in Tomioka City, first in Japan.
- Dating far back in history, Nukisaki Shrine.
- The long slopes, Mt. Akagi.
- Draped in the reds and golds of autumn, gorgeous Mt. Miyogi.
- A great samurai in history, Yoshisada Nitta.
- Father of Japanese math, Kowa Seki
- A great merchant from Numata, Tasuke Shiobara.
- Advocate of peace and Christian education, Jo Niijima.
- Great novelist of Japan, Katai Tayama, the pride of Gunma.
- Agriculture leader in Meiji Japan, Denjibei Funatsu.
- Gunma’s own native son, Mozaemon, tragic hero of the poor.
- Beacon of Christianity in Japan, Kanzo Uchimura.
- Young and old clad alike in summer kimono dancing to the Yagibushi folk song.
- Gunma’s population a combined force of two million.
- Leeks and Konnyaku, famous products of Shimonita.
- Ideal source of electricity, Gunma’s mighty rivers.
- Gunma, top producer of silk cocoons and raw silk in Japan.
- Thunder and dry winds, a deep sense of civic duty and humanity, characterize Gunma.