In the mountainous north of Gunma is the scenic Tone District (利根郡). With Numata City (沼田市), it is home to some of Gunma’s most famous tourist locations and activities. Further divided into one town (Minakami) and three villages (Katashina, Kawaba and Showa), Tone is famous for its beautiful scenery, adventure sports, powder snow, and hot springs. In fact, Tone hosts two large GAJET events: the summer canyoning event, and the winter ski and snowboard trip.
Minakami-machi is the largest municipality in Gunma, and is a famous hot spring and adventure sport hub. Minakami is built around tourism, with abundant hotels, hot springs and restaurants to cater to visitors. Like most tourist towns in Japan, Minakami offers different experiences depending on the season you visit, so be sure to come back every three months to try something new.
Things to do
Takumi-no-sato (Craftsmen’s Village)—March to November
Takumi-no-sato (たくみの里) is a traditional Japanese village where visitors can try making their own crafts. Each traditional house in the village offers a different experience. Some houses offer historical tours and others provide instruction in Japanese folk craft, such as paper crafts, bamboo working, or woodworking.
Tanigawa Ropeway—year round
Tone is dominated by Mt Tanigawa on the border between Gunma and Niigata. Mt Tanigawa is one of the one hundred famous mountains of Japan (and also holds the unpleasant title of Japan’s deadliest mountain). The ropeway offers a scenic view of the mountains, and in winter delivers passengers to Tenjindaira Ski Resort.
Summer adventure sports
Minakami is famous for its many outdoor/adventure sports. In fact, GAJET hosts its annual Canyoning trip there. There are a huge number of adventure companies that offer everything from canyoning and rafting, to bungee jumping and paragliding (and transition into snowboarding and skiing in the winter). While there are too many to exhaustively list here, we recommend Canyons and Tenjin Lodge.
Throughout summer, many people come to Minakami from Tokyo and the hotter parts of Japan to escape the oppressive heat. Even in the height of summer, the mountains remain cool and comfortable. Perfect weather for hiking or relaxing in the river! Mt Tanigawa offers a famous trail along its ridge that provides amazing views of the surrounding country.
In winter, Minakami transforms into a snowsport wonderland. Snowboarding and skiing can be enjoyed at many different snow resorts. To list a few: Hodaigi, Okutone, Norn, Minakami Kogen and Tenjindaira. But what originally put Minakami on the map are its many onsen. They are found throughout the town, but some of the most famous are Takaragawa and Minakami Onsen.
Things to eat and drink
Garba Cafe is a German-style café and restaurant in Minakami. You’ll need a car to get there, but it’s worth it to eat their famous German baumkuchen (ring cake). They also have a large menu of hot food, including a number of delicious lunch sets.
Kadoya Soba is one of Minakami’s most famous delicacies. You can walk from nearby Yubiso Station, but it is most easily accessed by car. The restaurant is open from 11am every day except Thursdays, but try to get in early because there is usually a line.
Abe’s Apple Orchard
Get some delicious home-made apple pie all year round at Abe’s Apple Orchard. Their store is just down the road from Kamimoku Station.
Kitchen Cafe Tokura
Kitchen Cafe Tokura is a small, stylish restaurant next to the local supermarkets. Tokura offers a range of Asian and Western foods to be enjoyed is a fashionable atmosphere.
Funayado is Minakami’s local izakaya, conveniently located right next to Gokan Station. They have a range of izakaya food and massive beers.
Koarai-seika is responsible for one of Minakami’s most iconic souvenirs, nama-dorayaki. Koarai-seika took the treat loved by Doraemon and spliced it together with fresh cream and now sells boxes of the tasty treats to tourists. They’ve extended the dessert beyond the traditional red-bean anko, and you can now buy many delicious flavours, from green tea and coffee to strawberry and blueberry.
Katashina is the home to many of Gunma’s most famous natural spots, including Oze National Park. A car is mandatory to access most of the area, but the roads themselves are a treat to drive on thanks to the mountain scenery and melody roads. There is a bus that runs from Numata Station to parts of Katashina, but a car really is the best way to experience this village. A new tunnel has opened on the way to Katashina, making the initial trek a little less intimidating.
Things to Do
Oze National Park
Oze is Japan’s highest freshwater marshland, and is an excellent place to hike from spring to autumn. The park is famous for its boardwalks that let hikers walk over the marshes, and its autumn colours.
Oze-Iwakura Lily Garden
Mid-July to August sees the Oze-Iwakura Lily Garden become a sea of colourful blossoms.
Fukiware Falls are one of the most famous waterfalls in Japan. The falls drop in a horseshoe shape and are particularly beautiful in Autumn.
- Marunuma Ski Resort—The biggest and highest ski park in Katashina, the powder is sure to be plentiful and fine. It also boasts the longest ski season, opening in late November and closing in early May.
- Oze Iwakura
- Oze Tokura—The site of this year’s national junior high school alpine competition. Regarded by the locals as Katashina’s best ski resort.
- Hotaka Bokujou—This is mainly for snowboarders. Although skiing is allowed, about 95% of the patrons at this resort come to board.
- Hotaka OGNA
- Katashina Kogen—This park is strictly for skiing. No snowboarding allowed.
- BagPark—Not a ski park, but an area with a few large jumps and giant airbags to cushion your landing. Great for practicing tricks. Open all year long.
Katashina has many onsen, but the two major ones are Hokkori-no-yu (ほっこりの湯) and Hanasaki-no-yu (花咲の湯). More information can be found here.
Katashina has an event called “Hagemori,” which is a portmanteau of hageshii (intense) and mori (serving). Throughout this event, several restaurants around Katashina offer GIANT portions of dishes, which is where the name of the event comes from. Highlights include a litre of cola, kilograms of curry and rice, and parfaits with enough sweets for a small party. The restaurants that offer a hagemori dish change each year. There is a brochure that comes out every year with all participating restaurants. Be sure to bring along some friends when tackling these monstrous servings! Details of this year’s hagemori can be found here.
There is a similar event in Katashina called “Hageume,” combining hageshii (intense) and ume (delicious). Featuring more reasonable portions compared to the Hagemori event, this features the best dishes and restaurants the village has to offer. A similar brochure comes out annually. Details of last year’s Hageume can be found here.
Is your car just not quite melodic enough when you’re driving? Try out the original Melody Road in Katashina. Drive down at around 28 km/hr and enjoy the sounds of 夏の思い出 (Summer Memories). The route can be found here.
A popular hot spring which you will see signs for the moment you enter Kawaba. Tourists enjoy the traditional lodging and hot springs. While prices are bit on the steep side, Yutorian Onsen provides the experience of a high class, traditional Japanese onsen.
The biggest attraction in Kawaba, Denen Plaza is known for its great food and large park full of attractions. There are many different areas and buildings, with food for even the pickiest of eaters. Their bread is baked fresh daily, pizzas made fresh to order, and the farmers market sells out quick each morning. You can also enjoy Kawaba’s soon to be world-famous beer. There is also a small craftsman’s shop where you can try your hand at making wooden crafts. From spring to autumn there are many events and performances for guests to enjoy.
Hidden northwest of Denen Plaza, this temple is one not to be missed. ￥500 to enter, the temple itself is fairly small, but it has beautiful views and historical displays. Upon entering, you walk through the garden and up the steps. Head up the stairs to your right to see the beautiful statues and enjoy the view (make sure you take off your shoes!). Heading back down towards the entrance you can enter another building with a beautiful rock garden and a large koi pond. After relaxing in the gardens you can visit the history museum, hosting many pieces of Japan’s past. Before exiting, make sure to try some of the tea, and if you’re lucky the apple grandma and grandpa will have slices to try!
Numata is the “big city” of Tone. Known for its large amount of restaurants, bars and izakaya, most residents of Tone will find themselves here for a lovely evening of debauchery at some point or another.
Things to eat and drink
Grande is a modern-styled bar with tables, lounges or bar-style seating to enjoy a drink and talk with the young staff. Really good food and perfect for beginning or ending your night of bar hopping. Also to be recommended for their wine selection.
Smile Dining TEN
Run by the same company as Grande, Smile Dining TEN is a trendy Japanese style izakaya (with separate rooms for different guests). The red wine and cola is highly recommended!
A much more traditional Japanese izakaya feel, you remove your shoes before stepping into the bar itself. Sahara has a wide variety of meats on sticks. Conveniently located next to the town office parking lot, it’s easy to take daikō back home.
Quite possibly the fanciest of them all, and every single evening fully booked. Kirinji began as a small simple izakaya and blossomed to a larger location allowing the owner to open many other locations in Numata. Located across from the city ward office, it’s extremely convenient.
A small bar next to the ever popular mini stop near the center of Numata, owned by a couple who can make any drink that they have the alcohol for. If its not listed you can still order and simply explain the combination with a delicious result. Try Fantasista‘s signature mystery cocktail.
Numata’s authentic Indian restaurant, run by a friendly immigrant family. Delhi Mahal has reasonably priced, delicious Indian cuisine. Try the garlic naan!
A beautiful and charming European-style restaurant near the center of Numata. This cosy wooden structure is always lit with an old world charm. The wine options are quite plentiful and if you order their special set the bread will be never-ending.
The yummiest Japanese dining hall in Numata. The restaurant itself is as warm as the staff, and the food is cheap for the amount of it you are able to get.
Perhaps the most authentic Italian restaurant in Tone, with an outdoor pizza oven to boot. Like most of Numata’s better restaurants, there is not a lot of seating or parking, but the food is worth the organizational effort required. The range of food offered expands even further for parties of ten. Not to be missed if you’re pining for al dente pasta.