In days past, Gunma Prefecture was called “Joshu” or “Jomo”, and, as samurai, shogunate, emperors, and commonfolk traveled to and through our dear Gunma Prefecture in search of silk, agricultural treats, military gain, or maybe love, it was only inevitable that they would find themselves at the abrupt foothills of the Kanto Mountain Range. Gunma Prefecture has many mountains across its landlocked mass, but these 3 specific mountains are very special and revered as Shinto deities.
If you’re wanting to climb every mountain but you’re not sure where to begin, here you are; all 3 are enjoyed by both serious and beginning hikers! They have seen some serious seismological shiftiness (just look at Japan on Google Earth!) and I shouldn’t even call them mountains; most of them are generic names for many peaks and those peaks aren’t just mountains, they’re dormant volcanoes or calderas; at least, that’s what people say…let’s hope they’re right.
Mt. Akagi – 赤城山
Red Castle Mountain
Akagi is just a generic name given to the mountain range that includes Mt. Kurobi (黒檜山) and Mt. Jizo-Dake (地蔵岳).
Age: 50 million years but 31,000 year old Pleistocene Period eruptions built this mountain up!
Location: Northern Kanto Plain – Fujimi Village (富士見村), Maebashi City (前橋市) – located at the southern foothills of Mt. Akagi
Height: 1828 Meters (5997 Feet) – atop Mt. Kurobi
Type of volcano: Andesitic Stratavolcano (Conal-shaped, andesitic lava-filled volcanoes formed by ocean-continent convergent plates sliding under one another – eruptions are very violent and explode toxic gas and magna down the slope at hurricane speeds)
Last erupted: 1251 and 1938 (but evidence is iffy)
How to get there: from JR Maebashi Station take a bus bound for Fujimi Onsen – take the bus from Fujimi Onsen to Lake Onuma. Driving is recommended but not necessary. (Map)
Cool stuff around it:
- Lake Onuma (large crater lake @ summit) – great for camping, boating, fishing, hiking, and water sports in the summer, flower viewing in the spring and Tree viewing in the Fall, with ice-skating and skiing as popular wintertime activities. A 4 km hike around the lake a perfect for beginners.
- Gunma Flower Park – The massive flowerbeds, greenhouses, and flower halls (lest we forget a mind-bogglingly amazing playground for the inner child) highlight Gunma’s seasonal floral at this unreal array of aromas and annuals.
- Kronenberg German Village (Doitsumura ドイツ村) That’s right kiddies, there’s a German Village nestled into the middle of Gunma! You can enjoy horse riding, bumper cars, paddle boats, archery, and ride a choo-choo train! They also have a microbrewery (mmm..German beer) and you can learn how to make German sausage (if you’re into that kind of thing).
- Waterfalls (including the 50m Fudo-Otaki), Onsens, and all kind of other aquatic areas of interest!
- Can see it from the 32nd floor of the Gunma Prefectural capital building in Maebashi (32F – Gunma Kenchou – 群馬県庁) and
- Famous for its plentiful Birch Trees and blooming Azaleas.
- In May, you can view the rare yellow Mizubasho, a.k.a. Skunk Cabbage peaking out.
- In October, you can visit the Akagi Shrine Fall Festival and see some Yabusame archery, martial arts, horseback riding skillz, and of course all the traditional Japanese Shinto festival elements.
Mt Haruna – 榛名山
Famous Hazelnut Mountain
Once again, Haruna-san is a generic name given to the number of many peaks surrounding the area. Many include Mt. Harunafuji (榛名富士山) and Mt Komunga (掃部ヶ岳). Fresh air, abundant greenery, flowers, and surreal architecture make this place magically idiosyncratic!
Age: 300,000 years old
Location: The towns of Ikaho 伊香保町 and Shibukawa 渋川町 rest on its eastern slops, Takasaki to the south, and Agatsuma to the north and northwest.
Height: 1449m (4754 ft.) – Mt Komunga –掃部ヶ岳
Type of Volcano: Dormant stratavolcano (oozing lava has gradually built it up)
Last Erupted: 550 A.D.
How to get there: You can take a Gunma bus for Harunako from Takasaki Station (1270￥) that leaves once (April – Nov) or twice an hour (Dec-March) – about 90 minutes. Once again, driving is the best way, but not necessary. (Map)
Cool stuff around it:
- Harunafuji – This cone-shaped volcano in the middle of the lake resembles Mt. Fuji (hence the name). There is a ropeway to the top if you’re not feeling the hike (820￥ round trip). At the top, you can see
- Haruna Lake 榛名湖 – This lake is a crater made from eruptions. Here, you can eat at gourmet restaurants, camp, ride on horses, go-karts, rent bikes, play tennis, go paragliding, rent a boat or take a ride on a swan-shaped paddle boat (30 min- 700￥), hike all day up multiple mountains, and even ice fishing (lots of Black Bass) in the winter if you’re feeling saucy (Must buy fishing ticket – 700￥/day 4000￥/year).
- Lake Haruna Onsen/Ikaho Onsen/Ikaho – formed by a volcanic eruption, these onsens are some of the best in all of Japan and are both located around Mt. Haruna. More info about Ikaho here, including Optical-illusion art museums/monkey houses/replica of the Sistine Chapel, Farm-themed “Green Bokujyo” Amusement Park (where you can take a butter making class), and an old school arcade alley line the center of this mountain town.
- On August 1st, you can visit the Haruna Festival where 2000 fireworks are shot off from the lake and of course the fun of hear taiko, seeing dashi, and all the other goodies included in Japanese festivals..
- Haruna is featured in the anime “Initial D” under the name Akina and the main character delivers tofu to a hotel on the hill everyday.
Mt Myogi -妙義山
Exquisite Justice/Strange Meaning Mountain
Myogisan has some of the weirdest and most beautiful rock formations in Japan. Many activities can be enjoyed here such as rock climbing for advanced peeps, simple hikes for beginners (all 5th graders in the area must climb Myogi on field trips), and, of course, some of the most breathtaking tree watching (in Nov.) and viewing of 15,000 Cherry Blossom trees (in April) in all of Gunma.
Age: 300,000 years old
Location: Myogi town (妙義町), Tomioka City (富岡市)/Annaka City (安中)
Height: 1104m (3 622ft.)
How to get there: By Car. You can catch a bus from Shimonita Station (下仁田駅), which is at the very end of the Joshin line (上信電鉄) from Takasaki Station. The bus will take you to Nakamura, but you’ll have to walk about 40 minutes from there. (Map)
Cool stuff around it:
- Meganebashi – めがね橋 – The biggest brick bridge in Japan located in Annaka, built during the Meiji Era and, though not used now, represents Japanese Meiji Period industrial beginnings after 200 years of Edo Period isolationism.
- Usui Toge Tetsudo Bunka-mura – An outdoor railroad park including a historic steam locomotive that you can around the park ride around the park.
- Myogi Shrine- 妙技神社 – This place is super popular during New Years, but any other time of the year, it’s definitely worth checking out. The Tokugawa Family (yes that one) had deep faith in the sacred ground of Mt. Myogi, because of this, the shrine has some excellent carvings from the Edo-era (1603-1867) and mad rad art on display.
- Sakura no sato さくらの里 – A great picnic area at the base of Mt. Myogi where you can see 5,000 Cherry Blossom trees and on May 3rd, they host the Shimonita Cherry Blossom Festival.
- Myogi Furusato Museum 妙義ふるさと美術館 – At the front of Mt. Myogi, lies this museum dedicated to painting of Myogi and other seasonal exhibitions. The hall on the third floor offers a 360° panorama observation room where visitors can see and draw the mountains of Jomo.
- Part of the movie “Zatoichi” was filmed here.
- The yamabushi, followers of ascetic Buddhism, have been climbing this mountain for hundreds of years as a part of spiritual training.