In addition to the information below, more information on getting around in Gunma is also available on each individual region page.
Gunma has several public transportation options available. However, as isn’t a large metropolitan hub, not all areas are serviced and it’s no mystery why Gunma has more cars per capita than most of Japan. Those who are accustomed to frequent city transportation may find themselves in for a surprise in Gunma – services may only run two or three times an hour in urban areas, and once an hour (or even less frequently!) in rural areas.
JR (Japan Railways) train lines connect most of Gunma’s major city areas with some of the more “inaka” areas. Shinkansen services run through major parts of Gunma and offer access to Tokyo, Niigata, and Nagano. In the Tobu and Chubu regions, Tobu Railways offers an extensive network, including limited-express trains running to Tokyo in under two hours. Three private railways offer additional transport as well as scenic train tours.
Local train service is provided in Gunma on the following lines:
Jomo Electric Railway
Watarase Keikoku Railway
Joshin Electric Railway
Tickets can be purchased at ticket machines in most stations. Using the ticket is simple– insert it into the slot on the ticketing gate you pass through, and then take it when it reappears near the end of the gate. Do the same when leaving, only this time you will not get your ticket back. On some private lines–such as the Jomo Line or Watarase Line, which don’t have a ticket machine at every station, you have to keep hold of your original ticket or take a numbered ticket (整理券 seiriken) when you board the train, and put money in the machine near the front or pay the conductor when you get off if the stop does not have a gate.
In addition to paper tickets, there are also touch-activated (IC) cards that can be used on the JR and Tobu lines. The two IC cards usable in Gunma are the SUICA (JR) and PASMO (Tobu). Either of these cards can be used on both the JR and Tobu lines, as well as on the subways and private railway companies in Tokyo and at many stores. They are rechargeable, so you simply load them up, touch the blue IC sensor on the ticket gate, and go. You can also register them to your name, so if you lose it or have a problem with it, the balance can be transferred to a new card. You can purchase and recharge these at many JR and Tobu ticket machines, as well as at station service windows. SUICA also has a smartphone app that can be tied to Apple Pay or Google Pay and uses NFC, removing the need for a physical card.
Limited Express Trains
In addition to Shinkansen, there are several limited express trains connecting Gunma to Tokyo and other destinations. Limited Express trains normally require two fares–a standard fare (same as the local lines) and an express fare (sometimes called a seat ticket), which is typically a set price.
Limited express tickets can be purchased at designated ticket machines, station windows, and from many travel agencies. Depending on the line, you may be able to charge one or both of these fares to your SUICA or PASMO card.
The Limited Express Ryomo connects Akagi station in Midori to Tokyo via stations in Kiryu, Ashikaga (Tochigi), Ota, and Tatebayashi.
The Limited Express Asakusa, originating in Ueno (Tokyo), passes through Takasaki and several other stations to offer limited-express service into the Agastuma region, with a bus transfer to the onsen resort town of Kusatsu.
The Limited Express Akagi runs between Shin-Maebashi/Maebashi to Ueno．
Shinkansen services are available at Takasaki and Jomo-Kogen (Minakami) Stations on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Services on the Nagano Shinkansen are available at Takasaki and Annaka-Haruna stations. Shinkansen tickets can be purchased at designated ticket machines, station Midori no Madoguchi windows, and in advance at many travel agencies.
Much of Gunma is serviced, in one way or another, by buses. Busses link many of the more out-of-the-way locations with larger areas and train stations. Most cities have local bus services, and in areas where regular bus services aren’t practical, more creative options—such as Midori City’s Denwa de Basu (Bus by Phone), where users call a phone number and arrange pickup at a stop—are in use. Gunma Bus Net (in Japanese) can be used to find route and fare information.
Limited-stop highway buses also run from many of Gunma’s larger cities, connecting the prefecture with Tokyo’s international airports and many cities throughout Japan, including Tokyo, Sendai, Kyoto, and Osaka. While these buses require a reservation, they can be a useful and comparatively inexpensive way to travel long distances. Tickets for highway buses can be purchased at many convenience stores and at travel agencies.
Highway buses are much cheaper than the Shinkansen or a flight, but they are significantly slower, and long distances such as Sendai or Osaka/Kyoto, are often overnight trips.
Also, space is a premium on these buses– the cheapest tickets will get you a standard seat and can be uncomfortable for those who are taller, wider, or have trouble sleeping in vehicles or with other people. More expensive tickets, obviously, buy larger and more private seating, although these seats are only available on certain buses.
Most air travel for Gunma residents is via Narita and Haneda airports near Tokyo. These airports can both be accessed by train; however, the above highway buses are often an easier and more convenient option.
Particularly for those who live in urban areas, bikes can often be the main form of personal transportation in Japan. Bikes in Japan come in various models, from single-gear, city-style bikes (the most common) with baskets and luggage racks to mountain bikes, road bikes, and even folding bikes that can be easily stored in the genkan (entryway) or put into a bag to carry on a train. Most Gunma JETs who live in town have bikes, even those who own cars/mopeds/etc, and even those in smaller towns may be able to use a bike for daily commuting. Bikes shops are extremely common and finding used city bikes isn’t difficult. There are even bicycle tours and paths with rest stops, parks, temples, and historical sites (280 km in Gunma alone!).
When you ride, obey the normal traffic rules just like any other road vehicle. Stop at stop signs and red lights, yield to pedestrians, and use a light at night and in tunnels. Do not ride double or abreast, keep left and in the direction of traffic on roadways, and only ride on sidewalks where it is permitted. Do not use headphones while riding. Do not ride with only one steering hand and use a cellphone, umbrella, or otherwise in the other hand, and lastly do not drink and cycle. Riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol carries a penalty of up to five years of jail
time and ¥1 million.
You should register your bicycle at the local police box so that police records list you as the rightful owner. This is called jitensha bohan toroku. The fee is about ¥500, and the registration system is for tracking down thefts and parking violations. Although there are no concrete penalties for not registering, it is Japanese law and you might spend lots of time, patience, and frustration trying to convince the police of your ownership. Many bicycle stores will process the registration at the time of sale. If you get a used bike, it needs to be re-registered in your name and you will need the bicycle, identification, and the previous owner’s bike registration card.
Please note that as of April 1st, 2021, bike insurance is legally mandatory in Japan, and wearing a helmet is strongly advised. JET participants are covered for injuries sustained while biking under the JET Accident Insurance (please see page 15 of the JET Accident Insurance Policy Guide for details).
More than 2000 bicycle accidents per year occur in Gunma – don’t let yourself become another statistic.
Although owning a car in Japan—where you have to pay annual insurance, inspection, taxes, parking-space rental, etc—can be rather expensive, it grants the freedom to travel anywhere you want, whenever you want, and is particularly useful in accessing many of Gunma’s outdoor activities.
In Japan, there are two main types of car-type vehicles—regular cars (futsuu jidousha, “white plates”) and kei-cars (keijidousha, “yellow plates”). Kei-cars have the benefits of being both smaller and cheaper to buy, own, and maintain, but they also lack in acceleration, interior and cargo space, can struggle on steeper climbs, and legally do a maximum 80kph (about 50mph) on the expressways. Regular cars have the advantage of leg room, the ability to make it up the hill, and being able to do 100km (60mph) on the expressways. However, they are significantly more expensive to purchase, insure, inspect, and often have higher tolls on tolled thoroughfares. For more information on how unexpectedly painful and expensive owning a white plate can be, try asking your Tone rep, Phil!
Motorcycles and Mopeds
Motorcycles and mopeds offer another motorized transport option and can be cheaper overall than kei- or regular cars in terms of purchase, maintenance, and even parking/expressway fees. Despite this, they also have their fair share of disadvantages. Vehicles in this category may require a special license, and the size of the vehicle and engine also limits its maximum speed and whether or not it can utilize the national expressways. Also, due to the Gunma’s weather, such vehicles can be uncomfortable, impractical, or even dangerous to operate, depending on the season and conditions. There is definitely plenty of time to use them comfortably and safely as well, and Gunma has some great riding locations. Location, the intention of use, and other similar factors should be considered before investing in a moped or motorcycle.
A Note Regarding Licenses
In order to drive in Japan, you must have either (a) a valid Japanese license or (b) a valid license from your home country AND a valid International Driving Permit. An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) can only be obtained while in your home country, and you must have resided there for a minimum of three months prior to issuance.
As an IDP is obtained before your departure, it’s likely that the expiry date will be less than one year. Even if you time it well, the use of an IDP is only valid in Japan for a period of one year from when you enter the country, regardless of whether or not the IDP expires beyond that time. After that period, you must have obtained a Japanese driver’s license in order to drive in Japan. Please understand that driving with an expired or invalid IDP is considered by police to be driving without a license, and getting caught can result in steep penalties and potential jail time and deportation.
For more information on obtaining or converting your license to a Japanese one, check out this article.