Hot Springs, Nature, and Traditional Crafts! Must-Visit Gunma Excellence Facilities

Gunma Prefecture, famous for its hot springs and easy access from Tokyo, is a popular sightseeing destination for both relaxation and adventure. For a smooth trip, we recommend adding several Gunma Excellence (GE) facilities to your itinerary, which all come with the guarantee of top-quality service. Read on to see our top 19 Gunma Excellence picks!

*This article was sponsored by Gunma Prefecture.

What Sort of Place Is Gunma Prefecture?

Gunma is a prefecture in the Kanto region of Japan, accessible from Tokyo Station to Takasaki Station in just 50 minutes via the JR Joetsu Shinkansen bullet train.

Gunma is the ultimate destination for those traveling to visit natural “onsen” hot springs. There are dozens of idyllic hot spring paradises dotting the prefecture, including the renowned Kusatsu Onsen, which boasts the highest yield of natural hot spring water in Japan. Gunma is also blessed with stunning seasonal scenery, including cherry blossoms in spring and fiery foliage in fall, making for relaxing strolls after soaks.

Gunma is likewise famous for its majestic wilderness, serving as a base for both easy hikes and hardcore mountaineering, plus snowsports in the winter.

About Gunma Excellence

Gunma Excellence is a certification awarded to outstanding sightseeing spots in Gunma Prefecture. It includes hotels, traditional inns, restaurants, and activity operators.

Facilities with Gunma Excellence certification have multilingual staff, Wi-Fi, Western-style toilets, and more, and are able to accommodate dietary restrictions. Be sure to check out the list of GE spots when making Gunma travel plans!

Kashiwaya Cafe

Kashiwaya Cafe, sitting in the Ghibli-esque hot spring town of Shima Onsen, is a retro cafe housed in a century-old building.

Not to be missed is the “Onsen Mark Cappuccino,” which has the iconic hot spring symbol of Japan drawn on the foam.

Other popular menu items include the Kashiwaya Curry, which presents two flavors in one dish, and the assortment of homemade sweets, making it ideal for lunch or a quick stop while walking around. There are cute Japanese knick-knacks on sale as well!

Oginoya Yokokawa

“Touge no Kamameshi” is one of Japan’s most beloved “ekiben,” which are bento boxes sold at train stations. It first appeared at Yokokawa Station on the Shinetsu Line in 1958, and around 170 million have been sold to date. The secret behind its popularity is the unique container and  remarkable flavors crafted from carefully selected local ingredients.

Touge no Kamameshi comes with nine colorful toppings including chicken, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and chestnuts served on rice cooked in dashi broth. The container, which resembles a traditional rice cooking pot, is ceramic and can be brought home and used to cook rice on open flame.

Tofu Cuisine Matsumura

Matsumura is a restaurant specializing in rich tofu made only with natural ingredients. They use painstakingly sourced organic soybeans grown in Japan, along with sea water “nigari” (bittern) from the waters of Oshima, an island off the coast of Izu.

There is a wide menu to enjoy, ranging from tofu salads, gratin, and karaage chicken, to the unmissable “Tosuinabe” hotpot, which is made of rich soy milk warmed to produce a skin (yuba) eaten layer by layer. To fully savor the sweetness of soybeans, Matsumura is a must-visit!


The AEON MALL Ota is a large-scale shopping mall that hosts around 170 specialty stores and an AEON supermarket. Here, not only can you buy groceries, but also clothing, sundries, CDs, and more.

For tourists visiting Japan, we recommend stores focusing on anime, which is also part of traditional Japanese culture. At AEON MALL Ota, visitors can enjoy anime that is currently hugely popular among tourists! There is also a shop lined with many capsule toy machines, the sight of which will thrill even adults!

There's also Gateau Festa Harada, opened in 1901, a Western-style confectionery store specializing in rusk, and a top-pick for sweet tooths. The “Gateau Rusk Gouter de Roi” is made by baking their special French bread topped with clarified butter and sugar, and is absolutely irresistable!

Gyuya Kiyoshi

One of Gunma’s most exquisite delicacies is “Joshu beef.” Gyuya Kiyoshi offers diners A5-ranked Joshu beef served in “sukiyaki,” a unique Japanese hotpot with a salty-sweet soy sauce-based broth. The delicately marbled Joshu beef melts in the mouth, unleashing a juicy texture with just the right balance of sweetness and umami.

“Shimonita negi,” another Gunma speciality, is added to the hotpot between December and February. It is a type of green onion that is much thicker than regular green onions in Japan, and will absorb the juices and umami of the beef to deliver a piquant mouthful.


Canyons hosts thrilling outdoor activities diving deep into the wilderness of Gunma. The company was started by New Zealander Harris Michael John to combine the adventurous spirit of New Zealand with Japanese hospitality, and it employs many international staff. In the summer, visitors can try canyoning and rafting, along with snowshoe tours in winter.

The most exciting time to raft is between April and June, when the rivers are gushing with snowmelt. These runs are so challenging that world rafting championships have even been held here!

Usaburo Kokeshi

Kokeshi are wooden dolls made to wish for good harvests and the growth of children, and their history stretches back to the Edo Period (1603 – 1867). Usaburo Kokeshi, near Ikaho Onsen, is a leading kokeshi doll maker who is known for their wide range stretching from traditional to modern iterations based on pop-culture characters. They are all utterly adorable, and are imbued with a warmth thanks to the vibrant coloring and gentle countenance.

Kokeshi painting experiences are also available with online reservations, where you can paint your very own kokeshi using a wooden base fashioned by a craftsman.

Lockheart Castle

Nestled amongst lush forest, Lockheart Castle is an old Scottish castle that was dismantled and rebuilt in Gunma. It is a genuine relic that was originally built in 1829 before being moved to this new location, and is often featured in Japanese TV series and commercials. The “princess dress experience” offers a choice of more than 500 different dresses complete with wigs and tiaras to rent and enjoy a photography session, as well as tuxedos for men and dresses for children.


Daruma dolls are based on the image of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, sitting in meditation, and are revered symbols of good luck. Daruma are still made in Gunma’s Takasaki as a traditional craft, and the area boasts the highest daruma production volume in Japan. Silk was once a major industry in Gunma, and daruma were deeply respected amongst locals as protectors of silk farming.

Daimonya produces 70,000 daruma annually, all hand-painted by individual master craftspeople. They also host workshops teaching visitors how to paint daruma faces - the left eye is colored while making a wish, and the right eye is filled once the wish comes true.

Harada Farm

A major producer of high-quality fruit, fruit picking is an experience not to be missed in Gunma. You’ll be free to pick and eat fruit as you like at their utmost deliciousness!

There are many different fruits available each season, including strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, apples, and grapes. If you’re picking strawberries, go for “Yayoihime,” a variety developed in Gunma known for its bulky size and sweet-sour harmony.

Tsukiyono Vidro Park

Tsukiyono Vidro Park is a glassware theme park by Tsukiyono Kobo, a world-renowned glassmaker with a long history.

First, tour the glass factory and witness the passion of the craftspeople up close, then browse through glasswork masterpieces in the shop, before crafting your very own piece at the glass-making workshop! You’ll feel the intense heat on your face as you blow into the blowpipe to make a one-of-a-kind glass vase and more under the guidance of an experienced glassmaker.

Afterwards, at the on-site restaurant, treat yourself to a serving of Tsukiyono Craft Beer, brewed with local wheat and the pristine water of the Tanigawa mountains, and served in beautiful glasses crafted by masters.

Tomioka Silk Mill

The Tomioka Silk Mill was a silk reeling factory founded by the government in 1872. The structure remains almost unchanged from its heyday, earning it recognition as a World Heritage Site.

The Japanese government at the time promoted silk exports as part of its push to modernize. This government-run model plant served to produce high-quality raw silk thread while training technical leaders.

The West Cocoon Warehouse, a registered National Treasure, is a two-story brick structure with a wooden frame that once stored cocoons. Now it exhibits historical materials and artifacts with audio guides available in English, Chinese, Korean, and French.

Imai Daruma Shop NAYA

Imai Daruma Shop NAYA is another local daruma maker with a 90-year history known for preserving traditional techniques while using eco-friendly materials. Complementing their time-honored classics are chic and stylish “designer daruma,” which come in white, black, and red with a matte finish that blends seamlessly with contemporary interiors.

There’s a delightful selection of daruma to browse through at Imai Daruma Shop NAYA. Coming in all different colors and finishes, including ones with metallic paint, you’ll surely find the daruma for you!

Ski Resort Hodaigi

Ski Resort Hodaigi sits at a max altitude of 1,400 meters, guaranteeing an abundance of top-quality snow. It has 16 courses ranging from beginner to advanced with 40-degree slopes.

The 1,400-meter-long Nandaira ridgeline course is particularly fun for more experienced skiers, presenting riveting panoramas of Mt. Tanigawa, Mt. Asahi, and the mountains where the Tone River flows from - sure to get the adrenaline pumping!

There is also a nursery and children’s area, where they can play and sled in the snow, making it a great destination for the whole family.

Hotel Isobe Garden

The pride of Hotel Isobe Garden is its vast array of hot springs and gorgeous Japanese cuisine made with local Gunma ingredients. There are several open-air baths to soak in, including a rock bath, barrel bath, and garden bath. The bathhouse is spacious and liberating, and has a stunning view of the picturesque Usui River.

Meals are packed with Gunma goodies like the coveted Joshu beef and Joshu mugi pork, which has a fine texture and light flavor. These ingredients can also be enjoyed at lunch with a dip in the hot springs on a day-trip plan.


Hanamizuki is a family-owned hot spring inn with private hinoki cypress baths, allowing guests to relish the renowned waters of Kusatsu Onsen at affordable prices. It is just 5 minutes on foot from the town’s iconic Yubatake water field, and 5 minutes by bus from Kusatsu Onsen Ski Resort. The water, which runs hot as is typical of Kusatsu Onsen, flows directly from the hot spring source, and the baths can be used whenever they are free. There is Wi-Fi throughout the facility and a fully equipped kitchen, so it’s perfect for longer stays too!


Aisai is a hotel on a huge 8-acre plot within a national park in the Baragi Highlands. There are just nine guestrooms, all with views of the Asama Mountain Range, and includes meals of traditional Japanese cuisine with seasonal edible wild plants and other fresh ingredients.

If you are visiting in the winter, be sure to rent snowshoes and explore the nearby forest. Smothered by fresh, luscious snow, the forest is serene and refreshing, and there are trails to the Ishidoi Waterfall reachable in about 30 minutes.

Hotel Matsumotoro

Hotel Matsumotoro is a luxury hot spring hotel located just a 15-minute walk from the iconic retro stone steps of Ikaho Onsen.

The suite flaunts 100 m² of space with two rooms and both an indoor and open-air hot spring bath. Designed with accessibility in mind, it is perfect for those traveling with children or the elderly.

The large bathhouse, “Golden Waters” (Ogon-no-Yu), got its name from the amber color of its water, created by iron oxidation. The water is gentle on the skin and warms you up to the core.

Dinner is made with the highest quality ingredients, such as Joshu beef and “ginhikari,” a variety of rainbow trout from Gunma, and is presented like a work of art.


Kanzanso is a charming hot spring inn with stellar mountain vistas and homely local cuisine. There are rooms with open-air baths, so you can soak in privacy and enjoy the seasonal countryside views.

The inn is located in Oigami Onsen, a hot spring town home to a legend where geothermal water welled up from the ground after the deity of Mt. Akagi pierced it with an arrow, healing its wounds. In May, the “Daija Matsuri” (Large Snake Festival) is held in honor of the Mt. Akagi deity that founded the hot springs. Fukiware Falls is another popular spot just 10 minutes away by car, so be sure to stop by.

Gunma Excellence: Guaranteeing Good Times in Gunma!

If you are traveling to Gunma, be sure to check out places with Gunma Excellence (GE) certification for a smooth trip through all that Gunma has to offer, like hot springs, beautiful nature, traditions, cuisine, and more!

Visit Gunma is also updating sightseeing information in Gunma Prefecture in multiple languages! Please check it out!


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Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

A Chiba native who loves regional sake and crafts that each tell their own story. During long breaks, she likes to spend her time fishing in the Seto Inland Sea.
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