A Short Stay in Gunma

Last weekend, I went on an overnight trip to an onsen town in the Gunma prefecture. Known for their scenic mountains and natural hot springs, Gunma is a very relaxing and beautiful part of Japan to explore. Though the trip was fairly short, it was still a nice time and a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. 

Our first stop on the trip was at a daruma doll shop where we got to meet a daruma ‘master’ who has spent years of his life painting the faces of these cute dolls. If you’re unfamiliar with daruma dolls, they are circular, wooden toys that represent luck and supposedly have the ability to grant wishes. Surmise to say, they’re a very interesting aspect of Japanese culture.

While at this shop, we were able to paint our own daruma doll to take home. Though my daruma painting skills need some work, it was still fun giving it a try. 

https://flic.kr/p/2nW9Esj – The Daruma Workshop

Following the daruma shop, we stopped at a rest area to enjoy a hearty lunch of vegetable udon before arriving at a beautiful, mountainside shrine. Though we didn’t stay for long, it was a peaceful location and a great place to view the autumn leaves. 

https://flic.kr/p/2nW9EvR – Some tasty udon!

https://flic.kr/p/2nW8JAF – A picture from the mountainside shrine. Very pretty!

It wasn’t long before we arrived at our hotel in Ikaho, a small countryside town in the heart of Gunma. The hotel was fairly large, and the rooms were an interesting blend of western and traditional. To add to this traditional feeling, there were comfy yukatas available for us to pick up in the main lobby too. They were nice to wear after going to the onsen that was connected to the hotel.

To put it simply, onsens are bathing areas typically separated by gender. The two main rules for onsens are that you’re expected to wash off before going in and that you can’t wear any clothes or bathing suits inside. I’ve never done anything like this so it was a bit of an intimidating experience for me. Nonetheless, the water was very relaxing and I enjoyed my time. 

https://flic.kr/p/2nW8JAv – The Ikaho Steps, a popular spot in the town.

https://flic.kr/p/2nW4Hwx – Our hotel room, complete with tatami mats and futons to sleep on.

https://flic.kr/p/2nW9EtM – An early morning view from our hotel room. Gunma is very scenic!

Amidst all of these fun moments, I allowed myself to reflect a bit more over my time so far. It’s an understatement to say that the past few months have flown by. However, I’m very grateful for my experiences because doing something new like this pushes me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I’m not sure how the rest of my semester will be, but I’m hopeful it’ll be as great as my time in Gunma. 


How to Spend Your Weekend in Japan

One of my favorite things about Japan is that there’s never a shortage of things to do.

For example, I recently spent the day on a bus tour with my host family. Early wake up aside, I had a great time trying out lots of fun things such as picking grapes in the countryside, taste testing locally made wines, and visiting a shrine on Mount Fuji. Though it was a long day, it was a really exciting experience.

Earlier this October, I also met with some friends and traveled to a part of the Tokyo prefecture called Asakusa. Known for their older architecture, Asakusa is a throwback to the more traditional Japanese style. As a result, it’s quite a popular spot for tourists such as myself who want to see something a little more historic. While there, I spent a good part of my Saturday exploring the Senso-ji Shrine, meandering through some souvenir stands, and having lunch at a ramen shop near Tokyo Skytree.  

https://flic.kr/p/2nVryWd – A photo of the walkway to Sensō-ji Shrine

https://flic.kr/p/2nVvC3N – Entrance of Sensō-ji Shrine

https://flic.kr/p/2nVwykw – A picture from the ramen shop

Most recently, I also spent an afternoon in Yokohama. Though my trip was fairly last minute, the weather was perfect for a day out. I spent time sightseeing in Yokohama’s vibrant Chinatown and had a very enjoyable lunch at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Later in the day, I also went on a boat tour of Yokohama Bay and saw some really cool things such as a giant gundam robot and the Yokohama ferris wheel. 

Surmise to say, Japan certainly has no shortage of fun activities available to fill up my free time. These experiences have resulted in a number of great memories, photos, and souvenirs for me to bring back home. Though I’m often busy due to a mix of travel, class, and homework, I’ve been able to try out many new things, even when I least expected to. I’ve also started to realize the importance of making the most of my time. Now that my semester is close to halfway through, there’s much more incentive to do what I can while I still have the time.