I’ve been eating my way through Japan. I made cute bento boxes and ate all the kawaii and Instagrammable foods in Tokyo – especially dessert. Then, I ate wasabi ice cream in Shizuoka, soy sauce ice cream in Ibaraki and tried (and didn’t hate) octopus with a quail egg stuffed in its head in Kyoto. While my stretchy pants were doing a great job, I decided it was time to put them to their intended use. And just like that, an adventure holiday in Gunma Prefecture was booked. The amazing tourism boards of Gunma Prefecture and Katashina Village hosted me for an awesome few days of exploring the gorgeous prefecture from land, water and sky.
Katashina Village is roughly 2/3 the size of Central Tokyo, but only 4,000 people live here. In a village that’s 92% forest, there’s plenty of fun outdoorsy activities to try! Here’s a list of the top outdoor activities in Katashina Village, just a short, one hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo.
Awesome outdoor activities in Katashina Village, Gunma Prefecture
Ski or snowboard
Katashina Village gets some of the best powder in Japan. During winter, you’re likely to find around two meters of snow on the ground and travelers flock here to ski and snowboard on the slopes. There are five ski resorts in Katashina Village, offering excellent ski and snowboard rentals. I thought the lack of snow on the ground meant I’d have to miss out on one of the region’s most famous activities. Boy was I wrong…
At Marunuma Kogen Resort, you can strap on skis or a snowboard and ride the lift to the top of the summer slope. This beginner slope achieves a maximum incline of 15° over a 1,300ft course. Swish over the special self-watering mat over the grass which makes you feel like you’re skiing on snow.
Before trying the summer gelände, I hadn’t skied in years. Thankfully, skiing is just like riding a bike and I had a great time swooshing down the slope, taking in the stunning mountain views around me.
You’ve explored Marunuma Kogen with your skis on the ground — now it’s time to take to the air at their Tree Adventure! They offer beginner and expert courses and I recommend starting with beginner. Once you start the course, there’s no turning back, so you’ll want to be comfortable and confident before starting the expert course!
Rock climb on a suspended climbing wall, surf through the sky and test your balance on a tightrope walk! To top it all off, you’ll test your trust in the harness system with a leap off a platform to complete the course by zip line!
Pro tip: Don’t wear white, because the landing of the zip line can get a little messy!
I didn’t get the chance to try the summer luge, but spotting these gravity-powered carts took me back to the first time I rode one in Queenstown, New Zealand! Reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour as you cruise through gorgeous mountain scenery on Marunuma Kogen’s luges.
SUP on Sugenuma
Sugenuma is the clearest lake on Honchu (the main island of Japan) and the fourth clearest lake in the entire country, offering up to 50 feet of visibility.For the past 200 years, the lake and its surrounding area has been owned by the Chigira family, and they’ve kept it a bit of a secret oasis.
Just recently, local sports enthusiast Kensuke Numano opened High Five Mountainworks for stand up paddle boarding and kayak adventures on the lake. Join Patagonia Ambassador Ken, or one of his staff members on a water adventure unlike any other. On sunny days, the water is so reflective that they’ve seen birds mistake the reflected “clouds” in the water for sky. And on a foggy day (like when I visited), you’ll feel as if you’re all alone in the world.
The only sounds you’ll hear are that of fish jumping, birds chirping and your paddle slicing through the water. Paddle through three segments of the lake to a secluded beach where hammocks offer relaxation and a rope swing beckons you to jump into the cool water.
I hope you’re ready for a snack, though! The Chigira family built a second home by the shores of Sugenuma and the patriarch of the family, being a foodie, dreaming of fresh seafood. Several years ago, he began breeding lobsters in the lake. Thanks to him, Ken is able to catch and cook the lobsters on tour for guests.
If you want to book this activity, send him a message on Instagram.
Other awesome adventurous activities in Gunma
Did you know that two melons recently sold for $45,000 in Japan? Fruit is graded on its sugar content and perfect appearance, and while the $45,000 melons were a bit of an anomaly, it’s not uncommon for melon to sell for $200 each.
Although fruit is a huge part of the gift-giving culture in Japan, I’m more of a “treat yourself” kind of girl! At Harada Farm, you can pick your own cherries, grapes, strawberries, apples and peaches, bypassing the huge markups and getting a taste of rural life in Gunma.
At Harada Nouen, something is growing all year round. Check out their calendar here and plan your farm experience! After you’ve picked the prettiest fruits, head to the shop to find fresh baked goods, made with fruit from the farm!
We live in a world full of people worshipping at the altar of busyness. Being overworked and overwhelmed is a badge of honor. What a breath of fresh air to walk through Kichijo-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple with over 100 varieties of plants. Walk through the San-Man gate, built to divide the sacred ground and the common world to discover a peace-filled temple.
The temple, built in 1352, manages to spark curiosity and promote a sense of calm all at the same time. Wander the gardens, observing statues and sculptures. And pause to admire the zen garden, with its raked stones emulating the ripples in water. Walk around the main house, where you can stop for matcha and a sweet, overlooking a koi pond.
Be sure to look for the Himekomatsu (Princess Pines) near the gate of the Kichijo-ji Temple. The tree, estimated to be 300 years old, was named a national treasure of Gunma Prefecture in 1957.
After a fully adventurous itinerary, it’s nice to take a moment to reflect and be grateful for your surroundings.
Visit the Niagara of the Orient
At 23 feet tall and 98 feet wide, Fukiware-no-taki Falls is one of the most unique natural sites in Gunma. Over 10,000 years of erosion, the Fukiware-no-taki Falls were formed in a V-shape, and from the walking path, the waterfall looks like it might just drop into the center of the earth. I visited in August, but have been told that October and November is the ultimate time to visit, when the autumn leaves are changing color.
Walk the suspension bridge overlooking the river for a bird’s eye view of this stunning site!
Where to stay
Katashina Village is home to onsens with incredible healing and relaxation properties. I recommend staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, with an onsen. I loved my stay at Ryokan Umeya for the incredible (and incredibly beautiful) food, comfy beds and onsen! You can read all about my experience here.
Where to eat
Try local dishes at Kawaba Den-en Plaza Roadside Station
I first learned about the cultural significance of roadside stations on my visit to Ibaraki. Roadside stations are culinary hubs, and meeting points where friends catch up. On my last day in Gunma, we ate lunch at Kawaba Den-en Plaza Roadside Station. Here, you can try local foods like yogurt made from Kawaba cows and beer brewed onsite using water that flows from the mountains in this region.
Taste giant bean ice cream at Oze Katashina Roadside Station
Take a break at Oze Katashina Roadside Station. Here, you can rest your tired feet in a foot onsen with water from Kamata Onsen Oze-no-yu. Look out over the impressive Oze Ohashi bridge and Ayame Daira wetlands in the distance.
Want to make a good thing even better? Get a cone of Hanamame – giant beans – ice cream!
Traveling to Gunma is easy with a JR Pass (buy yours here). What are you waiting for? Book your trip to Gunma to experience all of these great outdoor activities for yourself. There’s something special for every season!
Note: Katashina Village and Gunma Prefecture hosted me on this trip. As always, all opinions are my own and I’ll never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!
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