Home of Daruma dolls and silk heritage
Last updated: December 21, 2020
Most visitors to Gunma traveling by shinkansen (bullet train) will go through Takasaki, the prefecture’s main transportation hub. The city is under an hour from Tokyo on the bullet train, making it easily accessible for a short trip. Takasaki is a convenient base for outdoor adventures and onsen visits farther afield in Gunma, but the city and its neighbor, Tomioka, are steeped in history, heritage, and culture that make them well worth visiting. Takasaki is the home of Daruma dolls, the good-luck charm now popular around Japan, as well as several art museums. The Tomioka Silk Mill was among the first modern factories in the country and became a model for Japan’s industrialization.
Get a leisurely start to your day in Tokyo before taking the short, comfortable train ride to Takasaki Station. Head straight for one of the city’s noteworthy art museums. The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma features works by international modern artists, such as Edvard Munch and Claude Monet, alongside artists from Gunma, including Fukuzawa Ichiro and Yamaguchi Kaoru. The museum building, constructed in 1974, is an important work by renowned architect Isozaki Arata. Other museums in the city include the Takasaki Tower Museum of Art and the Takasaki Museum of Art, both of which focus on modern and contemporary Japanese works.
Check into a convenient hotel in downtown Takasaki such as the Hotel Metropolitan Takasaki or the Hotel Grand View Takasaki. After a bit of downtime, head out to one of the city’s many restaurants, izakaya, or bars. Takasaki has the prefecture’s most extensive dining and nightlife options, making it a great place to try Gunma cuisine and pair it with some local sake. The city has some specialties of its own, including Takasaki pasta, which is made using locally grown wheat and often features a soup-like sauce.
Byakue Dai-Kannon is a 41.8-meter-tall statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy that towers over Takasaki. Climb the 146 steps inside the statue to reach the top, granting you sweeping views across the city. Visit in spring to see the surrounding grounds of Jigenin Temple awash in pink cherry blossoms, or in autumn for red and yellow leaves on the maple trees.
Takasaki is the birthplace of Daruma dolls, now a nationwide symbol of good luck. This icon of Gunma originated at Shorinzan Darumaji Temple. Visit this centuries-old temple to see piles of the papier-mache dolls in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
The city is responsible for about 80 percent of Daruma production, and Daimonya Co., Ltd. is the largest single maker of the dolls. The shop has been producing Daruma for temples since the Meiji era (1868–1912). Today, both traditional and modern Daruma are sold here. Visitors can purchase a personalized doll with their name written on it, or try painting their own.
Try a wholesome dinner at Tofu Matsumura, where the tofu is made in house using organic soybeans. The tofu-centric dishes are as healthy as they are tasty. Tofu skins (yuba), made by heating soy milk over a charcoal flame, are a specialty of the restaurant. Tofu Matsumura cultivates a traditional atmosphere through tatami mat floors in the dining room and a bamboo grove just outside. After the meal, retire to your hotel or have a nightcap at a cozy bar nearby.
Tomioka Silk Mill was a crucial development in spurring Japan’s industrial revolution during the Meiji era (1868–1912). This model factory used cutting edge technology to optimize silk quality and improve conditions for workers. It also played an important role in cementing Gunma’s culture of textile production. The well-preserved mill has since been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open for tours.