Discover Gunma’s great winter escapes
Last updated: December 21, 2020
From relaxing in outdoor hot spring baths surrounded by snow to adventure in the mountains, Gunma is a haven for winter activities. Skiers and snowboarders can try top-tier backcountry skiing at one of Japan’s best ski areas, or take it easy on gentle, family-friendly slopes. Snowshoeing and other winter sports are popular, as is ice fishing.
If you prefer a more leisurely pace, there are numerous options for onsen bathing. Gunma’s festivals and illuminations held in the snow are great for families and couples. Not to mention you can pick Japan’s juiciest strawberries this time of year.
Most of Gunma's ski resorts can be found in the mountainous north regions of the prefecture, many of which are concentrated around hot spring resorts. The snow quality in Gunma’s mountains is generally very dry—ideal for powder skiing and beginners. You’ll find a variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders around two to three hour's drive from Tokyo.
The Minakami Onsen Area has eight ski resorts, including beginner-friendly Minakami Hodaigi, and the steep slopes of Tanigawadake Tenjindaira, renowned for its backcountry and sidecountry terrain. Norn Minakami and Okutone Snow Park offer mellow slopes for learners and are popular for night skiing. In the Katashina area in the northeast, there is the skiers-only Katashina Kogen Ski Area, which provides children’s activities and amenities, and Oze-Iwakura Ski Resort, a ski-in, ski-out resort known for its high-quality powder snow and location far from the crowds.
You don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy Gunma’s mountains in winter. Snowshoeing is a great way to take in the winter scenery and access Gunma’s beautiful wilderness covered in snow. Join one of the many snowshoe tours available, or if you are experienced, you can rent snowshoes from a ski resort and explore on your own.
In Kusatsu, take a beginner-friendly snowshoe tour through a valley covered in deep snow. There is a chance to spot wildlife such as foxes and rabbits along the way. In the Minakami area, there are multiple tour operators that run guided tours in the mountainous backcountry of varying lengths and difficulty.
Ice fishing on Akagi’s Lake Onuma is a popular activity when the lake freezes in winter, usually from mid-January to the end of March. The lake is filled with Japanese pond smelt, called wakasagi. Beginners are welcome, as there are several shops around the lakeshore that rent ice-fishing equipment. The shops will fry up your catch of the day free of charge. Alternatively, you can try wakasagi ice fishing on Lake Haruna, located to the west.
Winter is the season for strawberries in Japan, and strawberry picking is a popular activity from December to May. Yayoihime is a variety cultivated mainly in Gunma, known for its firmness and ruby-red color. In Takuminosato, “snowmelt” strawberries are cultivated, using melted snow from Mt. Tanigawa.
Winter is an ideal time to discover Gunma’s plentiful onsen. After a day outside skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, ease your tired muscles by taking a bath at one of the many hot-spring inns of Gunma’s mountainous regions. Or simply relax and unwind in thermal waters while snow falls quietly around you.
Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku is a traditional Japanese hot-spring inn set within a deep valley along the Takaragawa River, about a 15-minute drive from Minakami Kogen Ski Resort. Soak in one of the inn’s large outdoor baths along the fast-flowing river while taking in the scenery of the snow-covered hillsides. At Manza Onsen, one of Japan’s highest-altitude hot-spring resort towns, enjoy sweeping views of snow-capped mountains from an open-air bath at an inn.
Festivals light up winter nights throughout Gunma’s mountains, villages and cities from December to February. Enjoy spectacular fireworks displays, festive illuminations and streets lit with snow lanterns. Some festivals have events during the day, such as concerts and snow tubing.
Throughout most of December, the Lake Haruna Illumination Festa takes place on the lake under dazzling starry skies. On Saturday nights and the nights before national holidays in January and February, the streets of Oigami Onsen are lit up by hundreds of candles during the Oigami Onsen Snow Fireflies Festival. The Takasaki Pageant of Starlight illuminates the streets around Takasaki Station from the end of November to early January, and at the Christmas tree at Yubatake in Kusatsu is lit from late November to mid-February.