Much of Gunma’s charm is in its relaxed pace of life, vast mountains, and rural scenes. Travel can be slow, but it gives you the time to enjoy the backdrop and immerse yourself in the sights. By opting for a road trip or taking a steam locomotive, transportation itself can become an enjoyable part of your Gunma trip.
Gunma is a mountainous prefecture, and its landscape means it can take some time to travel between two points, even if they appear to be close on a map. To get around Gunma by public transportation with ease, some careful planning is required. Renting a car is often the simplest option, and driving through the countryside can be an activity unto itself.
There is comprehensive train coverage in the southern, more urban part of Gunma, and Takasaki is the prefecture's main train hub.
To access Minakami or Maebashi, take the JR Joetsu Line north from Takasaki. Take the line to Shibukawa and change to a bus for Ikaho Onsen. The JR Agatsuma Line runs northwest from Shibukawa, with stops at Nakanojo Station, where local buses run to Shima Onsen, and Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station, with local buses to Kusatsu Onsen. These train lines are covered by the many JR passes that include Gunma.
Other train lines in the prefecture include the Joshin Dentetsu (from Takasaki Station to Tomioka Silk Mill), the Watarase Keikoku Railway (from Kiryu Station to Nikko City), the Tobu Railway (which has main lines in areas such as Tatebayashi, Kiryu, Ota), and the Jomo Electric Railway (from Maebashi Chuo Station to Nishi-Kiryu Station).
Local buses run from busier train stations to onsen towns such as Shima, Kusatsu, and Ikaho, and to Tokura and Oshimizu, major trailheads of Oze National Park, during warmer months. Other routes run inside the towns, connecting spread-out spots. Buses in Gunma are fairly infrequent, so they are most useful for travelers who don’t intend to move around too much and whose getaway is focused on one area. Bus timetables often coincide with train routes, making travel around the prefecture more convenient.
Be aware that space on the buses can be limited, making it difficult to travel with large baggage.
Having a car allows you more freedom and flexibility in Gunma. The prefecture’s most popular resorts are easy to reach by public transportation, but if you’d like to visit more remote spots, a car makes the trip easier. Private transportation also allows you to hop between several places and cover more of the prefecture.
There are several car rental outlets clustered in Takasaki, so it is advisable to take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Gunma and then travel the final leg by car. Outside Takasaki, rental outlets are less common, although there are a few at some more popular stations. Wherever you choose to rent, advance reservations are recommended.
Be warned that some roads around Kusatsu, Manza and Oze may close due to heavy snowfall in winter. There are some intermittent road closures around Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane following its 2018 eruption.
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