Gunma, one of Japan’s central prefectures, can be reached quickly from multiple cities in Japan; including Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo, in just a few hours by car. If traveling from Tokyo, the Kan-etsu freeway links from the capital to the prefecture directly in just under two hours.
One of the highlights of a trip to Gunma is a visit to the multiple Onsen towns. Some of Gunma’s best known hot spring towns include Kusatsu Onsen, Minakami Onsen, Isobe Onsen and Ikaho Onsen. Each town has its own distinct onsen feature, but Manza, Kusatsu and Minakami are the most popular visits for tourists.
En route to one of the northern Onsen towns, a trip along the highway will give visitors plenty of options as they travel through central Japan; with the city of Takasaki the first option. After that, a visit into Shibukawa and Ikaho is highly recommended.
As you head into Ikaho area, Ikaho Green Farm will be the first port of call. Fun for both adults and visitors, and famous for it’s Moumou Ice Cream; the farm has a vast array of animals and restaurants to enjoy. A trip along the highway will give visitors plenty of options as they travel through central Japan; with the city of Takasaki the first option. After that, a visit into Shibukawa and Ikaho is highly recommended. A trip to Ikaho would not be complete without a stop off at Mizusawaji temple (ring the bell if you can!) and then stop off at Mizusawaji’s Udon Street for a bite to eat afterwards. The Udon Street is just a minute or two away from the temple.
After that, enjoy the opportunity to experience some hot springs in your choice of town for your stay. With some of Japan’s most beautiful ryokan’s and excellent hot springs, no trip to this part of the country is complete without enjoying the real overnight ryokan experience.
If you decide to visit Takasaki, a visit to the Haruna Shrine is highly recommended. Known in Japan for being a “power temple”, Haruna-jinja has some of the most stunning nature and is most popular in the Autumn months. Word of advice, parking is short around this temple. Prepare and go there early if possible, otherwise face a lengthy hour wait in the mountains.
Another sight to look out for is to take a trip to one of Gunma’s many ropeways, to really enjoy the views over the mountains.
Shikoku is a beautiful island located in the South of Japan. Not to be confused, as the Japanese call this the “West of Japan”, but on a typical map to most you would say that the island is located in the South.
There are four prefectures in Shikoku. To the far west, you have Tokushima; its major city has the same name. Tokushima is most famous for Awa Odori, which is celebrated during the Odon holiday season in Japan. North of Tokushima is Japan’s smallest prefecture, Kagawa. The capital of this prefecture is Takamatsu. Heading further south will bring you to Kochi, which is the largest prefecture on Shikoku’s island. Then, to the west, you have Ehime prefecture.
Planning a trip around Shikoku can be difficult, primarily because of the size of the island and the need to fit in as much as possible in a few days. Even a three day trip around this island can prove quite tricky to arrange everything that you would like to see. Despite that, traveling around most of Shikoku by car can be a wonderful drive, partially because of the mix of excellent highways and in some areas, some steep, winding country roads. It is a fun journey and exciting to explore indeed.
We arrived by plane at Takamatsu late on Friday evening for the three day weekend, touching down from Tokyo at approximately 9pm. When arriving at the airport, there is an excellent bus transfer service that takes you right into the city. This is highly recommended and only costs about 500 yen. In Takamatsu there is also a variety of places to hire a car, but avoid the airport if you take the late flight; as this closes at approximately 7pm.
Takamatsu is a very friendly city. The locals are very accommodating and there are a variety of excellent restaurants. Udon is the most famous food here and it is not hard to find. A word of advice, keep a look out for the places where the locals eat. Or, even better, ask locals where the best place to eat is.
Here was our rough itinerary for the first day. Starting off in Takamatsu and driving into Kotohira, then the Iya Valley and finally into Kochi for the evening.
Takamatsu is famous for the two islands north, Megijima and Ogijima. You can arrange a day trip here with your vehicle, taking the ferry. By car, you should take a trip to the stunning Yashima. It is about 10km east of the main city and a lovely drive up to the top. From there you will see the most magnificent of views.
As you can see, we were really lucky with the weather. It is OK to drive your car all the way to the top, so use the time well once you’re up there.
After grabbing some famous Sanuki Udon, we then headed to the stunning Ritsurin Koen. Word of warning here, this is a BIG park and you will need at the very least one hour to navigate the entire area. You can park very close to the entrance, so drive as close as you can before you are ushered into a car park, which is likely to be a bit more expensive.
If you have time, take a detour to Kotohira Station, a good place to stop off for a snack.
From Takamatsu city centre, it’s around a 2 hour journey into the Iya Valley. Somewhat famous for the house ‘Chiiori’, the home of Alex Kerr who wrote the book Lost Japan, this area is better known for its stunning views across the valley and the stunning Hotel Iya Onsen. Recommended for a quick dip with a stunning view down below you.
It’s also famous for this cheeky chappy:
From there, it is well worth visiting Iya Kazurabashi Bridge. A bridge made for transporting goods between two sides of the valley, for 500 yen you will also receive the privilege of walking across. This is incredibly scary! Make sure you wear some good shoes before taking the trip.
From the Iya Valley we then headed into Kochi. If you have time, visit Mount Godaisan, it’s a beautiful stop for a view of a very famous pagoda built in an ancient temple. This closes at 5pm, so be mindful of time.
When arriving into the city center, it was time to find something delicious to eat. Katsuo no Tataki is most famous in Kochi city. This is basically bonito fish, lightly cooked/seared on the edges. It is absolutely magnificent and comes in a variety of ways, with salt, ginger, soy sauce.. the list is endless. Ask the locals the best place to find this delicious fish. Otherwise, here are a couple of suggestions sourced from TripAdvisor: Chibikara Honpo Hirome Ichiba, Warayakitataki Myojimmaru.
Here’s a pic of the bonito that we had below.
As we fancied a quick drive around the town before heading to bed, we then set off for Kochi Castle. In the evening time this stunning castle is lit up and can be seen from across the region. It is worth a visit by day as well, and that’s what we did on our second morning.
The trip from Takamatsu to Kochi should take about four hours, but that depends on the speed you are traveling and how often you stop. There is plenty to see on the way.
Shikoku has a brilliant highway that stretches from east to west across the island, but south of that and located in the centre of the island is an area where you do have to be careful. There are several kilometres of dangerous, curved and small streets, be sure to use the mirrors to watch for oncoming traffic and keep your wits about you.
If you are renting your vehicle, we recommend full insurance just in case!
Please stay tuned for our article on the second part of our trip; our journey from Kochi to Matsuyama.