Category Archives: Gunma

Fuku Daruma / Daruma Market | KAWAGOE & TAKASAKI 【GUNMA】

I often get asked about Japanese New Year’s traditions. There are a  lot, but one close to my heart is the ancient tradition of purchasing Daruma dolls. It was the very first quintessentially Japanese New Year’s tradition I had the fortune to try.

My first New Year in Japan, 16 years ago, was spent in Takasaki, Gunma, which is an area famous for Daruma dolls. My friends and I had the rare opportunity to make our own Daruma. They are made from papier-mâché, are round, usually red with a face of a bearded man. The dolls are to some just a toy, but to most they are more of a talisman.  They are actually modeled after Bodhidarma the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.

“Daruma0791” by Frank Gualtieri – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma0791.jpg#/media/File:Daruma0791.jpg

When you buy the doll the eyes are not painted in. The idea is to paint in one eye, usually the left one, as you start a quest and paint the other one on completion of your resolution or task. As such, they have become a symbol of perseverance and good luck. The latter is attributed to the Daruma Temple which played a big part in increasing the popularity of Daruma as a good luck charm and as a New Year’s tradition. People who are firm believers in the Daruma tend to buy one every New Year and burn the old one as per tradition.

Both pupils in to mark completion of a task or resolution

Sometimes you see Daruma of different colour. In my own prefecture of Saitama, Fukaya is known for their green coloured Daruma. Supposedly green is more specifically as a good luck charm for health.  In Fukaya, green matches the colour of the city mascot!

One of the more traditional and popular New Year events in Japan is Daruma Markets. There is one in Saitama in Kawagoe’s Kitain Temple every year on the 3rd.  However, the best is the annual Takasaki Daruma-Ichi (Daruma fair) event held on January 6th (and 7th). Daruma Ichi is the largest and most famous daruma market in all of Japan.

White Tiger Daruma at Tobu Zoo

The annual Daruma-Ichi (or Daruma Fair) is held on January 6 and 7 every year. During this event, there are the numerous booths around the Reifudo and Darumado, displaying all sizes of new Fuku-Daruma dolls(6cm~75cm) produced by local farm families. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the temple to buy their Fuku-Daruma dolls for the new year and have them blessed.Source: Obaku Zen School | Syorinzan Darumaji

You can read more about Takasaki Daruma in English here:
https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=70

You can read more about Daruma here:
http://www.daruma.jp/about.html

Featured Image: “Daruma dolls”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg#/media/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg

Kawagoe Kitain Temple Daruma Market

Kitain Temple Daruma Festival | KAWAGOE

JULY Festivals and Fireworks 2016 | KANTO (TOKYO)

Kanto is the area around Tokyo, comprising Saitama, Kanagawa (Yokohama), Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma.  This is a calendar displaying festivals and fireworks in this area for the month of July. Click on the event for more information including time and place, and a link to either the official website or to a webpage with more information in English. I recommend you view as AGENDA.

GOOGLE VERSION

Ikaho Green’s Farm | Gunma

Ikaho Green’s farm has a very good reputation and most people who go to it give it a good review. However, while I liked it and we really enjoyed ourselves, I found it to be more expensive than most farms in the Kita-Kanto (Northern area of Greater Tokyo).  The Sheepdog show is included in the price and that is something that you can’t see in many places. Plus, there are opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the animals that roam freely or are within arms reach. All things considered, it is a really fun family day out!


What can you do at Green Farm?

  • View a sheepdog and sheep shearing show, the largest of its kind in Japan.
  • Pet corner – costs 500 yen per person to spend sometime petting or holding rabbits.
  • Walk with sheep and goats – costs 500 yen per person for 15 minutes.
  • Milk the cows – costs 500 yen per person for one try.
  • Feed the calves – costs 500 yen per person for one bottle of feed.
  • Amusement park – 30 different activities and rides, each cost between 100 and 500 yen.
  • Ride on a horse drawn carriage – 800 yen for adults and students, 500 yen for preschoolers and below.

**Please check their website for up-to-date schedules for these events: http://www.greenbokujo.co.jp/do/

We visited on the 1st of May and there were still some late blooming cherry blossoms, yaezakura. The farm is very well maintained and is quite beautiful. It is suitable to children of all ages. It is quite hilly, but you can easily navigate between sections with a stroller. They have nappy changing and nursing room facilities for babies as well as child friendly toilets. There are places you can buy food and souveniers. The kids plate costs 750 yen, a Sundae costs 520 yen. You are allowed bring your own food into the farm. The sheepdog and sheep shearing show is toward the back of the farm and there is a camping site beside it (that needs to be booked in advance).  It was an interesting experience. The farmer is from New Zealand so he speaks in English quite a bit through the show. There is also a BBQ area, a museum and strawberry picking on the farm, all cost extra.

GENERAL INFORMATION

ENTRANCE COST

(2015) 1200 yen for adults, 600 yen for children over 3, free for 2 and under. As per above, each event costs extra. **Between early January and the end of February entrance fee is half the price. Physically disabled and people over 65 are also half price (all year round).

 

OPENING HOURS

9am to 4pm. In the winter it opens at 10am. In January and February it is closed Monday through Thursday.

 

ACCESS

Roughly 2 hours from Tokyo and 90 minutes from Saitama. 8 kilometres from the Shibukawa Ikaho Interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway. Free parking for up to 700 cars. 19 minute bus ride from Shibukawa Station, bus bound for Ikaho Hotsprings ”伊香保温泉”

Address: 2844-1 Kanai, Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture 377-0027
Telephone: 0279-24-5335

 


For up-to-date costs, event schedules and opening hours please do check the official URL.

URL (English): http://www.greenbokujo.co.jp/english/

Toy’s Kingdom, おもちゃの王国、Karuizawa

We visited the Toy’s Kingdom during the summer, while staying in Karuizawa. They have a huge marketing and advertising campaign this year and its working; I would never have known about the place otherwise. It is a nice place for young children and it’s quite reasonably priced.

1-H August photos

They have different packages you can avail of. We wanted to stay in one of their hotels with unlimited access to the Toy’s kingdom amusement park, but as they were booked up we stayed in another hotel nearby. We bought two free passes and two entrances, our one year old was free. The free pass does not cover all activities and the rides it does cover weren’t of particular interest to my toddlers, so I would actually recommend for children under 4 that you just purchase the entry ticket. The entry ticket covers the playrooms and small outdoor play areas. You can then purchase tickets separately for the rides you would like to try.  One turn on a ride is approximately 300 yen; some are 200 and some are 400.  An entry ticket and paying for 4 or 5 rides works out cheaper than buying a free pass.  Fishing is not covered by either an entry ticket or a free pass.  … Yes, their system is a little confusing!  This year there are lots of discount tickets available in many different places, including online. Keep an eye out for flyers in shops, they usually have a coupon attached.  The normal price for an entry ticket is 1000 yen for adults and 800 yen for children 2 years old and up.  Discounts are usually 100 to 200 yen off this price. The free pass price for adults is 2,800 yen and 2,600 yen for children.  Most of the coupons offer 500 yen off these prices.

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The kids loved the playrooms.  Then 3-year-old son loved the “Tomica” room; wall to wall of cars and trains. 2-year-old daughter loved the mamagoto (playing house) room; kitchens, cookers, shopping, dolls etc.

 

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My one year old also enjoyed the mamagoto playroom as it has a section suited to small babies with Anpanman toys. She also enjoyed the little play area outside this playroom with small slides and push-along-cars.

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There is an athletic area that is suited to older preschool and primary school children. This is covered by the free pass, but not by the entry ticket. The kids have to put on elbow and knee pads and helmets for this area.  My kids tried it out too, but it was a little beyond their level and they packed it in fairly quickly.

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They have a number of different amusement rides, most of them are suited to children of all ages. The one thing I found hard is that even with safer rides such as the carousel they require children younger than 4 be accompanied by an adult per child. At one point, my husband had gone for a roam and my son and daughter both wanted to get on the carousel with me, but they wouldn’t allow it. We had to wait for him to come back. When we were in FujiQ earlier in the year, both children were allowed come on the carousel with me and that was a bigger and faster carousel.  There are also a few battery cars, a paddling area (in the summer), a sandbox, beetle “fishing” and other activities dotted throughout the park.

There are a number of eateries, all over priced and drenched in fat! You can bring in your own food and there is open green areas where you can picnic.  There is only one feeding room and designated baby changing room. There are quite a few toilets, some with smaller toilets for children.  There are coin lockers. You can rent a buggy for a day.

One thing I really liked is that you can come and go from the facility once you have your ticket. We left the park after lunch to go for a drive and we were able to go back in on the same ticket.  Parking is free.  The surrounding area is also very pleasant and there is a little shop and bakery as you come into the resort with a lovely lake out back.

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One thing to note is that this amusement park operates VERY differently during Winter.  Please see the website for further details.

URL

http://www.omochaoukoku.com/karuizawa/index.html

Address

2277 Omae, Tsumagoi, Agatsuma District, Gunma 377-1512

群馬県吾妻郡嬬恋村大前細原2277

Phone

0279-86-3515

Opening hours

Monday to Friday 10.00 -17.00

Saturday/Sunday 9.30 – 17.00

GW/ Summer holidays 9.00 – 17.00

 

Poppo Town, Railway Village in Gunma

Poppo Town in Annaka City
Poppo Town in Annaka City

To be quite frank I was a little disappointed with Poppo Town, a Railway Cultural Village in Gunma, but I had high expectations due to the excellence of the Saitama Railway Museum which we visit often. There is no comparison between the two. The Saitama Railway Museum is in a league of its own. So taking Poppo Town for what it is rather than comparing it to possibly the world’s greatest railway museum, it was a fun day out with enough to keep a preschooler, a toddler and a baby entertained.

D51 498 SL train
D51 498 SL train

Poppo Town is located in Annaka City near the Nagano border. The location is very scenic and there are other attractions in the area, the most famous being the steam locomotive (SL). The steam locomotive runs through the city and the terminal is beside poppo town. We could see train-spotters set up with their cameras all along the train route as we came off the highway. We didn’t know at the time they were waiting for the D51 498 that would arrive later that day and we were very lucky to serendipitously spot the infamous SL oursevles. The train was removed from an amusement park 2 years ago for repair and restoration and now runs for special occasions in the Annaka City area of Gunma.

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Within Poppo Town itself there are various amusement rides for children which cost extra to use. There are also some train experiences, such as a mini-SL and an English train that laps the town, that you can try out also for an extra cost. You can pay for a return ticket on a train that goes out of the theme park to a hot spring.  You can book to operate a real train on real tracks, this too costs extra. Some of the things you can do are for free, like try pulling a train with a rope or sitting behind the controls of a train. As most of the things cost extra it can add up to quite an expensive day. Also, in high season the train rides and simulators are often booked up by 10am. Another thing to note is there is little in the way of food so you might want to bring your own.

We had a fun day, but we’ve been, we’ve seen, we’ve tried and once was enough for us. The unexpected view of a real steam locomotive was probably the highlight of the day.

UPDATE 2016: Walker Magazine has listed Usui Touge Tetsudo Bunka Mura aka Poppo Town and the area of Annaka as a recommended spot to enjoy Autumn leaf foliage in the Kanto Area.


Poppo Town or Usui Touge Tetsudo Bunka Mura (碓氷峠鉄道文化むら)

URL: http://www.usuitouge.com/bunkamura/

Address: 407-16 Yokokawa, Matsuida Town, Annaka City, Gunma. Tel: 027-380-4163

Access: 2 minute walk from the Yokokawa Station on the JR Shinetsu line.

4 kilometres from the Matsuida – Myogi Interchange on the Joshin Etsu Expressway. Parking is free. 220 parking places.

Entrance fee is 500 yen for adults, 300 yen for children over 6, preschoolers, toddlers and babies free. Train rides and amusement rides cost extra. Sometimes you can pick up flyers with a discount coupon of 100 yen.