F Gunma 101 - jeepneyjinggoy

Gunma 101

Waking up to my first glorious Gunma sunrise in Isesaki City.

A HEARTY dinner, warm sake in a local bar, a good night’s sleep in my host’s home, nothing can be more welcoming than this. Then I awoke to a beautiful sunrise that welcomed me to my first day in Isesaki in the prefecture of Gunma.

Gunma, in the ancient times, was the center of horse breeding. Centuries after came the bullet train and it made traveling to this prefecture quicker.
Gunma is just an hour ride from Tokyo by the Shinkansen aka the bullet train. Not too far if you want to escape the busy city of Tokyo to delight in the verdant tranquility of nature and perhaps take a unique and refreshing dip in one of the many mineral laced “onsen” aka hot springs this prefecture is abundant with and known for in Japan. If you suddenly notice a glow on your skin or feel zestful, thank the rich mineral content of the onsen water, it’s believed to have healing powers.

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Mineral rich onsens are believed to have healing powers...DIVE!...is-plas!

If you’re not into public bathing and more of a sportsman, head to any of the important mountains (two-thirds of the prefecture is mountainous) in the prefecture, Mt. Haruna, Mt. Akagi or Mt. Myogi, or the nearby plateaus, and you can indulge in your activity of preference - golf, skiing (try the active volcanic area at Mt. Shirane), rafting, hiking, cycling, at any time of the year. It’s four seasons of fun.

Gunma will still excite you if your idea of a vacation only involves a camera and none of the sporting implement. The prefecture is filled with wonders - waterfalls (like the Yubatake or “hot water field”, it pours 4437 liters of water per minute), mountains, lakes (the emerald colored crater lake of Yugama in Mt. Shirane has the highest acidity content in the world), Shinto temples (world heritage sites), and whatever scene that can make one smile, relax the weary traveler and excite the trigger-happy photographer.

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The Yubatake pours 4437 liters of hot water per minute....Wudyalayktohavacufofcofi?

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The emerald colored (not in this borrowed shot though, shucks!) crater lake of Yugama in Mt. Shirane has the highest acidity content in the world.

I love Japanese food, so I will try their specialties. In Gunma one must sample it’s famous winter wheat products- the Udon noodles from Mizusawa (considered among Japan's best) or the low-calories, diet-friendly konnyaku, a jellied substance made from konnyaku (devil's tongue) root.

The shopaholics need not despair. I know that you have to take home a souvenir from the places you had a fabulous time in. It Gunma, it would be the daruma doll (Takasaki is home to these dolls), a Japanese good luck charm modeled after the famous Buddhist sage Bodhidharma. The local lore relates that sage sat meditating for so long that his legs atrophied and fell off, thus the doll's oval shape. Because of its shape, the daruma dolls will usually rebound into an upright position when knocked off. This led to daruma dolls becoming a symbol of optimism and persistence in the face of adversity.

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Daruma doll is a good luck charm....so is my smile. :)

Where my hosts are taking me, is still a wonder. All I knew is that they took time away from work to show me around their city and the neighboring prefecture. I was so grateful they did. I just added another heart to my shout-out – I ♥♥ Japan.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 24, 2011.