Nearby Tokyo talks to Oku-Nikko’s city’s local tourist office about things to do in the area, including attractions and local food!
I am a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for hidden gems, and I get even more excited when I can combine my travels with sustainability. These are the highlights of the sustainable vegan tour to Takasaki city, which I joined with 3 other fellow vegans.
Takasaki is the capital city of Gunma Prefecture, nestled in the northwestern part of the Kanto region. The journey started at Takasaki station, which is about a 1-1.5 hour train ride on the Shinkansen from Shinjuku station. We were warmly greeted by the team, and they made us feel very welcome (Japanese omotenashi!), which set the tone for an unforgettable travel experience.
Gunma is one of Japan’s top vegetable producers, partially thanks to being blessed with rich, volcanic soil, incredible mountains, and more sunlight hours than most of Japan. The top vegetables are cabbage (Gunma is known as the “cabbage kingdom” as it has the highest cabbage yield in Japan), eggplants, shiitake mushrooms, Japanese radish, and Negi leeks.
Hence, the first stop of our trip was a farm-to-table experience at Jumonji village! The village is an initiative to re-introduce farming in modern life, and on top of that, you can also camp right beside the fields! As soon as we arrived, we were handed a basket, and we went on a small harvesting tour. The freshly harvested vegetables were then cooked for us to enjoy in different ways by chef Arai.
Chef Arai owns a Japanese-style restaurant (Mikumano Restaurant in Hotel Grand View) in Takasaki that caters to vegans, too!
After the appetizer, a radiant piece of Japanese radish (or daikon), we went for a stroll and were shown how the daikon we just ate was dried nearby. As soon as we entered a small bamboo forest, we found ourselves surrounded by it, which was quite an impressive sight! We went back to enjoy the rest of our dinner, and the panoramic view of the city during sunset was breathtaking, offering a unique perspective of Takasaki’s landscape.
As the day drew to a close, we moved towards lake Haruna where we would spend the night in a wooden cottage. It was time for our evening activity: a relaxing soak at Harunako onsen! The onsen water comes from deep within the ground, with a fine, smooth texture, and it is gentle on the skin. You can also make use of the sauna free of charge.
The best part for me was the outside bath, the perfect spot for star gazing. As I am already used to Japanese onsen (hot springs), I don’t mind bathing naked, but don’t worry if you are more reserved: you can soak privately in your cottage, thanks to an onsen water tap in your bathroom! However, the greenish-looking onsen water (from all the minerals it contains) might not be the best sight in a pink bathtub!
Our second day started with a delicious vegan bento prepared by chef Arai.
After taking a stroll along Lake Haruna, our guide taught us about the history of Mt. Haruna and Lake Haruna. Mt. Haruna is a dormant volcano built up by many layers (stratovolcano), and it includes 3 mountains: Mt. Haruna Fuji, Mt. Kamonga (the highest, peaking at 1,449m) and Mt. Eboshiga.
Mt. Haruna started to form about 300,000 years ago. 50,000 years ago, there was an eruption that created a caldera, which is now known as Lake Haruna. The latest eruption is estimated to be 1,400 years ago, which created another layer of soil. These different layers created the perfect conditions for growing vegetables: fertile, airy soil with good water drainage in Jumonji Village.
Yesterday’s delicious meal was partially thanks to Mt. Haruna’s volcanic activities and our guide showed us on a map we were shown where Jumonji village was located. It truly was one of these moments where you come to the realization that everything on our planet is interconnected and that we have so much to be grateful for!
We then proceeded up the mountain by the ropeway. You have a nice view over the mountain range and on clear days, you can even see Mt. Fuji (which was not the case unfortunately).
After enjoying the view from above, it was time to jump back on the road for our last stop: Haruna Shrine, also located at Mount Haruna.
Haruna Shrine was founded in 586, the first year of the reign of Emperor Yōmei. Haruna shrine is originally a Shinto shrine, but it took up Buddhist elements (for example the entrance gate) along the way. It is dedicated to the gods of Water, Fire, and Agriculture. It also said to give blessings of prosperity in business and a good marriage.
I found Haruna shrine one of the most interesting shrines I have visited because of the impressive rock formations integrated in the scenery. The main hall is quite spectacular, as it appears to be almost joined to the massive rock under which it sits. Apparently, there is also a Shinto priest who climbs the rock every day as a small pilgrimage!
Haruna shrine was under construction during our visit (until 2025), but even with the repairs going on it was worth a visit. Surrounding the shrine, there are a variety of local specialties of which some are even traditionally vegan! We ate miso konyaku (konjac, a type of potato) and some Japanese buns.
My time in Takasaki was a perfect blend of cultural immersion, nature, and gastronomic delights, and I highly recommend visiting if you are in the area.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
Contributor: Yasmine De Backer
Yasmine is a Tokyo-based vegan foodie with a passion for sustainability and circular economy. Originally from Belgium, she moved to Japan to work in wooden construction and forestry.