Profile photo rowing a boat on Lake Haruna in GUnma

Angus Miyaji

Things to do in Tomioka - Nearby Tokyo Interview

Talking about 'things to do' In Tomioka

Tomioka city is a small city located in Gunma Prefecture north of Tokyo. It’s known for its silk production and historic Silk Mill among many other things.

I’ve been to Tomioka to see the silk mill, but I wanted to learn from locals what other things they recommend visitors see. So, I contacted the Tourism Exchange Division of the Tomioka City Hall and was able to chat with Wada Manami, as well as her colleague Damien Robuchon, who helped with his expertise in making sure everything was translated correctly.

During my chat with Wada-san, I learned so much about Tomioka and I am really excited to share it with you! 

Below is my interview so please enjoy.

Tomioka City Silk Mill

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Tomioka City Silk Mill

Why should people visit Tomioka?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff
Tomioka is a local town with a lot of history. Visitors always enjoy learning more about silk and visiting Tomioka Silk Mill (富岡製糸場), which was established in 1872. Aside from that we have beautiful gardens. They are an amazing sight during spring and summer with fields full of blooming flowers. Plus our local festivals are fun and a great way to see what life is like outside the big cities.
Nukisaki Shrine cherry blossom arch at Tomioka City

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Nukisaki Shrine cherry blossom arch at Tomioka City

Which is the best season to visit Tomioka?

We especially recommend visiting Tomioka in spring, summer, and fall.

In spring, the beautiful cherry blossoms and the historical buildings such as Tomioka Silk Mill(富岡製糸場), Nukisaki Shrine(貫前神社), and Myogi Shrine (妙義神社) are wonderful together. Furthermore, at the Kurosawa Wisteria Garden (くろさわ藤園), visitors can stroll under a carpet of beautiful wisteria flowers.

In summer,  about 110,000 sunflowers bloom near Lake Nyuko (丹生湖). The yellow of the sunflowers with the blue sky and the green of the trees against the unusual silhouette of Mt. Myogi (妙義山) is breathtakingly beautiful!

In autumn, Mt. Myogi (妙義山) offers a beautiful view of steep rock faces and autumn leaves such as maple trees.

Also, at Myogi Fureai Plaza Myogi Hot Spring “Momiji no Yu” (妙義ふれあいプラザ 妙義温泉もみじの湯), visitors can enjoy the autumn leaves from the rotenburo (露天風呂). This is a Japanese open-air bath and perfect to relax and enjoy nature.

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

Photos courtesy of Tomioka City: Autumn leaves Mt. Myogi/ Sunflowers near Nuy Lake / Cherry Blossoms in Spring.

Which are the top 3 attractions you cannot miss in Tomioka?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff
The first is Tomioka Silk Mill (富岡製糸場). It is a model factory established by the government in 1872. It was built to modernize Japan and was registered as a World Heritage Site in June 2014.

Back in the day, in order to put Japan on an equal footing with foreign countries, the government focused on exporting raw silk as a way to modernize industry, science, and technology and to raise funds. In order to improve the quality and production of raw silk and to train technical leaders, the government decided to build a government-run model factory equipped with Western-style reeling machines. Thus, the Tomioka Silk Mill was built, and it remains almost unchanged to this day. The second is the former Tomioka Warehouse (旧富岡倉庫). This complex was built between 1901 and 1923 and used to store silk cocoons, etc.

World-renowned architect Kengo Kuma (隈研吾) renovated and designed the complex. The grand opening as a new cultural and commercial spot was in May 2022. It is not just beautiful, but also utilizes the latest architectural materials to preserve the qualities of the old buildings. In fact, this is a highlight of the project.

The Gunma World Heritage Site Visitor Center “Sekaito” (群馬県世界遺産センター) introduces the reasons why the Tomioka Silk Mill was designated a World Heritage Site in an easy-to-understand manner.

Visitors can check out the “Merci Cocon & Café” which offers traditional cultural experiences. For example, the “Okatte Market”, sells local agricultural products and food and beverages.
Tomioka City Silk Mill/factory

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Tomioka City Silk Mill/factory.

Do you have any local food or dish you would recommend visitors should try?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

There are actually two! 

The first is Horumon-age (ホルモン揚げ). In case you do not know, Horumon-age, is a snack that is made by breadcrumbing chikuwa, a tube-shaped fish-paste cake, and then deep frying it. It is served with an oyster sauce for dipping.

Although it is called “horumon-age,” (ホルモン揚げ), which many people would assume is made from internal organs, as suggested by the name, it is not. There are various theories about the name, but one is that the name comes from the fact that the shape of the chikuwa. If cut lengthwise, it resembles the shape of intestines cut the same way. It is not greasy and you can eat as many chikuwa as you like.

The second is Okkirikomi (おっきりこみ). In Tomioka City, where sericulture was popular, women used to make Okkirikomi(おっきりこみ). They would quickly cut homemade noodles and stew them with seasonal vegetables. It is a delicious and nutritious local dish.

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Horumon Age/ Okkirikomi.

What do you recommend visitors buy as a souvenir?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

Because of its history, silk products are recommended as souvenirs. For example, popular items are the Tomioka Silk Premium Collection original tie “Renga” (レンガ) made of 100% Tomioka cocoons. Other popular items are also the silk organdie stole “Akebono” or the silk cotton handkerchief “Okaiko & Kuwanomi”. All of them are charming silk products made in Japan that pursue the essence of silk.

Then another popular souvenir is Tomioka Silk Soap” (富岡シルク石鹸). It is a solid soap that contains a lot of Tomioka silk.

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Silk Scarfes/ Silk Soap Bar.

Are there any festivals you recommend?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

Yes, there is, actually there are two, that visitors would certainly enjoy.

The first is the Tomioka Donto Festival (富岡どんとまつり). It is the largest festival in the city. It is usually held every other year in October. The festival features Odorinagashi (踊り流し) in which participants parade through the streets while dancing. There are also decorated floats from each district and Kodomomikoshi (子供みこし), a children’s mikoshi (portable shrine).

The second one is the Oshima Fire Festival (大島火祭り). This festival dates back to the Nara period (710-794), when Hitsujidayu Masakatsu, a lord of the castle in the Oshima area, who was highly trusted by the people of the domain, was suspected of rebellion and fell. It is said that the residents offered a Chinese character made of 108 lanterns to worship the soul of the castle lord and to express their wishes. Every year, on the day of the festival, the local people decide on a Chinese character associated with that year, and the Chinese character appears on the mountain at night. Plus the Tomioka Firework Festival is held on the same day, with fireworks lighting up the night sky.

Donto Festival in Tomioka City

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Donto Festival in Tomioka City.

Is there anything special for those traveling with kids?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

There are a few things, one is the Gunma Museum of Natural History (群馬県立自然史博物館). This focuses on the history of life from the birth of the earth and the evolution of life, as well as the rich natural environment of Gunma. 

There are many ingenious exhibits, including a model of a moving Tyrannosaurus dinosaur. There is also a powerful dinosaur skeleton of a Brachiosaurus, whose head almost reaches the high ceiling, and a model of an excavation site under a glass floor where visitors can walk.

In addition, Momijidaira Park (もみじ平総合公園), where the museum is located, has a playground, so both adults and children can enjoy themselves.

Then there is the Gunma Safari Park (群馬サファリパーク). This is a magnificent park where visitors can observe animals living in an environment close to their natural habitat. In addition, visitors can drive around the park in a car and see the only Asian elephant bred in Japan, as well as white tigers, which are one of the largest numbers bred in Japan.

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City: Dinosaur Bus/Gunma Museum of Natural History.

Do you have a hidden gem?

Tomioka City Tourism Association staff

Maybe we can tell you about Mt. Myogi (妙義山). As you visit, the first place you see is the Buddhist temple gate (仏教山門) located on the hillside of Mt. Hakuun (白雲山). This is one of the three peaks that make up Mt. Myogi where the Myogi Shrine (妙義神社) is located. From there, visitors can see a huge white “Dai-no-ji” (大字) board. 

The “Dai” (大) character is made of iron and it was first erected in the Edo period (1603-1868). It represents Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来) the Great Buddha or Myogi Daigongen (妙義大権現), which refers to Myogi Shrine in the Edo period (1603-1868). It became Myogi Shrine after the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Then, at the back of the shrine is Oku-no-in (奥の院), the inner sanctuary which has a history of once enshrining Dainichi Nyorai 大日如来 (the Great Buddha).

Since the pagodas in the mountains were destroyed due to the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism and the abolition of Buddhism after the Meiji period (1868-1912), part of the lotus pedestal on which Dainichi Nyorai once sat remains in the present Okuno-in (the inner sanctuary). But as a word of caution, the trail to the “Dai-no-ji “大の字 and “Okuno-in” 奥の院 is a challenging one that includes a chain-link trail, so if you are planning to visit, you need to be well prepared, with good shoes.

"大" (means big) Japanese Character on Mt. Miyogi in Tomioka City

Photo courtesy of Tomioka City:  “大” Character on Mt. Miyogi 

Final Thoughts

It was really amazing to chat to Wada-san, as she really helped me understand Tomioka and the interesting things it has to offer. In fact, I am quite excited to visit Tomioka city again soon and hopefully get to see some of the festival as well as Gunma Museum of Natural History.

If you are traveling around Japan, I hope you’ll have time to explore this wonderful city. I am sure you will enjoy it.

How to get to Tomioka

If you are coming from Tokyo, taking the train, highway bus  or but car is probably going to be the easiest.

By Train (2hrs)

From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen to JR Takasaki station. From there, take the Joshin Dentetsu Line and get off at Joshu-Tomioka station. (visitor center is in front of the station)

By Car (1.5hrs)

Driving is also easy. Take the Kanetsu Expressway (Kanetsu Jidoshado / E17) to Tomioka IC.

By Bus (Highway Bus)

From Ikebukuro station and Shinjuku station (Shinjuku Basta Bus terminal outside station) you can take a highway bus which can take you to Tomioka. 

Tomioka City Travel Guide

Did you find this article useful?

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.

To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.

Profile photo rowing a boat on Lake Haruna in GUnma

Contributor:  Angus Miyaji

Founder of Nearby Tokyo and Japan World Link, Angus helps visitors discover off the beaten track destinations in the North Kanto regions (Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki & Saitama north of Tokyo). He regularly travels between Japan and the UK promoting tourism and Japanese sake.

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