Guideto JapanCulture History
Gunma, one of just eight landlocked prefectures in Japan, is part of the Kantō region. The prefectural capital, Maebashi, is in a low-lying portion of the Kantō plain in the eastern center of the prefecture, along with Takasaki, the largest city. Much of southern, western, and northern Gunma consists of high, rugged mountain ranges shared with prefectural neighbors like Niigata, Nagano, and Saitama.
Gunma Prefecture at a Glance
- Established in 1876 (formerly Kōzuke province)
- Capital: Maebashi
- Population: 1,939,000 (as of Oct. 2020)
- Area: 6,362 km2
Gunma’s proximity to Tokyo makes it an attractive tourist destination, in summer for outdoor activities like whitewater rafting in Minakami and hiking through the northeastern marshland of Oze. In winter, skiers and snowboarders enjoy the relatively uncrowded slopes of the prefecture’s resorts, but the big draw is the hot springs, especially those clustered in major bathing centers like Kusatsu and Ikaho.
With its cold, relatively dry winters and mountainous terrain, Gunma is not known for rice production, but it does rank in the top 10 nationally for both vegetable production and livestock raising, including silkworms. In particular, the prefecture tops the nation in production of konnyaku (konjac root), a popular oden ingredient, and edamame fresh soybeans, and is the number-two producer of cabbage.
The Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites were inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in 2014, symbolizing Japan’s modernization and industrialization from the late nineteenth century onward. Tomioka grew into a major sericulture center that put Japan on the map as a global silk producer.
Mount Asama, on Gunma’s border with Nagano Prefecture, is Honshū’s most active volcano. Standing 2,568 meters high, it erupted spectacularly in 1783, killing well over a thousand people and dealing a blow to regional agriculture for some years afterward.
- Nakasone Yasuhiro (1918–2019): Politician and prime minister of Japan from 1982 to 1987. He worked to improve Japan’s relations with the Soviet Union and China, but remained close to the United States, as seen in his close personal ties with US President Ronald Reagan, dubbed the “Ron-Yasu” friendship. Domestically, his administration pushed forward the privatization of state entities like the Japan National Railways and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.
- Mikuni Rentarō (1923–2013): Actor. Appeared in more than 150 films over a six-decade career, being nominated for a Japan Academy Award 10 times and taking the leading actor honor three times. Starred in titles including The Burmese Harp (1956), Kwaidan (1964), and many installments in the Tsuribaka nisshi fishing-themed comedy series.
(Originally published in English. Banner photo: Gunma’s Ikaho Onsen is home to elegant inns said to have inspired the resort in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. © Pixta.)
For the complete list of the country’s 47 prefectures, see “The Prefectures of Japan.”