Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Gunma's Konjac Park - Explore Japan's Health Food Theme Park
Written by 須田絢香
Konjac Park is a theme park of all things konjac (konnyaku), a Japanese food product made from potatoes. Low on calories, while being filling, it has been a part of the Japanese diet for ages. Learn how konjac is made, workshops, and about the free all-you-can-eat buffet at the Konjac Park in Gunma!
Konjac Park - A Theme Park Dedicated to a Japanese Health Food
In the western side of Gunma prefecture, the town of Kanra that is known for its production of konjac ("konyaku" in Japanese). 92% of the konjac distributed in Japan is harvested in Gunma.
Konjac Park is located inside a konjac factory, part of the Yokoo Daily Foods company. The factory has gone under renewal as the locals wished to spread the culture and flavors of konjac to more people. Being part of the Japanese culture for ages, the factory has many fun activities for everyone to enjoy.
It is a popular spot in Gunma where visitors can enter for free and see how konjac is made, along with visiting an all-you-can-eat konjac buffet. Continue reading to learn about this unique, delicious, and healthy amusement.
What is Konjac?
Konjac is a food product made from the konjac potato, part of the taro plant family. For a long time in Japan, it has been a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisines such as oden stew, miso dengaku, and nimono stew. It has a jelly-like texture and konjac itself doesn't have a distinct flavor, so it goes well with a variety of seasonings.
Due to being low in calories but filling, it has gained the spotlight as a dietary ingredient. Zen Pasta and other low or no-calorie noodles and rice popular in Europe and the United States is made out of a type of dried konjac noodles.
Why does Gunma Produce Konjac?
92% of konjac potatoes distributed in Japan are cultivated in Gunma Prefecture. So, why are there so many producers here?
Konjac was formally monopolized by the Mito domain (current Ibaraki Prefecture) during the Edo period. However, storage and transporting because easier and spread throughout the nation.
Theories say that the reason why the konjac became produced majorly in Gunma, was due to its soil that repels water and the temperate climate that was fit for producing konjac potatoes.
Things You Can Do at Konjac Park
1. Factory Visit
Upon your visit, head to the factory to see and learn about the steps of konjac making. For those who like to visit factories, it would be fun to see how the konjac paste gets packaged or how the shirataki noodles are made up close.
Along the way of the exhibition, you can see the history of konjac or small trivia about the konjac. There are many signs with plenty of images and illustrations set for you to enjoy the world of konjac.
2. Make Konjac
Some activities Konjac Park requires a fee. Here, we tried making konjac from scratch at the Hand-Made Konjac Making Experience.
First, we take the powder and mix it well with water. The more the powder is added, the stiffer it gets and requires more strength than you might have imagined to keep mixing.
After taking the stirred konjac, we cook it in boiling water for about 20 minutes. After we finished cooking, you'll see that the color has changed and it increased in size!
Once it is cooked, we were done! You can taste your freshly made konjac with some vinegar miso and dengaku-style miso.
Unlike the standard store bought konjac, the sturdy jelly-like texture of this type can only be enjoyed when it is handmade. You can make a nice batch, so any leftovers can be taken home as a souvenir.
There is a total of three courses for you to enjoy. For those who are interested, why not try this out? Please note that you must make a reservation in advance to do the workshop.
Course Details (Advanced reservations Needed)
A. Hand-Made Konjac Fruit Jelly Experience
Duration: 30 minutes
Fees: Adult (middle school and above) 800 yen / Child (elementary school and up) 400 yen
B. Konjac Color Magic Experience
Duration: 30 minutes
Fees: Adult (middle school and above) 500 yen / Child (elementary school and up) 250 yen
C. Handmade Konjac Experience
Duration: 60 minutes
Fees: Adult (middle school and above) 1,000 yen / Child (elementary school and up) 500 yen
Course Start Times: 9:30/10:30/11:30/13:30/14:30/15:30
Reservations: Phone: +81-0274‐60-4100 / Fax: 0274-70-4001 / E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Official Website: http://konnyaku-park.com/reserve/ (Japanese)
3. Eat All You Can at the Konjac Buffet
After exploring the factory and gained more knowledge through fun experiences, it is time to enjoy the konjac buffet. The buffet is completely free and all-you-can-eat.
You will be able to get full from the varieties of high-quality konjac dishes. A sample of the dishes can be seen in the following pictures.
From the upper left-hand corner, clockwise, there are chilled Chinese-style konjac noodles, liver sashimi style konjac, ball konjac miso dengaku-style, konjac sashimi with napolitan sauce, and sashimi konjac with vinegar miso. The konjac napolitan is not in the buffet area normally, but it is available for purchase in the souvenir section.
Above is konjac in curry, fried konjac, stewed konjac, tri-colored konjac cooked in spicy sauce, konjac fried noodles, and udon noodles with konjac meat.
This is part of the dessert menu. The left is the sliced kudzu jelly with konjac powder drizzled with molasses and soybean powder. On the right is a konjac agar jelly.
All this variety can be enjoyed with konjac. There is no time limit for the buffet, however, during peak times, please be courteous to other customers and keep your stay to 20 minutes.
4. Shop for Konjac Products
After indulging yourself in konjac dishes, why not pick out some souvenirs to take home?
You will be able to purchase products you tried at the buffet here. Along with that, you will find many unique konjac products such as the konjac castella cake and the konjac mochi; there is also an all-you-can-bag area for discounted products as well.
Aside from konjac products, you will find cute merchandise of Gunma's iconic character, Gunma-chan, here too.
How to Get to Gunma's Konjac Park
The closest station to Konjac Park is Joshu Fukushima Station.
From Tokyo, you board the Hokuriku or the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to JR Takasaki Station. Transfer to the Joshin train at Takasaki Station. In approximately 30 minutes, you will reach Joshu Fukushima Station. At Takasaki Station, the wicket to the Joshin line can be confusing so it is best you ask the station master on site.
From Joshu Fukushima Station, it is about a 25-minute walk. After going down the main street, you will find the factory on a small street by the town hall. You can also rent a bicycle for free at the station. If you plan on using a taxi, we recommend using the town's Showa Taxi (Phone number: +81-0274-74-2022).
For those visiting from Tokyo may find it to be far, but the Konjac Park is around 15 minutes by car from the World Heritage Site, Tomioka Silk Mill. Both may be fun places to stop by when touring around Gunma.
Within the facility, you will find the konjac factory, a foot bath, and a direct sale farmer's market. Why not discover the fascinating world of konjac while getting full and savoring the delicacies at the Konjac Park?