Written by Ramona (GREATERTOKYO_Explorer)
Exploring Minakami - Morning Canoe, Scenic Views, And Local Treats
The second day of our recommended two-day Minakami itinerary starts with morning canoeing on Naramata Lake. It includes the scenic views of the Suwa Gorge, as well as great local dining and souvenirs.
Minakami - Fabulous Views and Exciting Outdoor Activities
Minakami is a popular outdoor destination and hot spring resort in Gunma prefecture, reachable in about one hour by Shinkansen from Tokyo.
While a day trip here can be most enjoyable, we suggest spending at least two days in Minakami to make the most out of the scenic views and fun activities that it has to offer.
We introduced a recommended itinerary for the first day in this article. In this installment, we'll focus on day two, offering tips on how to make it a memorable day amid the rich nature of Minakami.
6:00 - 8:00 -- Unforgettable Sights! Morning Canoeing on Lake Naramata
Morning canoeing is offered by Lakewalk, an outdoor activity company based in Minakami. Their canoeing and kayaking workshops can be enjoyed by participants of all ages.
While canoeing on one of the beautiful lakes around Minakami - Naramata, Shima, and Dogen - can be enjoyed at any time of the day, morning canoeing is a truly unique activity. It allows you to enjoy the sights of a mountain lake in the early hours of the day when the water is very still under the morning mist.
The Lakewalk staff will pick you up at your hotel or ryokan, wherever you stay in Minakami, and drive you to one of the lakes. All the gear and wear are provided by the organizers.
First, the instructor will teach you the basic movements. It's incredibly simple and anyone can master them in no time.
And then, it's anchors away! You'll see it's extremely easy to maneuver the canoe even if you're doing it for the first time. If you come in a group, you'll be riding in pairs.
There will be plenty of time to just sit in your canoe and take a good look at the surroundings. The water is so still in the early hours of the morning that it perfectly reflects the scenery. The fresh air and the stillness of the surroundings are impressive and you'll feel at a loss for words.
On the day of our coverage, we did the morning canoeing on Lake Naramata, an artificial lake just a few minutes away by car from Yubiso Onsen.
The organizers will drive you back to your accommodation. On the way, they kindly stopped the car for us the marvel at the height of Naramata Dam, the key structure of the hydro-electric power facility that Tokyo owes its electricity to.
The Lakewalk Morning Canoe activity is held upon request, so please sign up for it by the day before the tour by contacting Lakewalk at +81-278-72-2870 or online (Japanese only). The participation fee is 4,500 yen per person.
Lakewalk offers other exciting activities such as the Half-Day Exploration Canoe Tour or the One-Day Excursion Canoe Tour, too. We warmly recommend them to everyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors in Minakami to the fullest.
8:15 - 9:15 -- Breakfast at the Ryokan
The Lakewalk staff will bring you back to your ryokan just in time for breakfast.
At Tenku no Yu Nakaya Ryokan, the breakfast is buffet style. There is a wide variety of Japanese and western dishes available and you can pick up everything you like. All the dishes are freshly made with local ingredients.
After energizing yourself with a healthy breakfast, you're ready to continue your explorations of the Minakami area.
10:32 - 11:06 -- Take the Bus to Suwa Kyo Bus Stop
Our next recommended destination is Suwa Gorge, a breathtakingly beautiful area located in the heart of Minakami.
To reach it, take the 10:32 bus heading to Jomo-Kogen Station from Yubiso Onsen-gai bus stop and get off at Suwa Kyo bus stop. The ride takes 34 minutes and costs 1,050 yen.
11:00 - 12:00 -- Stunning Nature Views! A Walk along the Suwa Gorge
Suwa Gorge is a picturesque valley on the Tone River. It is a popular area for whitewater rafting due to the beautiful rock formations that can be seen on both sides of the river.
The picture above was taken from the Suwa Ohashi Bridge. You can actually walk to the promenade that stretches along the river for about 2 km.
The Suwa Gorge Promenade offers amazing views of the river and of the gorge. However, because it's a quite isolated area, we recommend going there only in groups and only in the daytime.
To reach the entrance to the promenade, cross the Suwa Ohashi Bridge and take a left at the intersection. After about 3 minutes' walk you'll see the signboard in the picture above. It marks the entrance to the Suwa Gorge Promenade (Suwa Kyo Yuhodo Iriguchi).
If you follow the arrows, you'll descend into the valley and reach the entrance to a water tunnel.
Once you get out of the tunnel, you'll be on the Suwa Gorge Promenade. We recommend going to the left (toward the south, in the direction of the river flow) as the most beautiful rock formations and scenes are along this area.
We recommend going to the left (toward the south, the direction of the river flow) as the most beautiful rock formations and scenes are along this area.
This promenade is actually a public park. There are a few benches to sit and rest on the way. The pathway is lined with seasonal flowers, so it will surely be a pleasant walk.
The views of the river are simply breathtaking! Take your time to take in this incredible scenery.
You might even spot groups enjoying rafting down Tone River. If you'd like to try it, too, check out the activity details available on the website of the Minakami Tourism Association.
12:57 - 13:11 -- Take the Bus from Suwa Kyo to Ashima Bus Stop
We suggest you leave Suwa Gorge behind at about 12:30 and head back to the Suwa Kyo bus stop.
Take the bus in the opposite direction at 12:57 and get off at Ashima bus stop after a 14-minute ride (620 yen). This is the closest bus stop to an excellent dining place that we recommend as a lunch spot.
13:30 - 14:30 -- Lunch at Cafe Restaurant Asima
Cafe Restaurant Asima is a cozy dining place that is loved by the locals and visitors to Minakami.
The restaurant was opened by the mother of the current owner (pictured left) thirty years ago. It has gradually expanded and now has also English speaking staff.
The iconic menu that Asima is famous for is Yaki Curry, a baked curry dish. It's basically a curry gratin made with seasonal ingredients.
There are four types to choose from depending on the main ingredient: mushrooms, sausages, spicy chicken or seafood. The Yaki Curry set meal includes a salad and a drink of your choice (1,500 yen before tax).
We tried the Mushroom Yaki Curry and it was delightful! The cheese and the mushrooms go really well with the curry sauce.
Asima offers a variety of other dishes, including vegetarian and vegan options.
We also tried their signature dessert: Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream. It was so good! Just the right amount of energy we needed to do some more exploring around Minakami.
14:40 - 16:30 -- Onsen Town Walk and Local Souvenirs
Cafe Restaurant Asima is close to Minakami Station so we suggest you enjoy a walk around the onsen town while heading to the train station. You'll be able to see the gorgeous onsen ryokan by the river which have been loved by generations of hot spring lovers.
Tone River flows right through the town and you can hear its clear sound from every point.
Charming souvenirs shops line up in front of Minakami Station. They sell edible souvenirs such as sweets, fruit, vegetables, and local specialties, as well as local crafts.
We picked up Cream Dorayaki cookies as they are the signature treat from Minakami.
What makes them different from regular dorayaki is the filling, which is made with fresh cream in various flavors, like green tea, sweet adzuki beans, and chocolate. They were incredibly soft and tasty!
16:47 - 18:52 -- From Minakami Station to Tokyo Station
A train heading to Takasaki Station leaves at 16:47 from Minakami Station. If you're using the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, you can board just by showing it to the staff at the ticket gates. Otherwise, the ticket to Takasaki costs 970 yen.
You'll reach Takasaki at 17:50 so you can catch the 18:00 Shinkansen for Tokyo. You'll reach Tokyo Station in about 52 minutes (5,130 yen if you're not using a JR travel pass).
Enjoy the Great Outdoors in Minakami!
The amazing nature with dramatic mountain peaks, clear rivers, and beautiful lakes makes Minakami an unforgettable destination for those who love the outdoors.
Remember to book your room at a local ryokan and apply for outdoor activities a few weeks prior to your arrival. Once you're here, enjoy the great nature of Minakami to the fullest!
Morning Canoe → Breakfast at the ryokan → Yubiso onsen-gai → Suwa Kyo bus stop → Suwa Gorge → Suwa Kyo bus stop → Ashima bus stop → Lunch at Cafe Restaurant Asima → walk around Minakami Onsen → Minakami Station → Tokyo Station
Lakewalk Morning Canoe: 4,500 yen/person
Bus rides: 1,680 yen
Lunch: 1,500 yen
Snacks, souvenirs, etc.: around 1,000 yen
For other information on places to visit and things to do in Minakami, please refer to the official website of Minakami Tourism Association.
The writer visited these facilities on July 24, 2019.
Supported by Minakami Tourism Association